Mixed-reality glasses blend together the real world and computer simulations. Until now, they were primarily associated with video games, but two new Würth products are now directing their potential towards the industry: They improve remote maintenance and logistics planning.
A sales representative from Würth Italy standing in a production hall next to a customer points towards various corners of the room. He types in midair, reaches out into space and points at things that are not even there. What might seem like a peculiar scene at first glance is in truth state-of-the-art logistics planning. In fact, both the sales representative and the customer are wearing mixed-reality glasses. They have used them to log into the Würth app HoloWarehouse, a planning tool containing 3D computer models of various Würth logistics systems that can project those models true to scale into the real world. Of course, only someone wearing the glasses can see them. Such as the Würth employee in his customer’s production hall, who is currently making an ORSY® storage rack appear out of nowhere and moving it to the desired position in the room with a wave of his hand. In this manner, the two are planning the company’s new storage concept, but “live”, directly on site instead of sitting at a desk.
“HoloWarehouse makes it significantly easier to plan logistics systems and makes the process more comfortable,” says Dr. Nicola Piazza, Managing Director of Würth Italy. “By positioning virtual elements in a real environment, customers can already see during the planning phase how the logistics systems can be integrated into their production facilities later on.” Via a menu in the application, it is possible to select from a wide variety of logistics systems and to modify their position and size as one sees fit. Once all of the systems have been positioned, the Würth employee uses the app to create a 3D model of the room containing the positions of the desired systems. Next, the data is sent in a file to Würth Headquarters as an order.
Würth collaborated with Hevolus to develop HoloWarehouse, an Italian start-up that also wrote the basic software for Microsoft’s new industry smartglasses HoloLens 2.
Another joint project being worked on by Würth and Hevolus is HoloMaintenance, a mixed-reality platform for remote maintenance. “HoloMaintenance will allow machine manufacturers to offer more efficient maintenance services,” says Dr. Nicola Piazza. “As a result, it will no longer be necessary for a technician to be sent to the customer’s location for each maintenance task, for instance. The potential is great, especially for manufacturers with lots of customers abroad.” In practice, maintenance with HoloMaintenance is performed as follows: If the end customer notices a problem with a machine that they cannot resolve on their own, they can get online with their smartglasses via WiFi or Bluetooth. A camera and a microphone, both integrated into the glasses, transmit the video call to the respective service hotline.
THE HOTLINE TECHNICIAN CAN SEE THROUGH THE CUSTOMER’S EYES.
“Through the video stream, the hotline technician can see the same thing as the end customer. Via HoloMaintenance, the technician can insert images and diagrams as well as useful markings into the field of vision on the customer’s glasses, thus helping them perform the repairs,” explains Dr. Nicola Piazza. This means the technical problems no longer need to be explained awkwardly over the phone and instead they can be resolved directly on the machine, markedly shortening repair times. Another advantage: In contrast to other remote maintenance concepts for which the user has to fumble around with a smartphone or tablet, the wearer of the smartglasses has both hands free.
The term describes the blending of the real world with objects created artificially on the computer. In contrast to virtual reality, the user’s natural environment is supplemented but it is not located entirely on the virtual plane.
With HoloWarehouse and HoloMaintenance, Würth has created two innovative platforms for the industry—at the same time demonstrating that the potential of mixed reality extends far beyond depicting spectacular video games. In Italy, HoloMaintenance is already being used by two companies: at Diesse Arredamenti from Forlì, an interior designer for luxury yachts, and at ICAM, a manufacturer for cutting-edge high-bay warehouses from Bari. At both companies, the virtual extension of the natural world brings tangible benefits.
CHAIRWOMAN OF THE ADVISORY BOARD OF THE WÜRTH GROUP
Mixed reality has fascinated people for some time in terms of fun and play. Here, computer data is superimposed into the field of vision on a pair of smart glasses and the wearer’s real perception is augmented by animations, videos and images. Hunting for cuddly comic book monsters in the city park, a blue whale popping up in your own living room or an order of knights riding through the museum: The possibilities of using mixed reality to move around and interact in a blend of reality and an artificial world are tempting, and can stir up strong emotions.
Würth will be using this emotional means of experiencing something in the future for a completely new dimension of distribution channels and service applications. This will make real products conceivable and tangible for Würth customers on the virtual plane, even before the merchandise has actually been unpacked and assembled on site. Defective machines can be fixed faster because the technician on site can share his field of vision with hotline employees and exchange information virtually. A beautiful illusion? Far from it. This augmented form of reality, originally invented for gamers, will offer businesses concrete benefits in the future, and endless possibilities to communicate creatively with their customers.
Being open to emerging customer demands is one of our axioms: Over the last few years, we have steadily accelerated our pace of innovation. The Würth Group’s innovation center, which is currently being built in Künzelsau, will also contribute to strengthening and promoting our in-house research and development in the long term.
The world is changing, and the markets along with it: True to our principles, we continue to develop successful products and services resolutely, seeing challenges as an opportunity and tackling new issues.