You’d have to be completely disconnected to have missed the recent buzz about Google Glass, the most widely discussed iteration of the emerging technology known as “wearable technology.” But you’d have to be a little bit clairvoyant to know why and how it’s so important. One Indiana machine shop is providing some practical perspective on that vision.
Google Glass is a combination computer and display, camera, touchpad, microphone, email, and Internet connection, all consolidated into an eyeglass frame –- with the aim of creating a “ubiquitous computer” that users can take (i.e., “wear”) anywhere, giving them all the information and functionality available in a tablet or smartphone, in a hands-free and accessible form.
If you wonder how that combination finds a role in machining operations, think of MTConnect, the manufacturing technology industry-standard for exchanging data between shop floor equipment and software applications. Its use for machine monitoring and data analysis has been growing steadily since 2008.
The current advancement is being developed at Indiana Technology and Manufacturing Companies (ITAMCO), where the implications of Google Glass are coming into view. The Plymouth, Ind., manufacturer of open gearing and precision-machined parts for heavy-duty industries including mining, off-highway vehicles, marine, and aviation, has devised a package it calls MTConnect + Google Glass, deploying the wearable application to monitor machining operations.
ITAMCO has released MTConnect + Google Glass, as a free Glassware application.
By using Google Glass together with MTConnect, ITAMCO operators will have a view into manufacturing processes that so far has been “unattainable,” according to the shop. The users will be freed from laptops and hand-held devices, able to traverse the shop floor to collect and report machine data supplied by MTConnect, and to access the Web for more information.
ITAMCO identified a specific advantage of MTConnect + Google Glass: the combination will maximize the potentialities of “augmented reality.” AR generates composite views of the machining operation for the operators/wearers, combining the real situation with a virtual image generated by the computer, with additional information too, e.g., sound, video, graphics, GPS data, or manufacturing data from MTConnect.
Google Glass extends MTConnect's view into machines, providing intuitive and user-friendly access to manufacturing data, the machine shop/app developer contended.
Everyone Gets a Look
For ITAMCO, there is further potential in MTConnect and Google Glass because both are adaptable, open-ended concepts that can be extended and scaled to address emerging applications. Both can be implemented for particular tasks, and expand as the needs and “knowledge base” of the shop increase.
Data from MTConnect streams directly to Google Glass. The device recognizes the machine tool, selects the appropriate information from MTConnect, and formats the MTConnect stream into a user-friendly display for the Google Glass wearer.
The user/wearer will see an extensive stream of information from the MTConnect-compatible equipment: Power Status, Emergency Stop, Alarm/Messages, Block, Controller Mode, Line, Program, Execution, Path Feed-Rate, Spindle, Axis Positions, Spindle Overrides, Feed-Rate Overrides, Machine Location, Part Location, and Current Part Status.
Also, if the machine is outfitted with a camera, Google Glass will stream video to the user and overlay the machine data so the user can compare, analyze, and decide, quickly.
In addition, the user would be able to record and share the data, “seamlessly,” with all appropriate parties.
ITAMCO indicated that every department in a manufacturing operation would benefit from the MTConnect/Google Glass combination.
“A new machine operator watches YouTube training videos while at the machine, supplementing his training program,” the company offered. “Getting and sharing information on the machine and its processes would be as intuitive and non-threatening as using his smartphone or playing a video game.”
But that’s not all: “An experienced machine operator sends an email to the maintenance staff as soon as he sees a problem. The CEO travels the shop floor, getting accurate real-time machine data and comparing it to the company's accounting, quality control, sales and engineering data.
“Project managers evaluate workflow and machine readiness before scheduling future work. They also access 100% accurate data and share information with their customers to ensure smooth delivery between vendors.
“The maintenance staff becomes even more astute at monitoring machines and they respond quicker to problems, while developing stronger preventative maintenance programs. With Google Glass, they can "see" instruction manuals overlaid on the equipment when installing or repairing machinery. The sales staff provides guided Google Glass tours, impressing prospects with the capabilities of the facility and helping them visualize the final product.
ITAMCO called the MTConnect + Google Glass combination “a holistic experience of the factory floor,” tying the user and machine together in a personal way. Also, MTConnect’s contribution to the operation are made faster, with more comprehensive delivery.
Finally, ITAMCO sees advantages to the workers’ experience. The Google Glasses are comfortable and don't distract from a task (as handhelds do), and when coupled with machine cameras employee safety is improved because the user/operators’ direct access to machinery is minimized. The group even predicted better worker morale job performance, thanks to expanded vision of machines and processes.