Manufacturing and Industry 4.0, supported by augmented & virtual reality (Part 1)




This is the first in a series of articles introducing smart printing and manufacturing solutions. Each article will zoom in on a different topic. The various topics that will be described in the various articles include the introduction of a flexible manufacturing system (FMS), automation of the ultrasonic welding process, bulk feeding of parts to the FMS, inkjet printing integration, leak testing of the parts and production data visualization.


Industry 4.0 is expected to bring about many changes in the manufacturing industry in the next years. AAE supports Industry 4.0 with its printing and automation solutions enabling production companies achieve their Industry 4.0 goals. Examples on how we support Industry 4.0 will be included in the articles.


To provide a full overview of the process toward smart automation we introduce a fictive company involved in the manual assembly of medical devices. Using a fictive company allows us to show the details of the process without disclosing any confidential information. With more and more focus on Industry 4.0 and digital strategies developed by manufacturing companies, we will start by looking the background of Industry 4.0.



In essence, industry 4.0 fosters what has been called a “smart factory”, where cyber-physical systems monitor physical processes, create a virtual copy of the physical world and make decentralized decisions.



Digital Strategy Transformation Plan

The activities involved in reaching industrial automation and a flexible factory are normally defined in a digital transformation strategy plan. In the strategic plan, the technology (e.g. industry 4.0 enablers) to consider in order to reach the strategic goals are evaluated, prioritized and defined. This also involves the suppliers as many of them have developments in place to support industry 4.0. This may change the role of suppliers, as they become a partner in advice, implementation and data gathering supporting industry 4.0.


Defining and implementing a digital transformation plan is not an easy task. It may redefine the way the manufacturing process is structured, analyzed and operated. It may also change your procurement process and supplier base; the suppliers selected need to be able to meet the Industry 40 goals defined.


When, for example, a factory considers purchasing a new application, the compatibility with the strategic plan for industry 4.0 is to be considered. This directly impacts the evaluation for an automation partner. All sensors, interfacing, modules used, etc. used in the machine require evaluation to ensure they support Industry 4.0. This in turn also affect the way the automation company selects and integrates component used for its equipment. Both customer and supplier work closely together in achieving the Industry 4.0 goals.



Augmented Reality (AR) & Virtual Reality (VR) Introduction

Enablers for Industry 4.0 are virtual and augmented reality. Virtual reality creates a virtual world (fully computer generated) where the user is shielded from the surroundings. Augmented reality is different where it uses the surroundings and adds information to it. Both techniques bring new opportunities, which can be used for e.g. maintenance operations, machine operation, product design approval, material behavior, optimization of handling and operation times, data visualization, etc.



Machine presentation using AR

Augmented reality provides excellent opportunities to show a (virtual) machine, this can either be a concept or an existing machine. The operation of the machine can be added for a full immersive presentation that combines reality with elements of the virtual world.


Using augmented reality, a virtual presentation can be shown on a tablet or headset. One example includes the presentation of a manufacturing system on a trade fair. The machine, the operation of the various components and virtual production data can be shown on a tablet or headset.

Overview of Virtual Reality showing a machine in a current (trade fair) location


In the example above a machine and production data are shown on a tablet. This provides a solid understanding of the application and its operation. Note this image has been created and used for AAE / Grauel to suppor their developments for industry 4.0. 



Using the same technique, a machine concept can be shown (and operated) when discussing various automation solution. An approach concerning AR enables the system user to analyze and verify solutions (represented as 3D models) relative to real scenes/objects.


This approach is advantageous because the real environment around us often provides a vast amount of information that is difficult to duplicate in a computer, for example the proposed solution can be projected onto the production floor. The same solution allows the user to understand the prospective machinery system in a more comprehensive way, thus making the design process more efficient than the one supported by conventional present-day CAD systems.



Using the techniques early in the evaluation stage allows for better understanding of concepts and proposals. We will show the benefits of these techniques when implementing new automation solutions



First automation steps

At this point we have just introduced Industry 4.0 and briefly introduced Augmented and Virtual Reality. For a more practical approach, we will introduce a fictive company involved in the manual assembly of a medical device. They want to scale up production and achieve a high level of automation supporting Industry 4.0. They involve their automation partner to support these goals.



Scheduling & Planning the Automation Process

A first step in the automation of the production is typically the review of the current production, product flow and future demand. When the future demand is uncertain or expect to change for specific products, dedicated solutions need to be defined. Involving your automation partner early in the planning process provides great opportunities to benefit from their experience. Virtual and Augmented reality can greatly support the analysis of the production and the presentation of the various solutions.



Current Production

When we review the current production (final product consisting of 5 individual parts) following product flow can be provided (schematically):

Overview of current process


Product A & B are ultrasonic welded by operator (1) to create part P1. They are then stored for or the next process. Part 2 comes directly from production and stored as well. Operator (2) assembles part 1 and part 2 to sub assembly A2.



Part 3,4 and 5 come directly from the production and are stored close to the assembly process. Operator (3) assembled these parts to sub assembly B’. Both A’ and B’ are moved to the next process. Operator (4) assembles sub assembly A’ and B’ to the final product.



Virtual Reality, visualization of the current production process

For a comprehensive understanding, virtual reality can be used for a more in-depth analysis. The full assembly process can be shown in virtual reality (various software tools are available to support this). An example of the assembly process presented in virtual reality is included below.

Overview of the manual assembly process with US welding on the lefthand side



An overview with the different processes can be generated using dedicated virtual reality software. This gives a good understanding of the product routing and the location of the individual processes.


 Overview of the different processes (assembly can get complicated really quick)



Virtual Reality, adding actual data from the current production process

Actual data from the production process can also be imported in the software to visualize the production process, show potential production bottle necks and provide process efficiency indicators. Especially for complex production (and warehousing) processes this is a very useful tool to provide good and solid insight of the production process.


Additional information can be added to the virtual presentation of the production process using key indicators (KPI’s) for a in-depth analysis. An example for the four (4) assembly processes is shown below.

Process with indicators


The visualization of the production process supports the next step in the automation (equipment) decision.


The introduction of the first automation equipment (Flexible Manufacturing) will be introduced and reviewed in the next article.



 Uslar, M. (2018), GERMAN STANDARDIZATION ROADMAP Industrie4.0, Version 3, Berlin, DIN e.V. 

Lindskog, E. 2014, Towards Realistic Visualisation of Production Systems, Gothenburg, CHALMERS UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY 

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