The current Covid-19 pandemic situation has forced the subjects of the entire economic system to rethink work in many new ways and in no time. Even if the companies all reacted rather quickly to the changes imposed by the workers’ health protection measures, this does not mean that they managed to do it in the best way.
In almost all cases of readjustment of working conditions, the digitization of processes is involved at different depth levels.
Depending on the nature of the activity carried out, some companies had only to have their employees work from home, while for others, especially those of the industry, more structured changes were needed.
Industrial companies base their activity on the production of goods, therefore the factory is the beating heart of their processes. To guarantee production continuity to the factories, it was necessary to introduce very strict rules in protection of the health of workers, providing them with personal protective equipment, reviewing the mode and duration of shifts, sanitizing the work areas with a certain frequency and monitoring the temperature of the workers at the entrance.
Factories, by their nature, being places with a high social interaction, are very exposed to contagion and therefore must manage a series of risks that concern not only production, but also other processes including logistics, administration and in general staff. The contingencies due to the measures required to deal with Covid-19 have imposed a limitation of business travel, forcing companies to search for alternative ways of managing operations.
Below is a list of some of the industrial processes impacted by the health emergency, with an indication of how Augmented Reality can support certain activities, and some considerations on what will await us once the emergency ends.
It has now become a practice, not only in companies, but also in some public bodies and commercial activities, to measure the temperature at the entrance. High temperature is one of the possible symptoms of Covid-19 positive and verifying that it does not exceed a certain threshold is fundamental in environments with many people. In this case, using computer vision solutions that leverage cameras or Smartglasses equipped with thermal imaging cameras, could speed up operations and streamline the queues at the entrance, without the need to point a laser at people.
One of the reasons that determine the greatest movement of personnel in the field concerns the management of maintenance. Even during the health emergency, it is essential for companies in certain sectors to ensure continuity and therefore they cannot afford to keep production or parts of it steady. In order to limit the movements of specialized maintenance personnel, it is possible to provide workers with practical tools that through the use of Augmented Reality help them to identify and solve problems, at least for those of small and medium size.
Some industrial activities resort, in certain cases by law, to inspections of work areas or equipment, in order to carry out checks, measurements and other controls. During the pandemic, it was particularly critical in certain sectors to ensure inspection activities, in order not to endanger the health of inspectors. To this end, advanced computer vision systems, equipped on board of drones or other equipment, could guarantee the correct conduct of inspections without compromising human health.
Since classroom training activities are discouraged, and considering the difficulty of training staff by making them work side by side with expert workers, Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality technologies offer excellent training aid to people, protecting them from prolonged contact with other individuals .
Both during the Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the Covid-19 emergency, the factories have reviewed the relationship between people and the work environment in a very profound way, making a number of choices aimed at limiting the density of people in the space, aimed at providing protection tools and aimed at informing workers about risks. Augmented Reality has already proven to be a very effective tool in the field of risk management in the workplace, thanks to its ability to allow an “augmented” visualization of the surrounding space, associated with rules and actions to be carried out to manage risks .
Except for the temperature control at the factory entrance, it can be said that all the other use cases in which Augmented Reality can support workers to contain risks by helping them to reduce travel and contacts with colleagues, are intended to prove useful even in a post-pandemic phase. Several of these scenarios are already reality in many industrial contexts, although often only for experimental purposes.
The emergency we are experiencing has only increased the awareness that digitization in industry is no longer just an option, but has in fact become the main road to rethinking processes.