Last summer, Siemens AG began a proof of concept project at its Berlin test center, in which four engineers used an augmented reality helmet made by Daqri to help assemble a gas turbine. Photo: Siemens AG
Siemens AG is expanding testing on a futuristic helmet as the global industrial conglomerate looks at the potential benefits of using next-generation technology in assembling gas turbines.
The company last summer completed a proof-of-concept test with an augmented reality helmet made by venture-backed Los Angeles-based startup Daqri. Encouraged by the results, Siemens will continue testing the product in other scenarios over the next few months, according to Frank Vossnacker, innovation manager at the company’s energy services division.
Siemens, headquartered in Germany, is one of many companies exploring the uses of augmented reality, which superimposes digital content or hologram-like images, such as manufacturing instructions, onto a user’s view of the real world. Daqri’s industrial-grade helmets are outfitted with a viewing screen, microphone, speakers and infrared, thermal and high-speed wide-angle cameras.
In a Siemens test that began last summer, four engineers used Daqri’s helmets to assemble parts of a 1,000-pound gas burner, a critical and complex component of a gas turbine. In the headset, they saw step-by-step instructions for how to assemble the gas turbine and 3-D visualizations of certain components.
“We got very positive feedback,” said Mr. Vossnacker, who oversees research and development projects in the areas of augmented reality, virtual reality and blockchain for Siemens.
One engineer who hadn’t previously assembled a gas burner reported an assembly time of 45 minutes. Without the helmet, it would have taken about a day for a first-timer to assemble the burner, following classroom training and materials review, Mr. Vossnacker said.
Workers can significantly speed up assembly because their hands are free and they don’t have to look at paper or tablet instructions, he said. More important, he said, is the fact that Daqri’s helmet is “rugged” enough to be used on the manufacturing floor.
“Our fuel service guys are working in a rough environment of dust, dirt, high and low temperatures. We need tools that are very rugged, and there aren’t too many devices that are suitable to be used on site in rough conditions,” he said.
Mr. Vossnacker says the AR helmet also allows workers to record a digital trail of all the steps they’ve gone through, through voice-to-text notes, so they can more easily track serial numbers of parts. Tracking serial numbers is important because Siemens needs serial numbers to identify parts and estimate the remaining lifetime of each part.
Workers can speak the serial number of a part into the helmet and the helmet plays it back to them for accuracy. Then, the number is automatically stored in a software program, and all the serial numbers can be printed out or emailed at the end of tasks.
Traditionally, workers would have written down the serial numbers on a piece of paper, scanned it and sent it to the appropriate team, a process which has resulted in some errors in the past, Mr. Vossnacker said.
In the coming months, Mr. Vossnacker will offer the helmet to dozens more engineers to see if they can use it to speed up fixing gas turbines during a so-called outage, where the turbine needs to be shut off and serviced.
In that scenario, there could be hundreds of workers doing maintenance on a gas turbine, and during a major outage it could take them up to a month to complete the tasks. Daqri’s helmet could help significantly reduce that time, which could ultimately save productivity time for Siemens.
“Time always matters,” Mr. Vossnacker said.
Another use case for the helmet would be in the area of education, he said. Siemens can operate power plants on behalf of customers, and in that service, the company is responsible for hiring and educating necessary staff members. If trainees wear the AR helmet, they could get information about specific components and their uses to quickly familiarize themselves with the power plant, Mr. Vossnacker said.
“If they come to a certain component, they can listen to a certain tutorial as if you’re moving through a museum and standing in front of a painting and learning about it,” he said.
Daqri has raised $275 million in venture funding to date.