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April 29, 2020

ABB virtual reality technology to improve efficiency and safety

By JP Casey

International technology company ABB has unveiled a virtual reality-based system to aid workers in the maintenance and operation of machinery, aiming to improve efficiency and safety across industrial sectors.

The system, dubbed ABB Ability Augmented Field Procedures, consists of a mobile app and set of Microsoft HoloLens virtual reality goggles, which present workers with guides and instructions for operating the machinery in front of them. The system also allows for individuals to interact with a projected field, enabling communication with other employees and team members, effectively replacing traditional forms of communication, such as filing reports on physical pieces of paper.

While the technology has potential uses across a number of industrial sectors, the offshore industry could stand to benefit from the system in particular, with the isolated nature of offshore work placing a premium on fast, effective forms of communication. The system can operate in conjunction with a facility’s existing communications infrastructure, and ABB is optimistic that the technology will lead to improvements in operational efficiency.

“Engineers spend considerable time using and interpreting data,” said ABB energy industries digital lead Chris Naunheimer. “With this solution, we intend to address these challenges and truly transform the future of work.

“ABB worked with customers to develop a solution aimed at making operational site procedures more consistent, data-driven and digitally led. Our solution ensures these procedures are in place for field workers performing tasks when and where they need them.”

The technology also has a number of applications to improve operational safety, with the ability to present detailed information to workers in real-time helping to overcome some of the information shortages and miscommunications that have impacted the offshore industry in recent years. In a 2012 EU report into learning opportunities from offshore accidents , authors Michalis Christou and Myrto Konstantinidou noted that the “existence of high-level technology standards” and the “existence of a common format for reporting accidents, incidents and near-misses” would be key improvements to make across the offshore sector to improve responses to accidents and dangerous events. By implementing new technologies, and integrating its system with existing communication networks, ABB aims to achieve both of these goals.

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“During these challenging times, it is more important than ever to balance worker safety with productivity,” said Naunheimer, noting that one-fifth of worker downtime is due to human error, raising operational inefficiencies and potential safety concerns. “ABB is committed to supporting both: protect people, while enabling business continuity and continued running of essential services, through providing remote access and digital tools and solutions.”

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