How VR is Set to Transform the Factory and the Warehouse
While the concept of Virtual Reality (VR) has been prominently featured in fictional media over the years as a device for the future, such as an entire immersive universe existing on virtual reality software in blockbuster film Ready Player One, it has struggled to make headway as a mainstream technology in the real world. However, the time has now come for VR to lead the next big step in computing.
Headsets are gradually becoming more accessible and affordable. In the household entertainment sector, Sony is proclaiming that it’s , while other content creators are increasingly exploring its potential, . As the entertainment industry looks to benefit from this technology, what role could VR play in other sectors?
The industry-wide potential of VR
Outside of the core entertainment context, use cases are now emerging fast in a range of other industries. VR could well prove to be just as transformative in business and industrial applications, ultimately improving operational excellence and helping to reduce costs. While previously the computing capacity may have limited the ability to apply VR in professional environments, this is starting to change. alone stood at $924.7 million in 2018, which is projected to grow to $14,887 million by 2026, representing a future annual growth rate of 39.2% in the forecast period.
Industry use cases
The manufacturing industry is starting to see a rapid uptake of VR, particularly within factory and warehouse settings, where utilisation is being driven by the wide range of applications that it supports. In addition, third party logistics, consumer-packaged goods and the pharmaceutical industry could benefit, such as in the .
Undoubtedly, businesses will need to identify use cases where the technology can benefit them in relation to costs in order for the investment to be viable, as a potential barrier to implementation could prove to be resource costs up-front, such as training and development resourcing in the use of software development and building new 3D solutions representing the environment to the model. Therefore, organisations need to factor this into their financial planning. For those that discover a commercial case, the potential applications are almost endless.
VR can also play a key role in training staff. Control technicians, engineers and skilled operators working in manufacturing environments are now increasingly trained using this technology. Trainees are able to gain valuable experience on key tasks in a virtual warehouse environment, without the risk of working in a physical environment while they are learning the ropes. Long-term, this ability to provide virtual tuition will enable enhanced productivity in the real world, as well as limiting health and safety issues.
With the shift to remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic, VR can play a vital role in the warehouse environment by as an example of a growing trend of teleoperated vehicles. During the pandemic, this application has allowed for warehouse operations to be conducted in safer way by taking employees out of the physical site, increasing productivity for the business and opening up the opportunity for a wider group of people to move into operator roles.
Building the right physical environment
VR also has the capability of supporting the modelling of new facilities and new equipment, pinpointing any potential logistical issues before costly investments are undertaken. Virtual 3D models of warehouse environments can be devised and simulated cranes, forklift trucks and other equipment can be modelled and trialled, allowing organisations to see the impact of potential new systems being installed. Visual analytics can predict future scenarios and simulate improvements in productivity to give organisations insight into potential future investments.
While VR applications such as modelling will prove highly beneficial to organisations, they need the right people to take advantage of it. Traversing the barrier of a potential skills gap will require investment in talented employees who know how best to use the new tools at the company’s disposal and build the capabilities within digital environments, especially with a potentially expensive software implementation beforehand.
The last word
It’s clear to see that VR and other video-based solutions have multiple applications in the manufacturing environment, while those who are already using it actively in operations are reaping multiple rewards. In the future, along with the insightful ‘what-if?’ scenarios of modelled and simulated environments, more organisations will utilise VR to model people in real-time, identifying improvements in the warehouse such as capacity, length-of-time to complete tasks, and visualisation of staff performance such as picking the stock for delivery. By utilising a carefully picked blend of VR technology and skilled staff to use it effectively, manufacturers can enhance productivity across their organisation.
Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router
Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age.
Siemens Enables 5G IIoT
The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.
Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance
- Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
- The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
- A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
- Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites
“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.
Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said.
Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future
Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’
And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.
The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.