New Reality for Augmented and Virtual Reality

Virtual and Augmented Reality Schneider buys MWPowerlab

Augmented and Virtual Reality gain visibility and resources: Schneider Electric buys MWPowerlab. Photo courtesy Schneider Electric

Train operators, maintain assets, and maybe even develop processes… virtually. Are you doing it yet?

Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are not new, but recent advances make it far more practical for process manufacturers to use. A sign that this is becoming mainstream: Schneider Electric announced it has acquired  its VR and AR partner MWPowerlab s.r.l.

The two software companies have been working together for some time, so this is a natural step. Their focus has been to develop training and asset management applications in Schneider Electric Software’s home industries of oil and gas, food and beverage, consumer packaged goods, and pharmaceuticals.

Original industrial uses of VR were primarily in training, such as SimSci EYESIM operator training simulator. Taking a model or physical scan of actual operating equipment, companies develop immersive training environments to simulate physical control rooms and plant or field equipment. This allows training in a safe and controlled yet realistic environment, allowing better preparation.

For asset management, companies are starting to use AR. This uses the virtual to understand and direct associates to take action in the physical world. Associates with appropriate headgear and a mobile device can now see work orders, instructions for operation and maintenance and get a virtual demonstration of exactly the actions they are meant to take. With scanning of the physical reality built in, verification of equipment, plus start, progress and completion of a task are readily available in asset management software. The companies have a video demo of this available. Again, Schneider Electric Software has long had strong asset management software in Avantis and services for its customers also.

Another application for VR and AR is process development. When I asked the question about that possibility in today’s analyst briefing, Schneider’s Dr. Toby Scheele said he was smiling at the question! Model-driven engineering for developing continuous processes is not nearly as prevalent as it is for discrete products and processes. Schneider clearly aims to change that situation. The vision to move deeper into this realm is compelling – particularly as it builds on Schneider’s recent simulation advances.

For a production software person like me, VR and AR initially seemed to be just funny hardware gadgets that would not be pragmatic for most companies. Now, a few years later, I realize how off-base I was. This deal is all software, and MWPowerlab and Schneider have remained hardware independent. The demo does point to Microsoft’s HoloLens, which they see holds particular promise.

Now I see VR and AR as critical tools to help production associates and engineers take the best possible actions with confidence. From envisioning a process, to training operators and technicians, to maintaining the equipment… the entire lifecycle can benefit from VR and AR.

Until now, VR and AR have been somewhat exclusive. Let’s see whether Schneider Electric Software can bring it more into the mainstream.

What’s virtual and augmented is now real! Can you see it?

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