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The availability of innovative software, and the emergence of augmented reality (AR) build technology, allowing quality and build integrity to be at the forefront of panel building, means it is important to keep abreast of developments and stay ahead of the curve.
‘Appy’ days for panel builders
App-based software to help panel builders has been gaining popularity, with companies such as RS and WS CAD offering software that enables panel builders and end users to scan components – either directly (image visualisation) or from QR codes – to access data and information on the parts. With up to 1.3 million parts and components held in these databases, the software provides a quick and efficient way of identifying replacement parts and reducing unplanned production losses.
These types of apps, coupled with design software, provide end users with end-to-end compliance and ease of access to documentation. This means if the user has a problem relating to a specific component, they can immediately access the parts database, and view instructions and images on mobile devices anywhere, any time. This is providing a bridge solution between traditional panel building and higher-tech AR solutions, enabling panel builders to identify faults quicker and upskill without significant investment, and giving them the opportunity to add value for customers.
Augmented reality could become reality
While still an emerging technology, the benefits of AR in panel building are fast being recognised and touted as the future in this industry. AR can help with building an electrical panel, or improvement of a current electrical panel, as potential faults relevant to a current build can be tracked and faulty elements or items identified. The technology enhances building/improvement tasks via calling up schematics, diagrams, 3D images and work order information, which have been carefully designed and produced in a relevant AR software before application of the technology. By offering the capability to see a virtual design of the panel before implementation, the user can evaluate any design changes and identify potential gaps or errors at the beginning of the manufacturing or build process. With this initial preparation for manufacturing, significant efficiencies in terms of the time and cost can be achieved.
AR can be executed in two main ways: via a headset such as Hololens, which enables the operator to consult with a relevant electrical panel expert simultaneously online and even show them the current (faulty) panel; or, by using a tablet device to hover over assembly parts. Both options give the user a complete plan of how to build the panel, giving them visual step-by-step guidance and only allowing them to move to the next stage once the previous one has been completed.
Infinite benefits for technology adopters
With this technology facilitating the instructional building of panels, errors can be vastly reduced, and quality of build can be heightened with repeatable wiring conformity. Mass production is also possible with costs being driven down and products being brought to market quicker – vital in an increasingly competitive arena.
Accuracy in the number of different products needed for each panel build is also enhanced. As with the prescriptive build, the user will know exactly how much cable will be needed for example. In terms of bespoke builds, these can all be ascertained in-app before the build takes place, negating costly mistakes. Automating some tasks with the use of technology means optimising the whole process.
AR can be particularly effective in operations involving assembly lines, as research shows that occurrence of assembly faults spike around break times and shift changes. Following an instructional build negates these issues, minimising the effects of disruption on build quality. Cost of delivery can also be much cheaper as multiple flat-packed panels can be delivered on the same pallet and built on-site using AR guidance apps.
App-based software is already being used in the field and AR take-up will increase, as the need to drive down costs and create efficiencies without affecting quality become ever more important. With manufacturers placing optimal operational efficiency high on the agenda, panel build quality and traceability are key. With IoT permeating all elements of the manufacturing supply chain, it can’t be ignored, even in panel building.
About the author:
Mike Burrows is Senior Adviser on Industry 4.0 at RS Components, having spent many years running Monition Ltd, which was acquired by Electrocomponents in February this year. Monition is a pioneer in the design, development and application of leading reliability and condition-monitoring systems.
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