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The New Edge in Manufacturing

Aug 17, 2007
A shop floor operator is tasked with assembling a landing gear for an infrequently ordered aircraft. After finding the work instructions and schematics, he cautiously begins the assembly. However, due to lack of familiarity and unclear visual examples, he breaks a critical component. The result is trashed landing gear and increased cycle time.

On the other side of the country, a Global 2000 company plans to roll out a new drilling system across multiple manufacturing locations in different countries. How can they provide operator training before they ever hit the plant, and jump-start production deadlines?

There are many challenges facing manufacturing organizations today. Complex and infrequently performed tasks don't allow sufficient practice to maintain skills, and just-in-time access to reference materials and subject matter experts may not be possible all the time. The result is often delayed repair and maintenance cycles, longer equipment downtime, increased costs and lost productivity.

Unless more effective training can be provided to shop floor workers, and better reference materials are made available on the ground, these issues will continue to present some of the biggest challenges,and opportunities, to manufacturers everywhere.

Fortunately, there is now a significant opportunity for improvement. 3D Interactive Knowledge Objects (3KOs) can address many deficiencies on the shop floor, and have been shown to deliver an ROI of between 49% and 212% in real world applications.

In his report, Assessment of Emerging Interactive 3D Solution for Post-Design Applications, industry analyst & consultant Clark Aldrich (formerly research director at the Gartner Group) concluded that using 3D Knowledge Objects, training on complex equipment can be delivered with twice the efficiency, effectively cutting training time in half while enhancing the learning experience and knowledge retention among students. And due to their light weight, 3KOs are deployable on common computers, providing users on the shop floor with instant access to instruction materials, procedural animations and references, whenever and wherever they need it.

The Knowledge Object solution is a new trend being applied in the defense and related manufacturing sector to maintenance training applications, to accelerate training, shorten time-to-proficiency and, enable first-time-right repairs in the field.

In the defense industry, 3KOs are being used in a range of scenarios, including:

1. Classroom: Whether embedded into PowerPoint or used on their own, 3KOs provide trainers with a powerful instructional aid that can simplify complex topics, accelerating student comprehension.

2. Laboratory: Unlike traditional hard trainers, on which students have limited time and often must share, 3KOs allow students to learn at their own pace, and watch and practice procedures repeatedly until the knowledge is retained. Virtual equipment delivers a more realistic experience to students. Students can view and interact with the virtual equipment in its entirety, rather than trying to learn procedures using individual equipment parts arranged on a board.

3. Workshop/Hangar: Hands-on time with the live equipment is an essential part of training that cannot be replaced by 3KOs. However, because there are almost always more students than live equipment, often more than 20 students per machine, 3KOs can be used in the workshop and hangar to give students something to practice with, while waiting for their turn with the live equipment.

Now Knowledge Objects can bring similar benefits to manufacturing by:

- Providing technicians with on-demand access to a fully interactive 3D knowledge base, allowing them to perform procedures correctly the first time, and improving productivity;

- Capturing and organizing complex equipment information from multiple, disparate sources within a single repository, and realizing increased production uptime through faster procedures; and,

- Augmenting work instructions with Knowledge Objects, which contain animated procedures, part properties, and links to external reference materials, and can be easily deployed on common desktop, laptop, and tablet PCs.

In manufacturing, the opportunity to draw on the benefits of interactive 3D Knowledge Objects can be achieved relatively faster than in many other sectors, by leveraging the organization's available 3D CAD data and other digital reference materials.

Available 3D data makes the creation of Knowledge Objects, which are the basis of the solution, easier and quicker. Applications are available to transform industry-leading CAD and interchange formats into Knowledge Objects, typically in a matter of minutes, depending on the complexity of the files.

Once converted to NGRAIN 3KOs, models built with the 3D data cannot be reverse-engineered, protecting the underlying intellectual property.

Organizations that do not have access to 3D data can leverage the professional services of their solution provider to create 3KOs using proven modeling techniques and methodologies, in a relatively short time.

Once a 3KO is rendered into the NGRAIN format, related product knowledge is embedded into the various components of the 3D equipment. This knowledge can be in the form of hyperlinks to existing digital reference materials including Adobe Acrobat documents, Microsoft Office files, photographs and technical illustrations, and Web pages.

Procedural animations can also be created and incorporated into the 3KO, along with voice instructions, to help demonstrate procedures in a more easy-to-understand, easy-to-remember fashion.

A 3KO can then be distributed throughout the organization either through a LAN network, via e-mail or other preferred methods.

Training program managers and instructors can then incorporate the 3KOs into courseware, html pages or e-work instruction material.

Additionally, 3KOs can be integrated into an existing PLM or shop floor management pipeline.

In summary, some of key benefits of the Knowledge Object solution for manufacturing include:

Improved Production Performance Rates - 3KOs provide technicians with on-demand access to a fully interactive 3D knowledge base, allowing them to perform procedures correctly the first time, which directly impacts productivity on the shop floor.

Reduced Equipment Downtime - Complex equipment information from multiple, disparate sources can be captured and organized within a single repository, helping the organization to realize increased production uptime through faster maintenance procedures.

Improved Effectiveness of E-Work Instructions - Augment work instructions with Knowledge Objects, which contain animated procedures, part properties, and links to external reference materials, and that can be easily deployed on common desktop, laptop, and tablet PCs.

Knowledge Objects, easily created by users of everyday computers, without the need for programming or scripting - can give manufacturing organizations a new edge in today's global and highly competitive economy. 3KOs are the underlying foundation for reduced production cycle times, improved product quality with less waste, and increased profitability.
About the Author
Andrew Morris is a Senior Solutions Architect for NGRAIN Corporation. He lives in Austin, Texas, and can be reached at amorris@ngrain.com.
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