The company has managed to reduce the waiting time of its fitters from ten to three minutes in production if a missing or incorrect component needs to be rapidly replenished. But Frank Blaimberger wants to “reduce the number of such cases even further.” The Bavarian is Head of IT Services and Tools at Fujitsu. Together with T-Systems Innovation Management, he is testing an augmented reality headset and system for suppling IoT data and micro services from the cloud until April.
Every second counts for Markus Stutzmüller. In real life, the Senior IT Consultant at Fujitsu is Blaimberger’s closest collaborator – especially in factory operations. These days he is testing the IOT001 Head Mounted Display, HMD for short, under live conditions. The “headgear” he’ll be wearing for the next few hours is black, comfortable, and sturdy as well as dust- and waterproof.
According to Frank Blaimberger, these real-world production experiences are “much more meaningful and important for the technical feasibility of projects like ‘HMD’ than use cases under isolated laboratory conditions.” Especially for Fujitsu, since the so-called picking in the Augsburg factory is performed not by their own employees, but rather by an external service provider. They use employees depending on the order situation. In return, the Japanese client equips them with all the infrastructures, processes, and technologies they need in a hall on the Fujitsu campus, constantly seeking ways to improve working conditions. “Ideally, this enables us to visualize the direct interaction of the processes ‘I’ll do better’ and ‘I’ll save money’ for our service provider and ourselves,” says Blaimberger. “By avoiding tedious activities and supporting people with technology, we can add more value to the pickers’ work.”
Simply adjust the 8-million-pixel camera, make eye contact with the 0.4-inch monitor, and off you go. In Fujitsu’s so-called “supermarket,” Stutzmüller and his camera start by looking almost simultaneously at the barcode of a special transport container. Here, all the components for the production are brought together according to the order and then transferred to a logistics train all the way to the end of the picking line. Just in sequence. Each of the electric trains carries and distributes up to 100 containers per hour to different production halls, depending on whether the supermarket employees have filled them with components for workstations, servers, thin clients or computers. And exactly at this moment Stutzmüller scans the barcode.
Behind this is a sophisticated logistics concept that supplies the picking of the components in the factory with exactly the components that are needed by the pickers on a given day and transfered to the next step of production. Just in sequence. From the external warehouses on the campus in Augsburg, the temporary storage facility at customs in Rotterdam, or the Group’s own distribution center in Worms – the Fujitsu principle behind all of them is: The customer places an order and has the guarantee that his product will be available in just a few days. – Produced, tested, delivered.
In the background, material availabilities, capacity, and resource planning are checked for ‘collision orders,’ among other things, to ensure that delivery dates can be met. “To accomplish this,” says Frank Blaimberger, “every customer order is essentially broken down into the component level.” This means: Are all components available? – And is every configuration buildable?
Whether a batch size of 1 or 500 packs – from the package insert to the CPU, the pickers must merge the order and components. In the past, pickers had to use pen and paper to keep track of everything – and to date, tablets, smartphones, and scanners – but today, Markus Stutzmüller has both hands free at all times. At the same time, he receives all the information he needs via voice commands and projections on his small monitor for every next “pick”. What does the component look like? Where along the line can it be taken from the shelf? Each step is controlled, executed, and ticked off in a single interaction between the component, headset, shelf, and order, unlike the previous “pick-to-scan” method. Pure IoT culture, so to speak. And in the middle of it all, so-called AR overlays – and Markus Stutzmüller. Because all augmented reality-based information converges at his workstation.
“Affordability is partly measured by its ability to help us adhere to our schedules.”
Markus Stutzmüller’s HMD, however, is connected to a so-called “edge cloud server” using mobile communications to receive all the information needed to make work easier. The server initiates all necessary processes in a context-sensitive and individualized manner, depending on the order, that is, for each work step and required micro-service, such as object recognition from the image of the camera (see interview). The same applies to multimedia information, for example, using symbols if an employee does not master the intended system language. For example, if the system unmistakably signals “RED!”, Stutzmüller knows to remove a component that is not suitable for the order from the shelf of his picking line – perhaps because its live sensor does not match the data of the AR displays provided by the system.
According to Frank Blaimberger, in addition to the sophisticated preparation and provision of such micro-services, “using the HMD also involves radio technology, processing, the power supply, occupational safety, and ergonomics as important components. Only when everything fits together and optics and wearing comfort are optimal at the end of the day do we achieve the necessary acceptance of the employee to use the device and to do so gladly.”
Thus, possible application scenarios of the HMD are by no means limited to logistics. Frank Blaimberger can imagine even more application examples “wherever guided work content makes sense and hands-free work speeds up processes” – for example, for training employees in production. “If the challenges for our employees increase, we naturally want to support and train them accordingly.” And there it is again: Just in sequence.
“Every co-innovation requires trust, courage and motivation.”