Shared from the 10/27/2019 The Age Digital Edition eEdition

AR-equipped people the missing link

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Wearable technology: A wind-turbine maintenance engineer, safe and hands-free, records visual details as well as providing point-of-view video (inset).

Australian skills shortages may be at critical levels in some sectors, with recent research by the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) finding an estimated 75 per cent of employers were having difficulty recruiting qualified or skilled workers to fill vacancies.

The biggest shortages are among technicians and trades.

The AiGroup has detailed how increasing demand for skilled workers is occurring as apprenticeship and traineeship numbers fall to a 10-year low (from 446,000 in 2012 to 259,385 in 2018), while the number of workers aged more than 65 has doubled in a decade.

‘‘One of the greatest issues facing Australia as we approach the fourth industrial revolution – Industry 4.0 – is this skills shortage and poor succession planning of intergenerational knowledge,’’ says David Francis, Australian sales executive of the US-based RealWear company.

RealWear is a digital knowledge transfer firm that produces industrial wearable computers.

According to a recent McKinsey report, the benefit captured by first movers in the adoption of field technologies [such as RealWear] compared with average response is seven per cent more revenue growth.

Francis believes this differential is critical for the competitiveness of Australian energy, manufacturing and agriculture industries.

‘‘AR-empowered humans are the missing puzzle piece,’’ he says. ‘‘You’ve probably seen headlines that claim that AI, robotics and other technology is taking over warehouse, factory and industrial jobs.

‘‘The reality is that most physical tasks completed by engineers, service technicians, facility managers and environmental health and safety officers take a high degree of skill that technology can’t currently replicate.

‘‘This means workers themselves are the most critical source of productivity gains available to companies that are digitising their operations. They are literally the best IIoT [Industrial Internet of Things] sensors.’’

As older industrial workers age out of the workforce, that gap is being filled with millennials and generation Z.

‘‘AR presents an opportunity to attract and retain these digital-native workers and provide the tools they need to be most productive,’’ says Francis.

‘‘No technology is better suited for on-thejob use in industrial environments than ARpowered wearable computers, like RealWear’s flagship product HMT-1.’’

The HMT-1 is a hands-free, wearable, rugged Android tablet for industrial frontline workers, with highly accurate voicecontrolled user interface allowing workers to operate the tools and equipment needed for the job, even while climbing a scaffold or tower or while operating tools.

‘‘It can attach to safety helmets, is compatible with safety glasses and other protective personal equipment and utilises high-resolution micro-displays that effectively put what appears to the user as a 15-centimetre Android tablet held 30-centimetres away, and just within a workers’ field of view,’’ says Francis.

‘‘It’s like a personal dashboard you can glance down at.

‘‘Wearable computers intrinsically deliver greater productivity and safety by providing workers with hands-free access to IoT data, manuals and schematics, workflows, videos and safety procedures, plus training materials.

‘‘When issues arise, workers can contact a more experienced member of the team anywhere in the world and can then share what they are seeing via a front-facing smart camera just next to their eyes.

‘‘Wearable computers can also reduce digital distractions. It’s common knowledge that texting while driving is dangerous, but what about fixing a piece of machinery or handling a live electrical or explosive environment while being required to use two hands to look up information on a tablet or laptop?’’

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