While it may be cost-prohibitive for bakeries to invest in their own augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) training systems, equipment suppliers are making the investment to train operators and troubleshoot equipment remotely.  For training purposes, creating a digital twin of the baker’s production line is the best bet.

“A digital twin can be created that can give an operator, engineer, maintenance technician or others a visual image of the machine and allow them to access and visualize,” said Jack Kilbride, vice president of systems and automation, Zeppelin Systems USA.

Zeppelin works with Rockwell Automation and its partner PTC to enhance visualization using AR and VR technology.

As a part of its Rademaker Academy training, the company offers VR training. Rademaker can make a fully functional virtual copy of a baker’s production line. The virtual copy has the capabilities to run virtual dough that interacts with the line and all the changes an operator could make.

“In such a virtual environment, operators can train on all sorts of scenarios without downtime and waste before starting on the actual production line,” said Nick Magistrelli, vice president, sales and marketing, Rademaker USA.

[Related reading: Bakers find training solutions in VR, AR]

VMI has invested in VR technology since 2017, and the system has evolved from bakers validating the design of their new mixing equipment to creating digital copies of the equipment. Operators can simulate real production conditions as well as ergonomics, assembly and maintenance.

“VR is particularly well-suited to learning how to master technical gestures, especially for repairing or maintaining equipment,” said Claire Auffrédou, marketing and communications director, VMI. “The learner can thus compare the precision of his gesture with the ‘expert gesture’ defined beforehand.”

While VR may be apt for teaching operators how their changes to the equipment settings impact dough and quality, Mr. Magistrelli pointed out that it also works well for teaching the basics. VR can teach how to locate and solve alarms, recognize and control production issues, and even just familiarize themself with the line.

AR technology comes into play during remote troubleshooting, which has become more prevalent during the pandemic. With AR functionalities on smart phones or tablets, Rademaker engineers can see the production line in a baker’s facility and provide real-time instructions to operators on how to address issues. The AR video support program is a part of Rademaker’s 24/7 service department.

In the past five years, VR has gone from an attraction at tradeshows to becoming a useful training tool that can save bakers time and money and keep employees safe.

“A picture is worth a thousand words, and in today’s international market with a high-demand for remote service, this adage is very applicable for the use of AR,” Mr. Magistrelli said.

Immediate responsiveness is a key benefit to AR and VR when it comes to remote assistance. In October, VMI will begin implementing remote technical assistance with the use of connected glasses.

“This will allow the operator to have immediate responsiveness to the machine he is driving, reducing standby time, downtime, logistics and travel costs,” Ms. Auffrédou said.

AMF Bakery Systems recently launched its VirtualCare program, which uses Microsoft’s Hololens device to provide remote bakery assistance. Teams are connected to a certified AMF technician for real-time visual diagnosis, troubleshooting and operator training.

“By providing an extra set of eyes, AMF’s remote VirtualCare team safely guides bakery teams to quickly resolve bakery issues,” said Diana Boxey, global marketing director, AMF. “This technology will allow us to provide the expert guidance needed to reduce downtime, improve equipment reliability, reduce waste and increase line efficiency.”

AMFMethod Documentation and Training tool offers bakery employees animated videos to help train and assess their skills on safety, operation, maintenance and sanitation on equipment. The company is working on incorporating AR technology into this platform so operators can experience a mixed-reality, hands-free environment.

[Related reading: Pandemic restructures how bakeries clean, maintain their operations]

VR and AR are not everyday technologies, but they are quickly becoming more accessible. In the past five years, VR has gone from an attraction at tradeshows to becoming a useful training tool that can save bakers time and money and keep employees safe. And with the pandemic creating more opportunities for out-of-the-box solutions, they are poised to become staples in the training and troubleshooting solutions.

“The recent coronavirus crisis will profoundly change our practices and remote assistance will certainly become a standard, as much practiced as on-site interventions,” Ms. Auffrédou said.

As technology improves and becomes cheaper, and as bakers have more opportunities to use it, VR and AR can help speed up training and make troubleshooting cost-efficient and fast.

This article is an excerpt from the September 2020 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on augmented and virtual reality, click here.