Augmented reality in industrial environments is no distant dream. AR has enormous potential for streamlining processes, from manufacturing tasks to quality assurance, maintenance,, and repairs. Digital twins—virtual replicas of physical objects—play a key role. A digital twin is created using CAD data, plus additional information describing the attributes of individual components and materials. The availability of these data can have a decisive and positive impact on multiple process steps.

The volume of data associated with creating digital twins is enormous—and unwieldy. In order to visualize 3D models, the data are repeatedly pared down and the corresponding metadata are lost. Generating these 3D visualizations currently requires very specialized software and computers. In addition, visual processing for industrial scenarios takes considerable time and entails a highly specific skill set. Overall, these issues present substantial barriers to the very people who could gain the most immediate benefits—among them production workers, quality inspectors and procurement professionals.

The latest release of Fraunhofer IGD’s instant3Dhub platform accelerates the visualization of 3D models on the basis of original CAD data. The solution enables users to rapidly and automatically visualize immense data volumes independent of the device used, e.g., AR head-mounted displays, tablets, or smartphones. A new feature is instant3Dhub’s integration with the VisionLib augmented-reality tracking library, licensed by a Fraunhofer IGD spin-off. This library is a powerful tool for capturing objects in 3D as the basis for AR visualizations. Tracking, (i.e., determining the exact position of objects in a camera-captured image), is a prerequisite for AR. It plays a crucial role in correctly displaying or superimposing additional information. And this precise positioning of information in relation to physical objects is essential, for example, when it comes to projecting welding points. In contrast to other solutions on the market, Fraunhofer IGD’s model-based tracking technology harnesses the original CAD data—the same data that are also employed for the visualization of 3D models. This means IT experts no longer need to interactively pare down data, thereby losing valuable semantic information.

Siemens is already exploring the advantages of combining instant3Dhub and VisionLib for their electric drive technology. Each drive is custom-manufactured, so each has its own, unique set of CAD data—a digital twin that reflects all product attributes. In the future, Siemens will leverage AR technology throughout the entire product lifecycle of these drives, including for quality assurance, e.g., verifying that the manufactured part corresponds to the CAD model. “With instant3Dhub, we can ensure that the AR applications have access to a customer-specific CAD model throughout the entire process chain,” states Dr. Christian Mundo, Digital Officer of the Large Drives business unit at Siemens. “There are obvious advantages. The comparison is performed automatically and via the cloud. Instant3Dhub allows us to identify objects simply; metadata are continuously available for the corresponding model, and can be displayed on demand. This Fraunhofer technology is key to our AR applications. Further potential applications include training for our service engineers, plus on-site customer service deployments—for instance, to rapidly identify a defective part.”

This latest innovation, however, does not mean the Fraunhofer researchers are about to rest on their laurels. They are currently working on data transformation for 3D printing directly from within an application—which could prove useful, for example, for making critical spare parts. They are also hoping to introduce collaboration capabilities, allowing multiple devices to take part in the same AR sessions to support remote maintenance. A further aim is to incorporate artificial intelligence, enabling the solution to recognize objects it has never encountered before.


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