Why does SIBUR need AR?
In 2017, the company’s management analyzed the costs of repairing industrial equipment and decided to reduce them. That’s how the idea emerged to replace face-to-face visits by external specialists from suppliers and service companies with remote audio and video consultations.
In January 2018, at the same time that work began on integrating the Industry 4.0 concept into various production scenarios at the holding’s enterprises, the company launched a project to develop AR to perform remote equipment maintenance and repair.
“SIBUR is a geographically distributed company. Our enterprises operate in more than 20 regions throughout Russia, from the European part of the country to the Far East. Often, the facility is thousands of kilometers away from qualified experts who can supervise the maintenance or repair of a particular piece of equipment. For example, it takes 7–9 hours to travel from a corporate center in Moscow to an object in Siberia, and during this time, everything can change for the better or for the worse. That’s why launching an AR platform that allows us to resolve any issue remotely was highly relevant for us”
SIBUR tried ready solutions at first. At that time, the company’s specialists worked out the basic scenarios for using such technology and predicting the economic effect of their implementation. After making sure that the project was expedient and feasible, they decided to develop their own product. They needed a reliable vendor to do so.
“The solutions already on the market that we worked with at the beginning helped us a lot. But then we realized that in order to move forward and meet the many requirements of our business customers and information security service, we needed our own secure AR platform that would be both independent of external suppliers as well as flexibly and quickly customizable if necessary. At that moment, we started looking for a partner to develop it”
Why did SIBUR choose the G‑Core Labs package solution?
G‑Core Labs came to the attention of the holding by recommendation of the Skolkovo innovation center: “It was important for us that our future partner had serious expertise both in working with WebRTC and in Android mobile development. The company successfully completed the test task of creating an application for AR glasses, and then we started work.”
G‑Core Labs also had good experience in designing media platforms, and it had been working for a long time with several computer game publishers and developers, including Wargaming, Sandbox Interactive, RedFox Games, and many others.
“In my opinion, such high-tech solutions as AR and VR services, which will eventually become popular and easy to use, can only be born at the intersection of such fields as petrochemistry, the defense industry, and game development”
How the remote maintenance and repair AR-service works
Glasses and the media platform: SIBUR’s AR service is easy to use and includes two key components: RealWear and Epson augmented reality glasses with pre-installed Android applications developed in collaboration with G‑Core Labs and integrated with SIBUR’s own mobile media platform. This platform allows you to digitize the entire maintenance and repair process by organizing HD broadcasts in WebRTC format and creating a full-fledged communication platform for effective on-site specialist interactions with a remote expert.
Voice control: The hands of the person working with the equipment remain completely free. All control is carried out by voice. A representative of the equipment supplier or an internal SIBUR expert is in touch with the plant specialist. The former simply receives a link and starts video conferencing in any browser and on any device, having previously passed identification using a phone number. No special applications need to be installed.
What can the AR service do?
“First of all, we’re talking about high-quality video communication that’s being transmitted in real time via WebRTC from the on-site specialist’s AR glasses to a remote expert’s computer or tablet,” says Sam Davis, Vice President of Products at G‑Core Labs. “With the help of a virtual pointer displayed on the glasses’ micro-display, an employee of the equipment supplier company can direct the actions of the specialist, draw attention to certain elements, and indicate what to turn and where to monitor. A chat and stickers were implemented into the functionality of the AR platform as well. Stickers are needed, for example, if there are connection issues. In that case, the remote expert sends signal stickers, such as a ‘checkmark’ sticker if everything is done correctly or a ‘stop’ sticker if you need to stop what you’re doing”
To free the hands of the field specialist, the platform has full-fledged voice control for the AR-glasses: on command, they activate, start broadcasting, record video, and take high-resolution photos. After the session ends, the recordings of the consultations are securely encrypted and stored on the company’s server. The glasses connect to the Internet through the local Wi-Fi network. At the beginning of the session, the name and status of the connected expert, the quality of the Wi-Fi connection, and the battery level are shown on the glasses’ micro-display. The glasses work smoothly for two hours even in severe cold.
“Of course, we have made provisions for work scenarios in emergency situations, such as communication issues. Together with the customer, we determined that a stable and clear picture is important for us above all else because a remote expert must be able to see even small equipment details. To that end, we have reworked one of the WebRTC standards which decreases the bit rate along with the network connection speed. The picture quality worsens, but the frame rate remains the same. In our case, it’s the quality of the picture that is critical, even if there are delays in the delivery of the video stream. And if the connection fails completely, our platform gives priority to maintaining the audio connection with the operator and to receiving signal stickers”
How is the AR service unique?
The main features that distinguish the SIBUR solution from analogs are the depth of its integration with real production tasks and enterprise processes, its comprehensive digitalization of the repair process, and its versatility. All this allows the service to be deployed across a wide variety of production sites.
“The AR service has a ticket system, which means that not only video communication is possible, but also the complete digitization of the remote consulting business process,” explains Alexander Leus. “With its help, we guide the customer along the entire path of resolving the issue—from checking the completeness of the required information to assessing the cost of work, the necessary competencies, and the qualifications of experts. We ensure information security and unambiguously answer the questions of who, at what moment, and from whom should take the glasses, how this system is supported, and how the interaction takes place until the successful completion of maintenance or repair. At this moment, more than 300 business cases of our AR service have been documented.”
There are systems on the market that allow conducting videoconferencing through augmented reality glasses. “However, I can say with confidence that the success of the implementation of such projects in industrial enterprises largely depends on the quality of integration into internal processes, as well as on the IT platform being customized for industrial processes and tasks. SIBUR was one of the first to develop and implement a comprehensive system of remote maintenance and repair that really works and brings tangible savings,” says Alexander Leus.
How much do they save?
SIBUR factories use both Russian and foreign equipment. Given the restrictions introduced in spring 2020, including the closure of borders and the suspension of international flights, the demand for remote video consultations within SIBUR has grown noticeably.
“One session of operational communication through the AR platform helps save up to $15,000 per call. This means a reduction in travel costs, hourly billing of an expert consultation instead of full-time payment, and prompt resumption of equipment operation”