A new white paper by CSIRO has called for the introduction of robots which will help, rather than replace, workers in the Australian manufacturing sector.
The paper entitled An initiative to enhance SME productivity through fit for purpose Information and Robotic technologies (PDF) argues that virtual reality headsets, multi-tasking robots and robots which can be controlled via the Internet will enhance worker’s skills and tasks.
According to report co-author and CSIRO business development manager, Doctor Peter Kambouris, local manufacturing is shifting away from mass production to mass customisation.
“Companies are telling us they need more flexible systems to deliver these more customised products,” he said in a statement.
“Industrial automation used in manufacturing today is limited, but developments in ICT and robotics present Australia with an opportunity to change the way we manufacture.”
For example, a virtual headset called Remote Mobile Tele-assistance (ReMoTe) is one system being trialled by the manufacturing industry. Using a head-mounted camera the worker is able to broadcast what they see to a supervisor in a remote location.
The supervisor can project their hand gestures onto whatever the worker is looking at and virtually show them how to fix an issue or conduct a repair.
According to Kambouris, systems like ReMote have been designed with safety in mind and allow workers to operate in hazardous environments and safely complete tasks.
The white paper will be launched on 8 May at National Manufacturing Week in Melbourne. It is based on interviews with small to medium enterprises in Queensland and Victoria.
ReMoTe has also been trialled by the mining industry. In May, CSIRO principal research scientist Leila Alem told Computerworld Australia that mining operators in mine sites are required to maintain and repair equipment that is more and more sophisticated.
"They don’t have the skills to do that and they often have to fly in an expert and fix the machine,” she said at the time.
Using CSIRO's solution means that the expert can be located anywhere in the world, which saves time and money as he or she doesn’t need to physically be at the mining site.
ReMoTe, being a complete hands-free system, can be operated without any training. It has also been developed to operate in harsh environments, such as dirty and dusty areas and places where ventilation and lighting are poor.
The CSIRO research team is in the process of integrating the ReMoTe technology with a panoramic display system for remote operation, which has been developed at the Virtual Mining Centre at CSIRO in Brisbane.
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