Harpak-ULMA is extending its platform capabilities to support Augmented Reality on its Rockwell Automation-enabled packaging solutions, entering beta-phase testing with target of commercial availability for its Augmented Reality (AR) option next year.
The company is the North American arm of ULMA, a $1B industry leader in complete packaging line solutions for Food, Medical, Bakery, and Industrial products. Harpak-ULMA provides smart, connected packaging systems using Rockwell Automation’s controls and information platforms to deliver greater efficiency, uptime, and throughput, as well as better package quality and reduced waste.
AR represents a leap forward for staff knowledge transfer – employing digital visual overlays through a combination of both handheld and hands-free devices. It supersedes traditional approaches to operator training and maintenance of industrial assets. AR presents a powerful solution for producers seeking to alleviate the well-known upskilling issues associated with high labour turnover, productivity, and error proofing.
According to a study by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, by 2025, almost 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will become available, of which 2 million will remain unfilled. AR can help producers bridge the skills gap at the root of this major disconnect. By 2025, three out of every four workers will be millennials who will be driving new workplace expectations. The Journal of Organizational Learning and Leadership reveals that millennials’ innovation and exploration traits are best enhanced through active learning.
While AR has not yet been widely employed in packaging markets, other industrial experiences indicate that real-time “active-learning” dramatically accelerates front-line staff learning curves and reduces error.
For example, Boeing workers completed intricate wire harnesses assemblies using AR-based work instructions, cutting assembly time by 25%, and reducing error rates to nearly zero. Staff with little or no formal training can be rapidly up-skilled to perform nonrepetitive complex activities — the kind of work inherent in many unfilled manufacturing positions today. When a machine malfunctions or a tool change is required, AR guides the operator or maintenance worker visually step by step through task execution.
“AR requires new roles such as UX or UI designers, graphic designers to create assets, and 3D modelers who understand how to turn an engineering data set into production-ready, user-facing graphics. You also need IoT software architects to define AR experience data flows to ensure experience scalability. We quickly understood that it wasn’t enough to simply enable AR on our platforms – our customers want more than a toolkit,” said Alexander Ouellet, innovation engineer at Harpak-ULMA, who leads the company’s AR development effort.
“That’s why we are building out fully contextualised, solution-specific AR content. When our customers opt for AR as part of their purchase, we intend to provide a library of experiences for tool changes, maintenance, expert capture of training processes, and related device recommendations. We do the heavy lifting so customers can deploy a complete AR experience along with asset commissioning. We also anticipate that customers may request custom AR content, which will be accommodated as well,” he added.
Well-designed, reliable solutions reduce customers’ total cost of ownership, help them overcome the challenges of an aging and evolving workforce, and improve control of maintenance expenses with competitive parts sourcing.
In addition to offering ULMA primary packaging system and comprehensive automation solutions, Harpak-ULMA is the exclusive North American distributor of G. Mondini tray sealers, RAMA secondary packaging machinery, and DIGI weigh/price/labelling equipment.
Building connected packaging solutions
In 2018 – the same year it joined the Rockwell Automation Partner Network, Harpak-ULMA launched its strategy to produce smart, connected platforms that deliver packaging as an integral part of the manufacturing digital thread.
These platforms enable emerging Internet of Things (IoT) software applications (such as AR) that leverage production data to digitally transform traditional plant asset maintenance and operational processes.
However, simply enabling the use of such applications is insufficient to help producers realise value. The combination of skill sets required to develop AR content is not only atypical of producer staffing models – they’re in short supply altogether.
Harpak-ULMA uses applications such as FactoryTalk Innovation Suite, powered by PTC and PTC’s popular ThingWorx IoT solution platform and Vuforia AR platform. All leverage a Rockwell Automation controls platform to optimise IoT data availability and scalability. Vuforia enables the rich, contextual digital overlay users demand for a true AR experience.
Kevin Roach, CEO of Harpak-ULMA, said that while their vision and role is critical to accelerating digital transformation of producer packaging processes, “it takes a village” to bring these disruptive technologies to market today.
“Rockwell Automation and PTC are both major, well-known vendors in our markets. Together we will continue to build out compelling value that’s easy for our customers to implement and use,” he said.
Jim Heppelmann, PTC’s president and CEO, offered additional insight. “Succeeding in our new normal demands that we bring digital to the 75% of workers – 2.7 billion globally – who are part of the front-line workforce.”
He added: “Knowledge workers have tools like Microsoft Office, Zoom, and others that work great on a computer screen – but not on the plant floor. Front-line workers need a way to collaborate, publish, and share ‘how-to’ digital data and content mapped onto the real world rather than a computer screen – and that’s the very definition of augmented reality. AR is essentially the front-line equivalent of those tools on which knowledge workers rely so heavily.”
Meanwhile Blake Moret, chairman and CEO of Rockwell Automation, noted that manufacturers around the world are seeking integrated approaches to digital connectivity and automation controls to unlock unprecedented operational productivity, bring their products to market faster, and increase asset utilisation while lowering risk.
“Our connected enterprise vision embraces practical approaches that make these concepts real. Including working collaboratively, as we have in this case with Harpak-ULMA and PTC, helps more producers leverage innovative technologies to deliver tangible improvements in production operations. Together, we’re combining our strengths to bring a more connected enterprise to life.”