Smart Tools Enhance Work on the Plant Floor

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Equipment and Processing Report

Equipment and Processing Report, Equipment and Processing Report-01-17-2018, Volume 11, Issue 1

The Industrial Internet of Things and new tools such as smart glasses can improve training and daily tasks for pharmaceutical manufacturing operations.

New tools, such as smart glasses and systems that monitor equipment remotely, can improve pharmaceutical manufacturing operations by making daily tasks and training functions safer and easier. 

Smart glasses

Smart glasses-eyeglasses or goggles with augmented reality (AR) technology-are available commercially and are being used in the pharmaceutical industry. One use of smart glasses is operator training. “Operators can work with a digital version of the equipment that behaves exactly like the physical equipment,” notes Billy Sisk, Life Sciences Industry manager for EMEA at Rockwell Automation. “Machinery can be virtually disassembled into its components in front of the trainee’s eyes with AR glasses. Operators can then better understand how equipment functions instead of looking at the real unit, the insides of which are normally covered by a hood when the machine is up and running.”

Technology company Apprentice, which has a GMP-compliant augmented reality platform for bio/pharma manufacturing and R&D, introduced the 3.0 version of its trio of augmented reality modules and announced that it had received $2.5 million in venture funding, in a Dec. 7, 2017 press release. According to Apprentice, the three modules of its platform run on smart glasses, such as Microsoft HoloLens, Google Glass 2.0, Epson Moverio BT350, ODG R9, and the Vuzix M300. The Tandem module is a telepresence tool that allows remote viewers to see whatever the glasses’ wearer is viewing. The Manuals module is a hands-free aid that overlays text, images, or video onto an operator’s field of view so the operator can access a standard operating procedure or batch record, for example, during a work process or for training. The BioCapture module collects laboratory and manufacturing data, while an operator is performing a task, using augmented reality and computer vision. The latest version of the three modules has an updated user interface, an improved workflow, and additions to the computer vision and machine learning components.

“We don’t just augment reality; we augment human ability,” Angelo Stracquatanio, CEO and co-founder of Apprentice said in the press release. “We are changing the way humans interact with intelligent technology.”


The Industrial Internet of Things

Another enabling technology is the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which uses sensors connected to the Internet to send data from equipment on the plant floor to remote monitors for analysis, viewing, and decision making. Operators, engineers, and other personnel can have access to real-time process data without being at the equipment or inside the cleanroom, for example. With appropriate security measures, equipment manufacturers or personnel outside a company can be given access via the IIoT to look at data for a specific concern. The data from IIoT-connected equipment can be analyzed to gauge equipment health and determine when maintenance is needed. Data can also be used for troubleshooting and for optimizing manufacturing processes. 

The IIoT also allows creation of a “digital twin,” which refers to a virtual representation of a physical entity, such as a bioreactor. “The use of a digital twin helps with the analysis, simulation, and control of real-world conditions, as well as potential changes and improvements in the manufacturing process,” says Sisk. Simulation can be used to experiment with process changes without interrupting manufacturing.

With more connections to the Internet, security is a concern that must be addressed. Connectivity and integration are also challenges. “Communication between equipment from different suppliers will become more important,” notes Sisk. “Pre-Internet assets lack the connectivity of newer pieces of equipment. However, these legacy devices still have years of remaining value if linked to the cloud, enabling data to be analyzed and revealing actionable insights that provide real benefits.”


1., “NJ Startup Raises $2.5M for Industrial Augmented Reality Platform,” Press Release, Dec. 7, 2017.