Kognitiv Spark CEO, Yan Simard on how Mixed Reality, Industrial Internet of Things, and Artificial Intelligence can decrease the cognitive burden on the industrial workforce.
I remember the days when I was a college student. Like many students, money was tight and summer vacation was more about working as much as possible than it was about vacationing. In addition to much-needed cash, these summer jobs gave me a chance to gain real-life work experience in a variety of industrial fields.
These included oil and gas, construction, electronic manufacturing, and home appliance manufacturing. These fields came with unique challenges that school hadn’t equipped me for.
I remember my first few days on the job, trying to quickly absorb the knowledge required to do the work. Trying not to delay production too much. I had strong feelings of insecurity and stress mixed with a bit of pride when progress was made and confidence was built.
I’m sure that my summer job experience resembles many others. It was challenging, fun, and the stakes felt high.
I must admit, it’s been 25 years since I was a college student. Industrial work has become much more complex and challenging since my time on the shop floor.
The Industrial Workplace is Always Changing
Modern industrial field operations, like other modern workplaces, are under stress. Pressures like globalization, mass customization, automation, and regulation cause field-work environments to change rapidly and constantly.
25 years ago, a field worker could learn how to perform a certain number of functions, then perform these functions for a sustained period (months or even years). In modern industrial workforces, it’s not uncommon to see certain procedures change weekly or even daily. Especially as demand for customized products and tighter turnaround times increases.
Field workers are often just trying to keep up with the newest ways of doing their jobs. Imagine working and living in a high-pressure environment that is constantly shifting.
Fighter pilots have an expression used to describe what happens when someone doesn’t have the cognitive capacity to process a heavy volume of information. They say “the bucket is full.” For many industrial field workers, the bucket is full. When it’s overflowing, the consequences are called equipment downtime, loss of productivity, safety hazards, low morale, and stress, to name a few.
The ambiguity of modern industrial operations is likely here to stay, however, it’s possible to help field workers decrease the mental strain put on them by rapidly evolving, complex operations.
Understanding the OODA Loop Cycle for Worker Efficiency
The OODA Loop is a model – developed in the defence sector by John Boyd of the U.S. Airforce – that helps us understand the cognitive process required for an individual to effectively assess a new situation and take the decisive action required to deal with it.
The basic concept is that an individual goes through four steps: observe, orient, decide, and act. The reason why it’s called a loop is that we must go through a countless series of OODA Loop cycles to go about our work and our lives in general. The newer and more complex an unfolding circumstance is, the more stress is put on the OODA loop cycle. This can lead to slower response time and decreased performance.
When an individual or an organization can process OODA Loop cycles faster, productivity increases and so does the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Ultimately, individuals and organizations that accelerate these cycles gain a clear competitive advantage.
Technological advancements made over the past decade have led to solutions that are now ready to help industrial workers increase their cognitive capabilities by decreasing pressure on OODA Loop cycles, and it doesn’t involve some weird experimental drug.
Imagine an industrial technician working in the field who encounters a problem that they’ve never experienced before. This is when their high-stress OODA Loop cycle begins. They observe the problem. They interpret the available information, then trying to identify the issue and look for ways to fix it or find resources that can help (this could be a physical manual or a more senior technician).
Deciding on the best course of action, they get to work. The longer the problem goes on, the more cognitive power is required by the worker as OODA cycles get longer and more frequent. Keep in mind, the worker is aware of the repercussions should the problem persist, which could be increased equipment downtime, an elevated safety hazard, or a number of other unfavourable outcomes.
Accelerating the Decision Action Cycle for a Competitive Edge
When used together, Mixed Reality (MR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) sensor data can decrease the cognitive burden imposed on industrial field workers and speed up the OODA Loop cycle. This better equips industrial workers to handle high-stress, high-impact scenarios like the one detailed above.
1) They can observe information more accurately by having all relevant data delivered into their field of view, when and where it’s needed, in a format intuitive to the human brain. This is done through IIoT sensor data visualized on 3D digital twins. IIoT data can help identify the problem by indicating anomalies on a MR hologram. This represents the problem in a visual, easy-to-digest format, when they need it most.
2) Field workers can better orient themselves by accessing all relevant content and assets available to deal with the situation at hand. The content and knowledge selection and curation are done through AI assistance. AI can curate relevant documents and content pertaining to the issue – by automatically recognizing the object in question – delivering them to the industrial worker as MR holograms.
3) This naturally leads the field worker to a better decision.
4) They can then act confidently, and as fast as possible, so that a task can be completed correctly, on the first attempt. This eliminates or limits the effects of the problem while simultaneously training the worker on the task while they perform it.
Empowering the Industrial Workforce
A recent study released by PTC indicates that 69% of industrial enterprises using augmented reality technologies are doing so to enhance their workforce, focusing on use cases that benefit workers in engineering, manufacturing, and training. 68% of the organizations stated they feel confident that their AR efforts will move into full deployment within 12 months.
With IIoT integrations and AI woven into platforms that decrease stress on the OODA Loop cycle, these technologies are primed to reshape the way we think about and approach industrial work.
While the benefits for enterprises are clear and measurable, understanding how these technologies benefit industrial workers and AR/MR end users is equally important.
What this delivers is increased situational awareness, faster cognition, less stress when tackling first-time problems, decreased ramp time when learning new tasks, autonomy, confidence, and more accurate decisions. This allows the human brain to do what it does best: make decisions and execute on them. That is nothing short of a superpower.