To coincide with Manufacturing Day – a celebration that began eight years ago as a way to inspire more young people to become the manufacturers and innovators of the future – Intel Ireland General Manager Eamonn Sinnott shares perspectives on how Augmented Reality technology has been revolutionising the Intel manufacturing environment, particularly in recent months as new challenges related to COVID-19 emerged.
However, in the Intel fabs – the specially controlled environment where we make our microprocessors – this technology is becoming an important, day-to-day part of our manufacturing.
Our factories operate 24 hours a day and at any one time there are hundreds of engineers and technicians working on thousands of tools that are manufacturing millions of processors. These tools are large – a single one could fill the size of a room – and complex pieces of equipment that each perform their own unique process within the manufacturing cycle.
If a tool goes down, someone must fix it. When a new tool arrives, a handful of field service engineers from the tool’s manufacturer come on-site to train our technicians how to use it. Once Intel technicians master the tool, they travel to other factories to train their counterparts.
Imagine the same factory during COVID-19. There is virtually no travel. Manufacturing technicians arrive on staggered shifts to stay socially distanced. Activities that require close proximity are limited and performed with additional precautions.
Almost overnight, the opportunities offered by augmented reality became more relevant, and more crucial than ever before.
Beginning the journey
Almost 2 years ago, some of our manufacturing folks here in Ireland came together with the idea to kick off augmented reality (AR) training, and, having acquired a couple of pairs of AR glasses, the journey began.
Initially, the focus was on how to use the technology to make training activities faster, more consistent and more immersive for people learning new tasks.
One of the earliest successes of the technology was its impact on the training of our Manufacturing Technicians. Standard training procedures can be created in a video format that can display tool features, labels, tags etc. This content can then be relayed through AR glasses as a real-time resource for trainees. The glasses enable task repetition, with procedures shown in the wearer’s field of view when completing tasks. This has enhanced productivity and improved execution times at certification, leading to increased tool availability.
We discovered several ways that the AR glasses helped us improve factory performance. For example, AR technology has helped us to enhance our response procedures for tool alarms. Pictures and videos, presented in real-time through the glasses, help to clarify for a technician the specific sequence of actions required to service a tool.
COVID-19 challenges bring renewed opportunities for AR
In November 2019, the team introduced the remote assist functionality of the AR glasses. The remote assist allows us to connect the AR headset to a remote user on a laptop with a two-way interaction between both devices. This allows the users of both devices to remotely collaborate, regardless of where they may be. Little did we know how useful this capability would become.
The remote assist function has enabled social distancing in the fab as a trainee can observe a task being completed from a safe distance. The trainer wears the AR headset while the trainee observes the procedure on a laptop and is able to ask questions as needed. The remote assist function has also been important for new hire integration, allowing someone on-site to give a fab tour to an employee at home or enabling 1:1 training.
The remote assist is also helpful when people cannot be physically present. For example, earlier this month we had an issue in the sub-level of our fab that required the support of a field engineer. The person who normally provided this support was overseas and couldn’t get to our site in Leixlip because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. The team solved the problem by using the AR headset to have an offsite support professional lead the on-site technician through the maintenance activity. The technology allowed us to deploy the skills from where they where to where they were needed. The maintenance task was completed faster than usual.
The opportunities for this technology are vast. We are constantly learning how it can enhance how we work, transform the way we train our employees, and make physical distance irrelevant. For a company like ours, connected together in a global network, this is hugely important. Augmented reality has become an important tool in helping us work towards a fab of the future.
Eamonn Sinnott is Intel Vice President, Manufacturing and Operations and General Manager, Intel Ireland.
Intel – celebrating Manufacturing Day 2020
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