Packaging Company Harpak-Ulma Embraces Augmented Reality at Vuforia Live
Insights into how print can use AR
During last month’s PTC-sponsored Vuforia Live event, we were privileged to witness one of the first concrete use cases of a packaging company utilizing augmented reality (AR) internally. Harpak-Ulma, a business with decades of experience in the industry, came forward to present an in-depth breakdown of exactly how they had implemented AR into their workflow processes, as well as offered insight into their plans for AR in the future. When many think of AR in print or packaging, they only consider its use in external marketing campaigns. At Vuforia Live, we finally got an excellent example of the other side of the coin.
How Harpak-Ulma Is Using Augmented Reality
Kevin Roach, CEO and President of Harpak-Ulma Packaging, led the session by first contextualizing AR as simply the next phase of Industry 4.0—one that better enabled his company to utilize all the data they were collecting. Roach stressed that real-time production data and feedback were essential when making hardware easier to operate and maintain, and that this (in turn) was paramount when trying to make a business more agile.
Before calling up Microsoft and ordering a few dozen Hololens 2’s, Roach suggested that those interested in taking advantage of AR must first create a smart automation foundation. Since they are a client of PTC, Harpak-Ulma was talking not just about Vuforia, but PTC’s larger production portfolio—one that supports product lifecycle management and uses digital twin technology to better connect and automate packaging hardware.
All of this may sound complex (and a bit jargon-filled) so let’s put it a different way: Before AR can be used in device maintenance, repair, and training, it has to know what it’s looking at. AR-enabled devices (particularly headsets) may be cutting edge, but they are not magic. If introduced into a siloed environment—one where data readouts are not fully generated until weeks or months after the fact—AR will make little difference.
Since Harpak-Ulma had automated and integrated its systems, it was able to produce actionable readouts that could be measured in AR. And what exactly did it use AR for? It has integrated AR as a maintenance tool for technicians, a training tool for new employees, as well as a way to remotely connect its managers and seasoned staff with packaging locations that may not have that level of talent onsite.
One of the chief highlights Roach noted was AR’s ability to replicate physical scale and a sense of object in training without needing to occupy a machine. Trainees could practice on fully digital packaging equipment, learning it as if they were working on a real machine—but without impeding the speed of production.
Why Other Print and Packaging Companies Should Consider Augmented Reality
We have written a lot recently about AR’s applicability to the print and packaging space. The key takeaway here is that AR is much more than the marketing and tech-oriented hype that routinely circulates the internet. Yes, it is important to look to the future…but it is also important to dig into the nitty-gritty practicality of this new technology and not just look at it as a collection of the latest buzzwords.
AR is effective now, and Harpak-Ulma (among many other companies in the industrial manufacturing and production space) is using it in a variety of ways. It is not so much one tool as an entire new toolset, with some applications being very simple (like the YouTube video of Vuforia Chalk) and others being deceptively complex (a repair technician getting multiple readouts in real-time—including temperature, tension, and component optimization—while they are actively interacting with the machine).
Industry 4.0 was already upon us when the COVID-19 pandemic pushed everyone into higher levels of digitization and digital transformation. AR represents a clear next step, one that should be utilized after complete and reactive automation systems are already in place. It will no longer be enough to simply have the data at your disposal; AR will be the medium to transform it from the abstract into a fundamental aspect of everyday workflow—from the C-level down to the frontline worker.
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