Belgian startup Arkite is empowering manufacturing operators by offering a 3D workspace that helps them work more efficiently, avoid costly errors, and reduce stress.
Over the past decade, robots have taken over much of the world’s manufacturing work. Once limited to performing only repetitive or dangerous tasks, machines are now doing work that until recently only humans could do—from picking, packaging, testing, and inspecting to assembling minute electronics.
The human face of automation
For some tasks, such as those requiring judgment, dexterity, memory, trainability, and object recognition, robots are still no match for humans. But humans are not immune to error. For example:
- People are challenged to master the myriad of manufacturing steps for an exponentially growing number of product variations, customizations, and options.
- Humans like to talk, and talking on the job can result in forgetting or omitting important steps.
In a manufacturing environment, these mistakes can be costly, resulting in unnecessary waste, poor quality, and customer dissatisfaction.
The Arkite Human Interface Mate (HIM) is designed to address these performance gaps with quality monitoring, assistance, control, and optimization. Like a “virtual guardian angel,” the system looks over employees’ shoulders and thinks along with them as they perform tasks. If something goes wrong, the system alerts operators and gives them an opportunity to self-correct. By focusing on the actual work and constantly checking for errors, employees not only perform better, but they feel less stress while working.
“HIM combines the advantages of technology with the freedoms of human actions,” says Arkite founder and CEO Johan Smeyers. “No two people do the same job the same way. HIM makes operators more vigilant without taking over the job completely.”
The idea for Arkite HIM came from the gaming industry. Smeyers took the same design principles and applied them to manufacturing. Based on the Time-of-Flight (TOF) principle, the HIM system uses 3D sensor technology similar to that used in gaming platforms like Wii and Xbox. Just as a gaming console tracks a gamer’s dance or play movements, Arkite HIM tracks operators’ movements as they perform manufacturing tasks.
The HIM system interacts with operators in a number of ways to guide them through the manufacturing sequence. Because it is self-learning, it is also able to analyze actions and teach them to others. A typical computer parts-assembly scenario shows how human and machine interact:
- A yellow projection shows the operator which computer part to take and where to place it.
- If the operator takes the wrong part, a red light is projected.
- The operators’ cordless screwdriver refuses to turn on for the wrong screw.
The game ahead
Arkite HIM has already been integrated successfully with SAP ERP, SAP production orders, and SAP materials management. In addition, the technology is already running in as many as 100 projects, including the Ford Motor Company in Cologne, Germany and its supplier Benteler; CNH in Zedelgem, Belgium; Atlas Copco; and CommScope.
In spite of these early successes, however, Arkite continues to put humans at the very center of everything it does. “The Human Interface Mate is automating work, not replacing the worker,” says Smeyers. “By supporting people in their daily work, we’re ensuring that nothing is forgotten during the manufacturing process—including the workers themselves.”
The big idea
Arkite HIM is a manufacturing technology. Using sensors and projections, it guides operators in their production process tasks. HIM uses red, yellow, and blue light cues, for example, to show operators what they should do, in what order they should do it, and when they’re about to make an error. The result is digitized work instructions for workers and Industry 4.0 data for the company, with all the advantages these bring.
Why it’s big
By reducing errors, increasing efficiency, and boosting quality, Arkite HIM promises to give manufacturing industries an enormous competitive edge.