Asset Knowledge Visualizations

In recent years the abundance of digital data about enterprise assets enables the development, deployment and operation of data-driven solutions for managing assets in intelligent ways. The latter result in improved reliability, as well as minimization of failures and costs. In this direction, enterprises spend time and effort in designing and integrating Intelligent Asset Management (IAM) solutions that collect and analyse large volumes of digital data, including for example data from vibration sensors, thermal images, ultrasonic sensors, acoustic devices, temperature sensors, power consumption sensors, oil analysis systems, as well as data from business information systems (e.g., Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems) and quality management systems (e.g., Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS)). The tasks of collecting and consolidating data from heterogeneous sources is extremely challenging given the need to cope with different interfaces, formats and semantics. Likewise, finding useful patterns and extracting knowledge from large volumes of data requires quite tedious and time-consuming data mining processes.

Nevertheless, these challenging tasks won’t provide useful and actionable insights to enterprises, unless their outcomes are properly visualized. Therefore, enterprises need to invest on proper visualization techniques, which will deliver the extracted IAM insights in ergonomic and user-friendly ways to various end-user groups such as maintenance engineers, process engineers, plant managers and the business management of the enterprise.  Fortunately, the on-going digitization of the shopfloor, coupled with advances in data visualization (e.g., Big Data visualizations and Augmented Reality) provides unprecedented opportunities for visualizing IAM insights in effective ways. In this context, enterprises must select the most appropriate visualization techniques for their IAM tasks.

Dashboards and Reports

Dashboards are the most commonly used modality for visualizing information about enterprise assets. All Big Data analytics platforms for IAM, including SAP’s IAM solutions provide the means for developing and customize dashboards that display assets’ insights and other relevant information. In most cases a dashboard comprises multiple charts and reports about individual assets or entire groups of assets. In their simplest form, these dashboards display static or dynamic information in appropriate widgets and charts. Some typical examples include:

  • Charts that display the most used assets, along with information about their actual usage and predictions about their anticipated usage within specific time windows. These charts may also include reports that track the status of the asset (e.g., its usage) over time.
  • Widgets that display alerts when condition parameters of certain assets exceed given thresholds.
  • Compliance auditing reports that provide information about whether an asset or a group of assets comply with a set of requirements. The latter requirements may stem from some safety regulation or some corporate policy about the asset.
  • Insights about the lifecycle of the asset (e.g., the evolution of its life expectancy), including alerts for scheduling maintenance and repair operations. For instance, if the temperature and rotation speed of an asset exceed predefined levels, an alert can be produced on an operator’s dashboard to allow him/her address the issue proactively.
  • Visual representations of recommendations about corrective actions to be taken on assets that are likely to fail. Such recommendations could be depicted over a digital representation of the asset.
  • Heatmaps of real-time information about the assets’ condition, which can provide easy to understand insights about the usage of the assets.
  • Information on maintenance schedules about one or more assets, which are conveniently displayed and disseminated to users in charge of their monitoring and service processes.

Dashboards comprise a wide array of different charts, including conventional line and pie charts, but also other visualizations that are useful for visualizing very large datasets. Indeed, most IAM applications require visualizations of large volumes of data based on more specialized charts like box plots, stream graphs and donut charts. For instance, box plots (also known as “Box and Whisker” diagrams) comprise “whiskers” i.e. lines used to illustrate variability outside the upper and lower quartiles. Box plots are drawn either vertically or horizontally and provide the means for illustrating outlier values through individual dots. Hence, Box Plots enable visualization of very large datasets in ways that use much less space when compared to histograms or density plots. As such, they can be effective in summarizing information about the number of defects on a product or the number of failures of specific machines and tools over large time periods. As another example, donut charts are like the popular pie charts, but with an area of their centre cut out. Donut charts facilitate the comparison of multiple pie charts together, as they de-emphasize the use of the central area and allow their readers to focus more on reading the length of their arcs. Hence, they are also more space efficient than conventional pie charts, as their central area can be used to display additional information.

The process of producing these dashboards involves the specification of the information to be visualized, as well as the use of libraries of widgets and charts that can properly display this information. Despite the existence of rich libraries of readily available visualization components, the effort needed for designing and customizing a proper dashboard can be significant. To alleviate this effort, state-of-the-art IAM platforms provide visual modelling tools, which facilitate the connection of dashboards and reports with the data flows and analytics processes that produce the IAM insights or results to be visualized. Such tools facilitate the visualization of asset monitoring workflows, as well as the production and illustration of notifications and alerts to the end users. For example, SAP’s IAM platform comes with utilities and tools that:

Beyond these sample visualization capabilities, SAP IAM provides versatility in connecting data analytics and machine learning functions with widgets and charts. The platform is not limited to the visualization of insights on individual assets, but rather provides the means for display end-to-end data analytics pipelines.

Virtual Reality (VR) Visualizations

Virtual Reality provides the means for creating simulated, yet realistic experiences linked to the status of enterprise assets. VR applications comprise computer-generated simulations of three dimensional (3D) environments, while offering humans the possibility of interacting with the simulated environment using devices like helmets or sensors’ equipped gloves. Overall, using VR enables the simulation of real-life asset management and enterprise maintenance environments, and enable users to interact with them. This provides a much richer and better user experience when compared to dashboards.

In most cases, VR technologies are used for training employees in maintenance and asset management tasks. Training in a VR environment eliminates the safety risks of training in a real-life environment i.e. as training in real environments could be hazardous for the trainees. Likewise, VR applications allow enterprises to implement training programmes without jeopardizing the integrity of the equipment, as shopfloor assets are in many cases sensitive and expensive.

Another benefit of VR technology is that it can enable individualised training experience. This requires however some extra effort for customizing the training simulation. Furthermore, VR environments are available 24X7 regardless of the location of the trainee, which can reduce costs associated with business travel for training purposes.

Augmented Reality (AR) Visualizations

The availability of very large volumes of digital data about the assets is also driving the emergence of Augmented Reality (AR) applications for Intelligent Asset Management. In principle, AR enhances the users’ field of view by providing access to real-time and rich cyber-representations of information about the assets. Specifically, real-time digital information about the assets are superimposed over the physical asset in the users’ line of sight. In this way, maintenance and process engineers can instantly access a wealth of information about the asset, including for example the most up-to-date information about how to operate or even to repair it.

AR visualizes information about the asset in an ergonomic and use to consume ways. Based on the display of AR information about an asset, the following asset management processes can be facilitated:

  • Asset Assembly: Asset assembly instructions can be conveniently displayed on the asset’s parts, which obviates the need for cumbersome browsing of manuals.
  • Service Inspection: Up to date service inspection information can be instantly made available to the operator or engineer in charge of the inspection.
  • Compliance Checking: Detailed compliance checklists can be provided to engineers in charge, including information about what needs to be checked and about the compliance checking responsibilities. This eases access to information and reduces the cognitive load of the auditor.
  • Support for Rarely Performed Procedures: The display of instructions about procedures that are not commonly performed and hence not widely known to asset engineers can greatly increase the efficiency and the safety of the respective procedures.
  • Remote Assistance: The digital information to be superimposed over the asset can contain digital instructions or support data provided by a remote technician or engineer. This can greatly facilitate remote support, while saving precious time and travel resources.

AR visualizations lead to tangible productivity improvements in the asset management processes, as a result of reduced human errors, cost savings and higher speeds in service and repair operations.

There are already several deployment instances of AR in the industry, including applications in the above areas. Nevertheless, there are still deployment barriers such as the cost of the end-users’ wearable equipment (e.g., AR glasses). During the last couple of years, the prices of such equipment are falling and the digital technologies that support AR applications (e.g., tracking, rendering, 3D object detection, gesture recognition, natural human machine interaction) are maturing in a rapid pace. Therefore, a proliferation of AR visualizations and applications in asset management is expected.

Beyond dashboards and AR/VR visualizations, other ways for representing asset information and insights in ergonomic and user friendly ways are emerging. These include for example animations and infographics that are automatically produced based on the data from Big Data databases about assets and asset management processes.

Conclusion & Future Outlook

No matter how information is to be displayed and presented, visualization will always remain an integral part of any asset management solution, as it provides the means for conveying asset knowledge to end-users. In cases where asset management solutions are provided as a service (e.g., from a service provider or OEM to a plant operation), visualization is also an essential part of the monetization of the solution. Indeed, customers are likely to ask for custom dashboards, charts and other means of visualization, which can lead to the generation of new revenue streams.

Overall, industrial enterprises cannot afford to ignore the importance and the business value of asset knowledge visualization. Therefore, they should not dispose with default charts and representations provided by Industrial Internet of Things and Industrial Cloud platforms. Rather they should invest in specifying and customizing out-of-the-box capabilities to their peculiar needs. Part of this investment involves partnering with experienced consultants that can help them tailor visualization solutions to their business requirements. Gentackle can be your valuable partner in your IAM journey and your efforts to maximize the business value of your visualization deployments.