Wednesday, February 15, 2017 / Perth Australia / By Niekie Jooste
In this edition of "The WelderDestiny Compass":
When we consider the possible future dominated by machines and robots, we fear for our very existence. This fear will however not save us. For salvation, we need to move beyond fear.
This week we start The WelderDestiny Compass by exploring our mindset regarding change and technology.
We then explore the technologies of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) and how this could potentially impact the welder.
If you would like to add your ideas to this week’s discussion, then please send me an e-mail with your ideas, (Send your e-mails to: email@example.com) or complete the comment form on the page below.
Now let's get stuck into this week’s topics...
“What Gus is saying is that we’re missing the point. What Gus is saying is that we all heard the rumors that they want to send a monkey up first. Well, none of us wants to think that they’re gonna send a monkey up to do a man’s work. But what Gus is saying is that what they’re trying to do to us is send a man up to do a monkey’s work. Us, a bunch of college-trained chimpanzees!” (From the movie: The Right Stuff)
When we see jobs being lost to automation, our emotions respond in a manner that tries to protect our own self-interest. We believe that there needs to be some protection for our jobs from this onslaught. While this emotional response is natural, history suggests that it is not very useful in the long run.
As an example, I look at the automotive industry in Australia. When the Australian automobile assembly plants were not competitive with those from Asia, the government subsidised the companies running the plants. The alternative was to automate the plants so that the high wage rates in Australia could be neutralised, but the job losses were politically unpopular, hence the subsidy option being chosen.
For years, this subsidy system prevailed in Australia, while car manufacturers in other developed nations such as Japan, South Korea and Germany (who also have relatively high wage rates) followed the automation route. Eventually it became clear that the subsidies in Australia were not sustainable, and the government had no choice but to eliminate them.
The nett result is that the automobile assembly plants are closing, with the associated loss of not only the jobs in the assembly plants, but also in the numerous small businesses that provided components and services to those assembly plants.
In hindsight, we see that it would have been better to encourage the automation. While this would have resulted in job losses in the short term, it would have saved a lot of jobs in the associated small businesses. In addition, it could have resulted in a burgeoning industry in the automation and robotics technology sectors that could service the equipment for the automotive industry. Instead, those industries were developed in Japan, South Korea and Germany.
If you believe that your job is being threatened by automation or robotics, then it is time to decide how you can add value to what you provide. As a rule, it is best not to compete with technology, but rather to use technology to become more competitive. Ask yourself how you can get an edge and significantly increase your productivity using technology.
High productivity and value add is the best protection against job losses. Your productivity needs to be high enough that the cost of capital associated with automation is just not worth the investment. This additional value can be achieved in several different ways, including your skill, knowledge, experience and ability to flexibly interface with a team.
To give up what you know is only possible when you acquire alternative tools. Always keep your eyes and mind open to identify your opportunities for acquiring those alternative tools. Remember, for salvation we need to move beyond fear.
When automation comes knocking on your door, don’t be the man doing a machine's job!
In Star Trek, the characters often spend time on the “hollo deck” where they experience a totally interactive virtual reality world. This picture of virtual reality will probably never be achieved, given that the “holograms” are so real that they are solid, and could potentially kill you.
Virtual Reality (VR) as applied to what our brain perceives, is however very much a technology that is already starting to reach the point where it is making great inroads in gaming. It is also making waves in the engineering and construction fields.
It is quite possible to take a tour of what your future home will look like, before you have even built it. If you don’t like what you see, then you can get the necessary changes made.
Augmented Reality (AR) is probably the biggest potential within the engineering field. In AR, we still have the virtual reality technology, but it is integrated with our physical environment. In other words, some artificial reality elements are introduced into our physical environment, so that it is difficult or impossible to tell which parts are real, and which parts are virtual.
Obviously, augmenter reality (AR) will be big in gaming, emergency drills and military exercises, but how will it affect us in the welding industry, and particularly the Welder?
The most obvious introduction of augmented reality (AR) within welding is in the training environment. Imagine the savings and safety improvements possible if most engineering students can be taught to weld within a virtual environment.
There are already a number of providers of AR systems within the Welder training space. One of these is the ARC+ welding simulator. I have not actually used this system, so this mention should not be seen as an endorsement, but if you are interested in this kind of thing, their website will be a good place to start.
Another obvious application of virtual reality in welding is the simulation of jobs that may have very restrictive access conditions. A model of the job can be created on a 3D modelling software platform, and then the output from this model can be used to create the virtual environment for the welder to simulate the welding job.
Previously we have considered how additional sensors will be integrated into the welding set-up to gather additional quality control data. Another very exciting possibility of the AR technology, is to integrate the welding sensor data into a real-time visual feedback to the welder. As an example of how this could work, let us surmise that an infrared (IR) camera is monitoring the weld during the welding process. If porosity is introduced into the weld, it will have a different temperature to the rest of the weld metal. The computer monitoring the IR video feed (based on artificial intelligence) will detect this difference in temperature and highlight it in a different colour within the Welder's video feed of the weld. Let us say with a blue spot. While the temperature anomaly associated with the porosity will be transient (probably gone within a second or less) the computer will continue to show the porosity as a permanently different coloured spot on the weld. The welder can then stop welding and return to perform the grinding necessary to remove the porosity.
Note how this could very easily be integrated into a welding helmet that uses two stereo cameras to show us what we are looking at, rather than a darkened glass. Once we have welding helmets working on this principle, we can integrate almost any application and additional data into the Welder's field of view. When you break the arc, the screens will automatically lighten to show you an undarkened view of your surroundings. This is similar to the auto-darkening helmets of today, but based on a technology that will enable huge integration with any relevant data technology.
You, the Welder, will have constant feedback within your welding helmet of all the relevant welding parameters (volts, amps, travel speeds, heat input etc. will be displayed like with a head-up display in a fighter jet) overlayed with any additional sensor feedback that is monitoring QC functions.
If you think this is so far in the future that it is not worth worrying about, then I believe you are wrong. Strictly speaking, all the technology I have described is already available. It is just not portable enough to be practical. All that is needed is for this to become cheap enough for it to become freely available. My guess... I give it 5 years. Within 10 years, I think this type of functionality will become relatively commonplace.
Are you one of the Welders excited to embrace this technology, or are you afraid of how it will shake your world? Remember... For salvation, we need to move beyond fear.
Yours in welding
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What are your thoughts on embracing the future? Should we try to protect our jobs through legislation, or go with technology? / Do you think that Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality will have a big impact on the Welder? Please share your stories, insights and even fears or wishes regarding today's topics.