Mechanical engineers and plant construction firms are forced to devote a considerable portion of their people and practical resources to servicing and maintaining customer equipment. 2D and 3D hybrid platforms can significantly reduce this expenditure, as in the future, machines will be able to report and display their maintenance needs in a virtual 3D space – and even order replacement parts themselves if necessary. This allows next-generation systems for electronic business to be developed, which take care of today’s 2D business using future scenarios of 3D processes.
As part of a pilot project, the Steinbeis Consulting Center Electronic Business (SBZ-EB) proved that this vision can become a reality. Working together with businessMart AG and GfIM mbH, a sample scenario was set up in a virtual 3D environment and implemented live in the online virtual world SecondLife. SecondLife was used to generally represent 2D and 3D hybrid platforms which support integrated electronic business (in its standard form, based on a full integration of on line shopping systems and ERP systems) and can translate virtual 3D worlds into real business processes.
The aim of the pilot project was to work through a typical maintenance situation for many German toolmakers. To do this, a virtual stamping press with a built-in tool was created. It receives status and error signals from the real-world machine and displays them in the virtual world. If an error occurs, such as a stamp breaking inside the machine, then the virtual stamping press contacts a shop system to order a replacement. For this, the electronic shop system has to be directly integrated into the ERP system of the supplier/ manufacturer. After checking the availability and price, the required replacement part can then be ordered by an employee or by the virtual stamping press itself. As such, the “self-maintenance” of the stamping machine can enormously reduce the level of maintenance effort needed. Small and medium- sized toolmakers and engineering firms which do not have a maintenance service in some countries can save significant costs and time by using this self-diagnosis and error display system. The maintenance can also be performed by less qualified service personnel, as a service technician from the main office can meet the on-site service technician in the virtual world. They can look at the virtual machine and discuss the errors and how to install replacement parts. This also means that a machine can be visually monitored in the virtual world from anywhere on the planet.
The pilot project shows that using 2D and 3D hybrid platforms can significantly optimize maintenance processes in the area of electronic business. As well as the example used here, there are many other conceivable uses for the hybrid platforms, such as direct training of service staff using the virtual machine, or setting up complete virtual supply chains.