Many advanced economies suffer from a lack of skilled workers. As a result, staff are increasingly operating alone, especially in the chemical industry. Electronic noses, mobile offices and, in future, even augmented reality can make everyday work easier and safer.

The fewer staff there are in the field, the more important occupational safety becomes.
Every minute of working time also becomes more valuable. Unnecessary journeys hide dangers and cost money – particularly in the process industry, where daily journeys quickly add up to several kilometres.

The portable office

Ex-protected tablet PCs are leading the fight against unnecessary trips between the office and the site. Using modern technology, they form a complete PC workstation no bigger than a school book. Quickly check your e-mails? Tip, tap, done. Fill out an Excel table or read some maintenance instructions? No problem. Thanks to the hi-res displays, even complex systems can be visualised in detail. The extra-robust
device is connected via WiFi or high-speed standard LTE with the company network for exchanging information in real time. Integrated barcode scanners, optional RFID readers and sensors open up further options. Back in the real offi ce, this mobile assistant can be used as a full workplace computer using a docking station.

Electronic noses

Back in the 19th century, coal miners took special safety lamps with them underground to protect against the dreaded mine explosions. Today, portable gauges provide added safety in a range of sectors. In supply and disposal, the coal and steel industry, or in production, these handy devices can detect a range of gases using electro-chemical and infra-red sensors, even in tiny concentrations. If the limits are exceeded, users are alerted with acoustic and visual warning signals. In the near future, this task could even be incorporated into protective clothing. New technology makes it possible to directly integrate super-thin sensor materials in the clothing as a kind of "electronic nose" to detect socalled volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Augmented-reality goggles

In the not-too-distant future, individuals will be able to use data goggles to receive important information on the spot. Augmented reality merges computer graphics with real images to give a whole new perspective. By superimposing a route directly into their field of vision, even external service personnel can easily find the best way to get to where they're needed. If the systems to be serviced are recorded as a 3D model, the technician can receive valuable information during maintenance, such as current measurement values, documents or instructions. This speeds up troubleshooting, and can help level the playing field when experienced staff are lacking.
Combining the data goggles with speech recognition free up both hands. Looking further into the future, technicians will even be able to "talk" to certain components. 3D voice technology and headphones will allow them to get the information they need from the right direction.