Hosokawa Micron uses AR to cut development time and accelerate product delivery

AR isolator mock-up

Hosokawa Micron Ltd, based in Runcorn, Cheshire, specialises in high containment and particle size reduction technologies, supporting clients across pharmaceuticals, fine chemicals, food, minerals and nuclear. It designs, manufactures and delivers machinery and systems, provides contract manufacturing services, and supports powder testing and R&D in its new Innovation Centre.

Hosokawa Micron developed the process industry’s first digital twin plant, combining VR, AR, AI and big data to create a tool that bridges the gap between the physical and digital.

High containment solutions 

Hosokawa has developed a range of high containment enclosures – isolators and gloveboxes – largely used in the pharmaceutical sector, that enable ‘shirt sleeve’ operation without the need for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). 

Each product is bespoke. Customers usually travel to Runcorn for ergonomic testing and product approval. Inevitable modifications used to require scrapping of the wooden mock-up models, construction of new ones and further journeys back and forth. 

Cutting development time 

The company sought a solution that would cut development time, was light and easy to modify. It believed that a combined AR/VR (augmented reality/ virtual reality) solution had a lot to offer but it struggled to get its AR properly coupled with its Autodesk CAD software. They were put in touch with Oliver Hopkinson, who was studying for an MA in Mechanical Engineering at Bath University, who provided support as a sponsored Digital Catalyst. 

“Oliver had no great familiarity with what we did but he could understand the problem,” said James Moore, Commercial Operations Director. “He was scheduled to work on our project for a couple of weeks. When we called him after three days, we hoped for some incremental progress. In fact, he’d cracked that first iteration; he really exceeded our expectations. We quickly had him smoothing the model, working on clash detection and refining it.”

Building bridges, embracing freedoms and cutting costs 

Solving the problems was a liberation. “We applied the solution to a particularly complex multi-chamber pharmaceutical isolator,” said Iain Crosley, Managing Director. “We were able to bring the customer in, use the hybrid digital-physical model to eliminate clashes and ensure it was ergonomically sound. If modifications were needed, we simply adjusted the CAD design and ran the simulation again. We were able to take at least two weeks off the project timeline.” 

For Hosokawa Micron, AR has shortened lead times dramatically and cut the costs of model making and reiteration. It bridges the skills gap between the experience of the generation approaching retirement and the digital- savviness of young recruits.

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