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Operator Support Systems

Robotisation is one aspect of Smart Industry. It changes production processes and creates opportunities for companies and employees. A good work distribution between a human and a machine enables each to complement the other. This has benefits for production companies in terms of flexibility, production costs, production time and the time it takes to get a new employee up to speed. TNO brings together the capacities of people and robots and is researching new forms of cooperation that will benefit Dutch industry.

Human and Robot cooperation

TNO has developed an operator support system that enables employees to assemble products quickly and correctly. The system delivers added value especially when small series and a varied product mix are involved. A human and a robot work together in the operator support system. The human operator is assisted by projected (augmented) work instructions. The support system leads employees through the assembly process step by step. This offers a way forward for the manufacturing industry and for people of varying educational levels: from minimal schooling to advanced education. These various employees, experienced and inexperienced, young and old, can be deployed in the primary process, quickly and flexibly. In particular, collaborative robots and projected work instructions, which involve cooperation between the human and machine, offer prospects for people who are at the margins of the employment market due to disability or poor education. The redistribution of tasks creates scope for organising the work more efficiently: the human and robot do what they are each good at and complement one another.

Thanks to the cooperation between humans and robots, greater flexibility has been brought to the production process and the number of errors has decreased. This reinforces the competitive position of Dutch manufacturing in the export market with respect to low-wage countries. Flexibility in the production process is particularly highly valued where product variation is high, materials routinely  change or complex production steps are involved in small product series. In these situations an operator support system is a good solution because it helps both experienced and new employees to work error-free to produce a product quickly.

Operator support system in fieldlabs

The European project HORSE provides a good example. The company Thomas Regout and some fifteen other partners are focusing on the cooperation between persons and robots in industrial SMEs. For this project TNO is establishing a Competence Centre in Delft, within the RoboHouse. Thomas Regout is taking on the role of fieldlab within HORSE. One of the pilots due for implementation will apply augmented reality in order to simplify the assembly of more complex tools. The instructions are projected step by step on to the work surface and a camera tracks the actions of the employee. If the operator makes a mistake, the support system immediately issues a signal to draw attention to the error in good time. A test conducted by Thomas Regout and TNO reveals that an inexperienced person working with this technology can work just as quickly and error-free as someone with years of experience.

Another example is the Flexible Manufacturing fieldlab, which operates as part of the Brainport Industries Campus Eindhoven. Within this fieldlab, TNO is cooperating with companies Bronkhorst, KMWE, Omron, Neways, Total Productivity and Fontys University of Applied Sciences on the development of a new flexible arrangement for a work station at which a human and a robot can work together. The human and robot will be able to switch quickly, faultlessly and flexibly between different production variants, both existing and new.

Operator Support System at your company

Are you keen to know what opportunities an Operator Support System can offer within your company? If so, get in touch with Sam Helmer.


Sam Helmer MSc

  • Smart Industry
  • Public Private Partnerships
  • High Tech Systems and Materials


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