In manufacturing, the technology can be used in much the same way. The beauty of it is that you can use it to present more than digital characters, images, or content. You can also overlay text, stats, and information relevant to the worker’s current task. Looking at a furnace or piece of equipment might show its current running temperature, revealing it as hot and unsafe to touch with your bare hands.
Just the concept of this tech sounds like something from a sci-fi movie, but this is the reality we live in. These devices will become more commonplace everywhere, not just in a single industry. Augmented reality glasses are forecasted to reach around 19.1 million units by 2021, and when combined with VR devices, could hit 59.2 million units.
Making monsters appear in games like Pokémon Go is not the only application for augmented reality these days. Industry is using the technology too, harnessing CAD data for training workers, standardizing workflows, and enabling collaboration.
Manufacturing domain has a lot of possibilities of Augmented Reality. Eran Nadel, director of innovation projects and rapid development manager for manufacturing engineering at Siemes Digital Industries Software is exploring. He and his colleagues are among the select group of engineers who have been developing AR technology for use in manufacturing. These engineers have been superimposing virtual elements constructed from CAD and other data onto views of real objects depicted on mobile devices, desktop computers, smart glasses, and headsets. It is this superimposition of the virtual upon the real that differentiates AR from virtual reality (VR), which immerses users in a completely virtual scenario constructed solely from digital elements.
Nadel reports that the focus at Siemens has been mainly on using AR to support various kinds of human-centered activities. An example is a maintenance application in which Siemens’ AssistAR product guides technicians through routine maintenance on a gearbox. The process begins after the technician uses a LiDAR infrared camera to generate the real-world image of the gearbox and establish its orientation in space. Then, AssistAR provides step-by-step instructions by highlighting elements, such as screws and faceplates, on a conventional computer screen in the correct order in the workflow. It also animates the elements to show how they are removed, replaced, or reassembled.
In its simplest form, AR is used to identify a component, machine, or area of a factory, and give the user some contextual information about it. “This information can be anything from documents, pictures, and videos to IIoT [Industrial Internet of Things] data,” says Peter Richmond, portfolio manager for XR and 3D visualization at Aveva. More advanced applications include 3D, real-time models, step-by-step holographic animations of a task, and remote multi-user collaboration.
This magical technology is being deploying in various ways in the industry.
1. Employee Training
AR can prove to be extremely helpful in training new employees through necessary procedures, protocols, and equipment. Compromising on these factors will lead to safety issues in the workplace. With AR devices and apps, new personnel can be trained through all the crucial procedures, leading to safer workplace conditions. “AR helps users to achieve faster upskilling and creates more confident workers by standardizing procedure execution and providing in-the-field training,” says Vineesh Kapoor, director of product management at Emerson Automation Solutions.
2. Shop Floor Issues Resolution
Manufacturing organizations have to regularly address shop floor pain points. Key personnel needs real-time access to important data to resolve shop floor problems. In such scenarios, AR can be useful in presenting all shop floor issues to maintenance teams. Maintenance teams can also view key performance indicators in real-time, detect and resolve issues without obstructing production.
Columbia University researchers have developed an AR headset for the US Marine Corps mechanics for testing purposes. The results suggest that it helps mechanics in finding and starting a maintenance task in almost half of the usual required time. US Marine Corps mechanic can wear a compact AR headset that assists with 3D arrows to point out components, instructions, floating warnings and labels, and 3D models of relevant tools. A smartphone attached to the mechanic’s wrist allows them to queue up the next sequence of instructions. Businesses in the manufacturing sector could use a similar solution for maintenance. By using AR in manufacturing, maintenance teams will be able to see specific equipment or hardware that needs servicing, and they would be able to detect potential issues. AR devices could also display operation times, potential pain points, the date of the last service, and other crucial data.
4. Efficient Logistics
Augmented Reality has simplified the long and tedious process of order fulfillment and warehouse organization. When an order comes in, an employee has to manually check relevant information, find products, scan products, report data, deliver products to the loading dock, and sign off the order. AR can streamline the entire logistics process. With the deployment of AR in manufacturing, employees can access a connected system that shows them the exact location of products. AR-based systems can also be used to scan necessary information, allowing employees to quickly find and retrieve products, and deliver them to the loading dock. DHL is already testing mobile AR systems in a local capacity. DHL employees who used smart glasses have shown increased productivity and reduced errors.
5. Product Design
The conventional product design process is extremely lengthy and tedious. Every new product is frequently discussed between concerned parties, and it has to go through multiple revisions. AR can reduce the time required for some of the tasks in this process. For instance, AR glasses or apps can show the product design process in real-time to directors or executives. Concerned teams would receive and implement feedback instantly, speeding up the entire process. Thyssenkrupp uses Microsoft’s HoloLens to design home mobility solutions for physically challenged people. Designing home mobility solutions can be an intricate process where the company needs a complicated system of labels, cameras, and manual data entry to make sure that all the nuances are captured precisely. The entire process that involves sales, manufacturing, and installation of, let’s say, a new stairlift requires many time-consuming processes, leading to long delivery times. With HoloLens, a salesperson can measure the staircase during their first visit and share it with the manufacturing team instantly. Customers can quickly look at and approve the design, which has reduced the delivery times by 4x.
6. Streamlined Assembly
Manufacturing companies have to put together thousands of components in complex assemblies as quickly as possible. These complicated assemblies can be performed by following specific assembly instructions. Businesses can simplify this process by utilizing AR in manufacturing. Boeing uses AR glasses integrated with Upskill’s Skylight platform to streamline 130 miles of wiring required in a new Boeing 747-8 Freighter. With the help of AR glasses, technicians receive required instructions in the viewfinder. The glasses also come with bar code reader and voice command capabilities. As a result, Boeing has managed to cut down wiring production time by 25% and completely eliminate error rates. With no room for error, Boeing ensures that its aircraft meet the highest production standards. Similar solutions can be used by manufacturing companies to significantly improve production standards and reduce production time.
7. Customer Support
Along with technicians and maintenance personnel, businesses in manufacturing can use AR to assist customers and onsite sales representatives. For example, Leybold, a vacuum pump manufacturer, has partnered with REFLEKT to deploy AR apps for onsite sales and customer support. These apps show components as well as features of a product on an iPad or HoloLens device. Customers will get an “X-ray” vision with AR apps to see various components of a pump without disassembling it. AR has incredible potential to disrupt the manufacturing sector. However, deploying AR in manufacturing is a major challenge. Business leaders need to consider the following steps for successful AR implementation:
As AR technology continues to develop, businesses will see even more ground-breaking applications. Big players have already started investing in AR in manufacturing for several use cases. With higher investment, developers will have sufficient funding to create advanced apps and compact devices. Eventually, AR devices will become mainstream and inexpensive as the technology continues to become more popular. It should also be noted that XR technology is developing at a rapid rate, and we could be just years away from truly immersive experiences.