Using All Your Smarts
Manufacturers deploying mixed reality tools to troubleshoot problems, increase production efficiencies and train their employees
August 22, 2019
by Bryan Griffen
Characterized by a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical and digital, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is spreading across the manufacturing world.
As a component of this revolution, a growing number of suppliers are using AR (augmented reality) to improve operations in workforce training and equipment maintenance.
In short, AR is a technologically enhanced version of reality created by using technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a smart communications device, such as smart goggles or a smartphone camera.
The goggles are often voice-controlled, leaving wearers with both hands free. According to leading global statistics portal Statista, the global AR market was worth about US$5.91 billion in 2018, and is projected to reach more than
US$198.7 billion by 2025.
The technology naturally has a stronghold in the video games and entertainment sector, but a growing number of manufacturing suppliers, including large automated equipment manufacturers, are utilizing the technology to provide their employees and customers with virtual hands-on instruction for operating machinery, troubleshooting and conducting repairs.
In fact, an estimated 10 per cent of Fortune 500 companies have already began exploring shopping and operation applications for AR.
According to market research from Gartner, Inc., about 20 per cent of large enterprises will evaluate and adopt augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality solutions as part of their digital transformation strategy by 2020.
In manufacturing, the “model-based digital twin” is an increasingly popular method for AR technology application.
The digital twin is a clone of the physical asset created to provide a dynamic, self-teaching model to optimize performance in conjunction with an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform.
The combination of machine learning and physics-based modeling enables engineers to create entire AR experiences that show technicians how to service factory floor machines. By using the digital twin, a technician can repair a faulty device in record time and with greater accuracy.
Because In-person training can be an expensive endeavor, which often that important production equipment be readily available for student training, companies can use AR tools to provide real-time visual guidance and to connect students with teachers without the cost and logistics of getting everyone in the same room.
For example, Bosch Rexroth, a global provider of power units and controls used in manufacturing, uses an AR-enhanced visualization called Hägglunds In-Sight Live to demonstrate the design and capabilities of its smart, connected CytroPac hydraulic power unit.
The AR application allows customers to see 3D representations of the unit’s internal pump and cooling options in multiple configurations and how the subsystems fit together.
Technicians can also take advantage of smart goggles’ video and photo recording abilities to keep track of progress and keep tabs on errors.
For their part, voice-controlled smart goggles can capture hands-free photos in seconds, and those images can be submitted to off-site teams for troubleshooting help.
Incorporating AR into industrial processes has already proven to be an effective tool in boosting worker productivity.
For example, GE Healthcare warehouse workers use Skylight, an industrial augmented reality application platform from Upskill, to kit and completely pick list orders at up to 46 per cent faster than before.
In this application, Skylight connects to warehouse systems to get real-time information on an item location by connecting to smart warehouse systems.
It then gives workers easy-to-read instructions for where to locate the required items throughout the building.
The previously paper-based process, where workers flipped through printed orders to locate parts and waded through depleted stock locations, is now efficient and digitized.
According to Upskill, industrial users of its AR software have enjoyed an average 32-percent boost in worker productivity.
In another use case, Lockheed Martin used Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets to view holographic renderings of an aircraft’s parts and the instructions on how to assemble them.
According to Lockheed Martin, this AR technology reduced assembly time by 30 per cent, while digitizing the workflow helped it increase engineering efficiency to 96 per cent.
While such studies make a strong argument for AR’s ability to improve operations, many manufacturers may still wonder if augmented reality is worth the investment.
As with any new technology, companies considering investing in AR should be strategic—approaching the opportunity by establishing the bottom-line value first.
By approaching digital investment with a clear vision, a phased roadmap, and a focused ecosystem of technology partners will help maximize the return-on-investment in new technology to improve their equipment maintenance, workforce training and other key pillars of manufacturing competitiveness.
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