September 30, 2021
Manufacturers have long embraced the latest technology to have their factories, or plants operate more efficiently. Designing the perfect assembly line, for example, is an ongoing challenge that has kept engineers busy for more than a century.
An extreme number of manufacturers are reshoring their factories, giving them new opportunities to embrace new technologies. In today’s world, as we embark upon the fourth industrial revolution (industry 4.0), one the new technology that manufacturers are embracing is Augmented Reality (AR).
It’s applications are in the process of revolutionizing manufacturing with its incredible ability to simplify data for users, and be used for so many applications.
The amount of use cases for augmented reality in manufacturing are proof that the technology shows no bounds, and further understanding of it’s uses and nearly boundless parameters will lead to a revolution in efficiency.
AR is not Virtual Reality (VR), and it’s also not actual reality, but it does lie somewhere in-between.
Whereas VR is a digitally fabricated world that the user encounters, augmented reality is a superimposition of something virtual on actual reality.
The applications for AR are enormous!
At the kickoff of the 2021 NFL season, the Carolina Panthers premiered their augmented reality Panther that treated fans as it trounced around Bank of America Stadium like it was a real, giant cat. Of course, gamers have long been aware of this technology, as they were the first to embrace its potential for fun.
And what’s amazing about gaming is that the technological advances that were made in the name of fun are the same advances that are responsible for a revolution in manufacturing.
Given that augmented reality only slightly messes with actual reality, one might surmise that it’s simpler to create AR than VR. Well, that’s not necessarily the case, as the problem for augmented reality is that it needs some mechanism that reads the real world and fits that data with the augmented construct.
That construct is the result of many data gathering mechanisms, such as video, radar and infrared sensors. Gaming headsets employ such mechanisms to measure depth and perspective to superimpose images on the real world.
It’s gotten so popular in fact, that sales of AR and VR headsets are poised to reach 26 million units sold annually.
Now, imagine that the same technology is available to manufacturers, and you may be asking how is it applicable?
Well, think about your equipment, such as motion control robotics for example. Now imagine you want to install a new servo motor, but you need to train your technician prior to assembly. With augmented reality the tech could look at a computer screen of the exact robot in question, and AR components can be manipulated by the user.
While gaming companies rely on complex sensors such as radar to render an augmented reality imposition, technology already exists that enables manufacturer’s CAD data to be uploaded to produce similar results.
Manufacturers are very excited about this development, as Siemens created an augmented reality model that can generate a 3D image out of CAD data.
The technology is growing too, as engineers sometimes have to reduce the information read by the augmented reality authoring software, such as leaving out a section, or small, irrelevant screws. But the technology is becoming increasingly automated, and renderings of manufacturer’s equipment are becoming commonplace.
Not only are industries in the process of innovating toward industry 4.0, but a recent Thomasnet study found that 83% of manufacturers plan to reshore their production. This massive migration will provide new opportunities for manufacturers to implement AR technology into their factory’s processes.
The amount of industrial applications for augmented reality are many, but they mainly have to do with enabling workers to interact with 3D models of equipment. This in and of itself produces a number of applications that save time and money while increasing safety and efficiency.
Lockheed Martin, for example, used AR glasses to create digital overlays that enabled workers to more easily put together components of the F-35 aircraft.
By using augmented reality in this fashion, Lockheed says they made their assembly times 30 percent, while increasing worker accuracy by 96 percent.
Of course a certain amount of training is required when you onboard a new hire, but manufacturers and engineers know that training is an ongoing necessity.
Workflows are constantly changing, and by uploading CAD data into augmented reality software, workers can practice methods of assembly and maintenance.
A very promising piece of augmented reality technology was created by Plantweb Optics augmented reality, which uses IIoT data for asset identification. A worker can point a tablet at a machine with thousands of parts, and the tablet provides a digital overlay of what they’re seeing, and identifies exactly where the asset is. It also is able to give the worker performance metrics in case maintenance is required.
That’s an unparalleled savings of time, much like if there was a giant arrow pointing out Waldo in a “Where’s Waldo” book. It also reduces equipment downtime while increasing worker safety.
Many manufacturers, and especially distributors, like to develop relationships with their customers so they keep coming back. Typically, this comes with onsite training and maintenance as a service.
With augmented reality, these trained technicians and engineers can now interact with each other without having to actually be in the factory. From the seat at their desk they use AR to guide workers through digital replications of processes.
Augmented reality software can enable engineers to observe their equipment like no other. For years now, running simulations to figure out sequences, thresholds and efficiencies has been possible.
augmented reality enables the same simulations to take place, except an engineer could stand a few feet away from an augmented reality imposition of the equipment. By immersing themselves within the cell, armed with the ability to see all that is happening without any safety concern whatsoever.
There are many measurable benefits for manufacturers who adopt augmented reality, such as savings of time and money, and increasing safety and efficiency. But what does that look like? Use cases provide the best examples of just how factory managers are implementing augmented reality.
Manufacturers are able to use augmented reality to managing daily floor activities better, access data easier, and
Data is the king of manufacturing in industry 4.0, and whereas before it was a difficult process to obtain, thanks to augmented reality, it’s much more accessible to workers.
In a typical scenario when machine efficiency is under question, the process of communication between engineer and operations workers would take some time. But with augmented reality, Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are available on the spot in real time.
This enables factory teams to not only diagnose problems faster, but also limit machine downtime by using data to figure out what’s wrong.
Today, machines and robots, and sensors and software are typically integrated and connected by the Internet of Things (IoT).
One of the reasons that KPIs and other data is so easily accessible to floor workers, and thus higher level engineers, is because augmented reality technology is integrated with IoT technology.
QR codes are everywhere, from restaurants to retail stores, and of course, their own factory machines and robots as well. By using an AR-enabled mobile app, workers can scan QR codes with the app, and tap into live video feeds, data and other information gathering mechanisms to determine if maintenance needs to be done.
Are your engineers still piecing together robotics and equipment using a PDF? Are they programming your robots and machines based on instructions printed on paper? Assembling products for assembly lines presents massive logistical challenges that require constant attention to detail.
With an AR headset, workers are directed in a step-by-steph fashion to the nuances of assembly.
From the tiniest screw to high power motors, augmented reality technology will not only tell engineers which part to focus on, but also give finer details of assembly, such as how much torque to apply to a specific screw.
Knowledge transfer is a big bonus of augmented reality technology, and that’s a big part of providing instant support. Instant support through augmented reality technology cuts down on time and cost by keeping service technicians from having to travel to your factory.
In a recent study by a market insights company called Deloitte emphasized the knowledge gap that manufacturers are facing when hiring new workers. They found that not only will 77% of manufacturers have trouble finding and retaining the right workers in 2021, but also, finding the right talent is 36% harder than it was in 2018.
Augmented reality is an answer to this problem, as it gives less skilled workers access to more data, highly trained technicians that are off site, and offers a cool new technology for younger generations of factory workers to get excited about.
Manufacturers have historically been heavily dependent on their sales teams, and are just now realizing the great potential in digital marketing for lead generation. But there’s another technology that shows a lot of promise in enabling manufacturers to better collaborate with their clients: augmented reality!
Imagine if your clients could test or use your products because you provided them with an augmented reality experience. As industrial clients become more like retail clients, it can’t be ignored that nearly two-thirds of consumers prefer to buy products from companies that provide an augmented reality experience.
As you can see, augmented reality has nearly unlimited potential in its use cases and the benefits that it serves up for manufacturers. Global trends tend to circle every industry at different times, and while augmented reality started as a fun, gaming technology, it is being embraced by manufacturers and beyond.
With the challenges that manufacturers are facing with staffing, and reshoring, this is a great time for them to embrace this latest technology. Manufacturers have never been ones to stay married to one technology for a long time, as innovation sparks one revolution after another.
As industry 4.0 becomes commonplace, AR is one of the technologies that should become a common part of your factory floor. This creates a better process that will save you money, and train a workforce that is poised to lead to the way to the future when industry 5.0 comes around.