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7 Ways Augmented Reality Can Upgrade Manufacturing Processes

Author: Naveen Joshi Automation and Robotics expert, Connected Infrastructure (IoT). R & D on Machine/Deep Learning

Business leaders can deploy AR in manufacturing to streamline routine operations and create a safer workplace.

Several industries, including construction, pharmaceutical, tourism, and others have started utilizing augmented reality (AR) to enhance their business. The COVID-19 pandemic has helped in showing the true potential of AR in these industries. According to the Wall Street Journal, AR has transitioned from an interesting experiment to an essential everyday tool. The ability of AR-powered applications to impose images over the real world has allowed managers and experts to communicate and collaborate remotely. For instance, Volkswagen AG’s Porsche unit had witnessed increased usage of AR glasses in the US dealerships during the pandemic. The technology allowed technicians to perform complicated repairs on expensive sports cars with virtual help from repair experts. Similarly, many other organizations are looking to follow suit and deploy AR in manufacturing to improve business processes.

Many business leaders may feel skeptical about the applications of AR in manufacturing, considering the digital infrastructure required to deploy such solutions. After looking at the benefits offered by AR, it seems like a worthwhile investment. By implementing AR in manufacturing, businesses can reduce production downtime, identify issues instantly, and offer virtual support in real-time. AR-based solutions can speed up manufacturing operations and make them safer for employees. AR will also assist businesses in the manufacturing sector to streamline multiple operations. AR glasses and AR apps on smartphones and tablets can overlay crucial information such as stats, images, and 3D models in the real world.

Use Cases of AR in Manufacturing

Business leaders can take a look at the following use cases of AR in manufacturing:

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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. For example, Atheer has created an AR-powered app that provides step-by-step guides, documentation, manuals, and additional resources that can assist new workers in the field. Industries such as construction and finance are already using AR to train new employees. Technical training can be a massive challenge for businesses as they need to walk new employees through expensive and complex machines or dangerous equipment. Manufacturing businesses can offer complicated technical training for new employees as well as upskilling opportunities for experienced workers with AR. Jaguar Land Rover and Bosch used the Reflekt One platform to develop an AR app that offers “X-ray” vision to train employees to locate components in the dashboard of the Range Rover Sport vehicle.

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. However, certain employees may not be available in the workplace due to COVID-19 pandemic-related travel restrictions or personal reasons. 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 and detect as well as resolve issues without obstructing production.

3. Maintenance

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. Generally, maintenance personnel need to refer to a technical manual on their laptop while repairing components inside vehicles, where there are several hydraulic, electric, and mechanical components in a closed space. In this situation, a 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. Such easy access to data eliminates guesswork from the maintenance process, enabling quicker repairs, faster response times, and streamlined maintenance operations. Faster maintenance times with the help of AR will also reduce production downtime by pre-emptively identifying potential issues.

4. Efficient Logistics

Businesses in the manufacturing sector need to go through a long and tedious process for 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:

  • Hire tech experts or join forces with tech consultancy service
  • Create strategies to deploy AR solutions
  • Start small by targeting a specific area of business operations
  • Develop a sufficient budget to invest in infrastructure
  • Train and upskill employees to ensure they are comfortable with using AR technology
  • Record results and figure out pain points that need to be worked on

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.