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Augmented reality (AR) blends virtual elements with real-world environments. Now, there’s a growing interest in using augmented reality in manufacturing. Here are some specific ways to deploy the technology and increase the chances of seeing impressive outcomes.
1. Support Assembly Tasks With AR
Many manufacturing workers must engage in highly detailed assembly-based duties that require intensive focus. It’s often easier for them to maintain productivity if they can reduce the number of times they must momentarily disrupt their attention by looking at an instruction sheet, computerized diagram or other visual aid to ensure accuracy.
Thus, researchers wondered if augmented reality could support manufacturing employees in a wire assembly activity. These factory workers wore AR glasses while working on a 20-wire assembly. The study examined whether that approach was more efficient than referring to content on a digital display or piece of paper.
The AR glasses also added virtualized content, such as arrows and text-based prompts, to guide workers during their tasks. Lab test results showed they completed their jobs 31% faster while wearing the AR gear versus using the less up-to-date methods. There was also a 45% reduction in process time while using the AR glasses, saving an average of six-and-a-half to seven minutes.
Managers should consider which tasks are typically the most time-intensive or detail-oriented, then designate them as possible candidates for AR applications. It takes time for workers to learn new technologies, techniques and processes. However, as these results show, the payoffs can be substantial.
Workers who are more productive when doing tasks requiring consistent accuracy make the whole manufacturing plant more efficient while maintaining a high level of quality. Another option involves putting AR lenses into microscopes during production tasks. Users can follow standard operating procedures or other instructions by looking directly through the oculars rather than at supporting material located elsewhere.
2. Improve Maintenance and Technical Support
Adding augmented reality in manufacturing processes is an excellent way to support workers by providing supplementary information. AR-based tools can offer digitized, step-by-step instructions for real-world processes by associating the instructions with a specific piece of equipment. That real-time information is especially useful for anyone early in their careers or working on equipment they use infrequently. There are even ways for an AR-supported maintenance application to assist technicians working on gearboxes. Features associated with that solution include animation elements and remote peer collaboration.
AR became an important possibility for manufacturers during the COVID-19 pandemic. That was especially true as the health crisis limited close, in-person contact. For example, in one scenario, people at Pella relied on AR to bridge the gap and foster connection despite physical distance. They used AR to help both on-site and off-site workers connect remotely as they repaired or maintained products. It worked similarly to a video call but had additional AR features that improved the technology for industrial settings.
3. Enhance Training Methods
Highly immersive and realistic training methods may help some learners retain the information better than traditional options, such as textbooks. Air France KLM used AR for maintenance training, allowing students to move around a digitized representation of the aircraft. Reduced reliance on in-person teachers and better knowledge transfer were among the benefits of that pilot project.
Leaders in the manufacturing sector are also interested in seeing how augmented reality could improve how they train workers at various stages of their careers. Consider how, in 2020, a Purdue University team began a $5 million cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation. The goal was to create a workforce experience platform that uses augmented and virtual reality. They called it Skill-XR.
Training new workers to sufficient levels takes time as many older people retire. Many may leave the workforce before they can pass some of what they know onto incoming employees. However, the people working to develop Skill-XR believe it will help newer workers learn by doing rather than through passive methods.
Augmented reality in manufacturing is also a good choice when the training content involves tasks that are dangerous or resource-intensive to carry out in the real world. For example, various AR welding platforms allow users and companies to significantly reduce their dependence on supplies and workpieces.
4. Reduce Occupational Risks and Promote Safety
The manufacturing sector has inherent risks, even when people get all the necessary training and take all associated precautions. AR cannot remove those threats, but it can minimize them.
Consider if a worker saw a virtual version of a safety checklist that they had to go through before using an industrial machine. That real-time reference could help ensure they follow all the steps.
Alternatively, perhaps they must perform periodic maintenance checks to keep a piece of equipment operating safely. In that case, an AR solution might highlight which panels to remove or components to examine to do the task correctly.
A recently designed innovation could lessen the risks associated with working in low-light areas of a manufacturing plant. A team created an industrial helmet that allows people to adjust the amount of light they perceive in their environment, making them less likely to suffer eyestrain. Wearers can also use the helmet to zoom in on or take pictures of things in their surroundings, making it easier to spot and report threats.
Sources familiar with the matter also say Apple may be working on an AR headset that allows people to see things usually not detectable by human eyes. A patent application for the gadget suggested it may enable people to see gases. That could be particularly useful in a manufacturing environment for letting workers know about invisible risks before those threats cause physical symptoms.
How Will You Use Augmented Reality in Manufacturing?
These real-life examples show how people have plenty of options for using AR in a manufacturing setting. They’re not the only options but should provide valuable inspiration to people interested in exploring how AR could improve their manufacturing workflows and outcomes.