by Alex Karim
Today, I will be sharing my previous experience implementing AR technologies in an advanced manufacturing sector, namely automotive. As someone who delivered immersive technologies into an automotive OEM, I understand the key challenges and use cases for the technology. Using my experiences, I have written this guide to help others in the sector adopt the technology to experience the business value it can provide.
Before I get started, it is worth noting this guide will focus primarily on Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) – terms I will use interchangeably. It does not cover the use of Virtual Reality (VR) in detail, which also has many applications within the automotive industry.
1. Augmented Reality Use Cases in the Automotive Sector
By this time, you have likely heard of the business benefits of implementing Augmented Reality technologies. Perhaps your organization owns a few AR hardware units, ran a few pilot projects, or perhaps you are just getting started.
If you are relatively new to AR or considering launching a pilot project within your automotive organization, a good place to start is the “real world” applications for the technology. Based on my experience, I have listed below some of the most powerful use cases for automotive OEMs. This is not an exhaustive list, rather some of the best that I have encountered.
Aftersales Technical Support
Most large automotive OEMs distribute their vehicles via large dealership networks on a global scale. These dealerships are typically franchised and, as part of the OEM service offering, they provide franchise technicians with training on how to service and maintain their vehicles.
But what happens when a technician in a dealership encounters an issue they cannot solve? In most cases, the OEM flies a senior tech to the dealership to resolve the issue. This can be an increasingly expensive operational cost and in the current global climate, a logistical (and potentially medical) headache considering COVID-19 quarantine rules and how they differ by country.
Augmented Reality technologies that facilitate remote guidance allow OEM senior techs deliver task support to dealerships remotely. This not only increases operational efficiency, but it also provides a massive ROI against travel costs. AR/MR is perfect for this use case as it provides a head mounted, POV feed from the dealership technicians to the senior tech, who can share digital content (CAD assets, PDF’s, Photos, etc.) with the dealer to support their frontline work. I would say this use case is one of the best places to start for automotive OEMs as the business case is easy to pitch and the ROI is easy to conceptualize and measure.
A few things to consider before piloting this use case:
- Because the OEM and the franchisees are technically different entities, procurement of the AR hardware needs to be agreed in advance. In my experience, this will likely fall to the OEM.
- Considering again the same note above, mobile device management (MDM) will also likely fall to the OEM. These devices, however, will be stored and used by franchisee organizations. Consider your organization’s MDM, data governance, and security policies and ensure that the software you select enables users to establish support calls with users outside of their organizations IT environment.
Automotive Production Training & Support
Everyone within the manufacturing sector is acutely aware of the skills gap that has been getting worse over the last few years. Experienced workers are retiring at a faster rate than new workers are hired and as a result, this new workforce is expected to up-to-speed faster than ever.
So how do we train this new workforce in a more efficient way as institutional knowledge walks out the door? Traditional classroom training has its place but based on a study by PWC, VR-trained workers were 4x faster to train when compared to their classroom-taught counterparts and 275% more confident in their application of the skills taught during training.
As you can see from the above statistics, Virtual Reality is a great addition to the training process but it is still inherently disconnected from the real world.
As a result, I am seeing more requests for better hands-on, on-the-job training and this is where Augmented Reality can support. Using AR, workers can walk through repeatable tasks (within their normal operating environment) enhanced by a digital elements. Animated 3D CAD content and work instructions can guide them through their task, reducing reliance on direct trainer contact and upskilling workers while they work. These types of solutions also naturally transfer onto the live production line to aid the operators during assembly -another key value proposition for the technology.
Design & Engineering
Immersive technologies are not new to design and engineering departments; VR has been quite successful in this arena for some time. As Augmented Reality technology has progressed, it is now also becoming viable within these departments.
Let’s focus on one aspect of automotive development – Clay modelling. This has been a stalwart of automotive design since the 1930s. From chatting with designers, I know there has been a consensus for a long time that this art form will be eventually replaced by digital technology. However, to this day, most automotive OEM’s still use clay models… why is this?
In short, 2D representations of 3D content (CAD suites on computer monitors) do not provide the level of confidence required to sign-off on designs. This is where VR has made a big impact, providing full immersion of digital content and the ability to walk around the car, making changes in real time.
Bringing this content into the real world is the natural next step and that’s where Mixed Reality is making significant progress. Companies such as Varjo are focused on tethered Mixed Reality, integrating high fidelity assets into the real world. Wireless headsets such as the HoloLens have previously been hampered here as they do not have the graphics power to render polygon-rich vehicles. However, with content streaming services from Microsoft Azure and the Unreal Engine, this technical barrier has now been overcome. I am interested to see how solutions in this space progress over the coming months and years.
Defect Tagging & Production/Paint Quality Assurance
Production quality is always on the mind of anyone within automotive manufacturing. When production quality falters, the costs of remediation work rises dramatically and, in some cases, sub-standard product is released from the factory. Either option is financially disastrous.
As a result, automotive OEM’s spend large amounts of money on solutions to mitigate quality issues and record any defects when they occur. Unfortunately, in my experience, defect tagging is commonly done either by hand or using 2D marking software which is sub-par. But what if you could mark issues in 3D over a “Digital Twin” of the car?
This is something I have seen requested multiple times from various OEM’s looking to improve their quality processes. Using Augmented Reality, you could tag issues in 3D (over a real vehicle) and log them with (X, Y, Z) co-ordinates in an ERP system. As yet, I have not seen a complete end to end solution for this problem but I expect it to be a competitive landscape in the future.
2. Bringing AR into Automotive:
Now we have some use cases defined, it is worth defining a strategy for making progress with AR and MR within your automotive organization. For this, I am going to assume that you are an internal OEM resource who sees the value in the technology but is not sure how to move its adoption forward.
It is likely that as a driving force for this technology, you will quickly become an internal evangelist. Once this happens, you will be constantly asked questions about the tech and brought into various conversations. For these conversations to be successful you need to be knowledgeable on the full spectrum of immersive technologies, and so, education is your best friend.
Kognitiv Spark has a variety of fantastic resources such as the “Ultimate Guide to AR Pilots”, and the “Scaling AR Guide”. Another great resource is Jeremy Dalton’s book “Reality Check”. It covers the full spectrum of immersive technologies and acts as a great entry point for enterprise deployments.
As a constantly evolving space, it is important that you also continue to stay up to date with the latest trends. I would therefore also recommend following influential industry contacts on LinkedIn, attending webinars, and reading news articles.
Without compelling use cases within your organization, the technology will fail to gain traction. This will either lead to the technology being ignored or relegated to an innovation lab, never to see production use (at least not for the next 2 to 3 years).
Let me be blunt, most business decision makers just do not care about immersive technology. As someone passionate about AR, I found this hard to grasp at first. But if you fail to take this into account, these key contacts will view you as someone who just likes playing with new technology.
I personally struggled with this issue at first.
To be successful, you must start talking their language. What they care about is reducing costs, increasing revenue, and increasing efficiencies – you need to become their problem solver. To enter this conversation, conduct a thorough business analysis and identify your organizations key problems. There may already be departments focused on business analysis and if so, it is worth engaging with them.
In Section 1, I provided four automotive use cases but these may not fit your organisation. Ultimately, each OEM is different and has unique problems to solve – it is your job to find out exactly what your problems are. From a generic perspective, any situation where a frontline worker needs support from experts or assets (documents or CAD) is worth at least a conversation on AR or MR.
Building a Business Case
Now you have a use case defined, you will want to build a business case and ultimately gain budget allocation for a pilot project. This business case will likely need to be submitted by the department with the problem and so you now need to become the educator.
In your presentations to the target department, maintain focus on the business problem you are aiming to solve, the return on investment and efficiencies gained. From market research you should now also have a good idea of the market landscape and 2-3 potential suppliers in mind to discuss with your stakeholders.
The next natural step is to conduct technical demonstrations. For immersive technologies, “seeing is believing,” and so I always advocate for interactive showcases. For your internal demos, I recommend trying to align them to your brand and use cases. For example, in an automotive manufacturing demo, try to host the event in a real workshop environment, creating a role-play scenario.
If you have access to an innovation budget, procuring hardware and software for these showcases can be useful. It gives you flexibility and the ability to conduct multiple demos with different departments. However, if this is not possible, you should still be able to conduct some high value demonstrations by bringing in potential suppliers and partners.
Running an AR Pilot Project
Once a business case has been approved, you will likely move into a pilot deployment phase. Kognitiv Spark has a wealth of resources on running successful pilots and so I will simply link those articles here rather than repeating existing content:
Evangelising Successful Pilots
Once your pilot has succeeded, you will want to consolidate all the data you collected (your metrics of success) and begin evangelising this across the company. Using internal news and events are great avenues for increasing the exposure of the project.
The reason for doing this is to raise the profile of the project and gain executive sponsorship for the next step – larger deployments. In the same way you do not want your AR technology to be relegated to a lab environment, you want to maintain momentum after your pilot to ensure it transitions into a production solution.
The AR Scale Guide is a fantastic resource for this and covers a lot of the key strategies that will help you transition from pilot to production.
3. Common Mistakes to Avoid:
In the final part of this article, I figured I would cover some of the common mistakes I see (and made) during my time deploying AR and MR in the automotive sector.
Do not force AR where it is not best suited
Once you become an internal evangelist, you will find yourself in various conversations where colleagues want to deploy immersive technology. However, it is important to remember that not every problem is solved by AR, MR, or VR – even if the user believes it is.
Your job is to identify where the technology drives real business value. If you force the technology where the value proposition is low, the project will ultimately fail and future progress on legitimate solutions will be affected.
Do not expect everyone to share your vision
There are going to be stakeholders you encounter that will not see the value of immersive technology. These people fall into the “laggard” category of the technology adoption lifecycle, waiting for full market maturity before purchase.
My advice is to not spend a significant amount of time trying to change their perspective. If after your value propositions and demonstrations they are still not interested, it is time to move onto the next use case and/or stakeholders. In my experience, any further effort spent is a wasted endeavour.
I hope this article helps people within the automotive industry to build successful AR strategies for their organizations. In a fast-moving industry where the electrified vehicles have arrived in the mainstream, there are lots of new challenges for OEM’s to overcome. To compete, each will need to find new ways to empower frontline workers and AR is one technology that should be seriously considered. I look forward to seeing its progress in the sector.