Immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented reality can help industrial manufacturers to:
- Streamline processes – from revolutionising the product design process to improving factory production, saving time and creating cost savings.
- Make the workplace safer by offering an effective way to train employees, improve retention of skills and support employees to maintain equipment on the factory floor.
How VR/AR is Changing Industrial Manufacturing & Design
Introducing new technologies into highly complex and traditionally based businesses can be operationally daunting. Moreover, workplace cultures can add an element of scepticism and lead to resistance to change. But immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented reality can offer manufacturing businesses the opportunity to revolutionise the design and production of products, as well as transforming the way employees work and learn. Quite simply, VR and AR can help businesses to save time and money by streamlining workplace practices and produce improved products faster and more efficiently.
Immersive technologies are far more than a passing gimmick, they are here to stay. Over the past few years, immersive content has become increasingly realistic, and coupled with the falling costs of immersive equipment, VR and AR has never been more accessible to a broad range of sectors, including manufacturing. Indeed, in its 2018 Seeing is Believing Report, PwC highlights that the use of VR and AR in product and service development could deliver a $360 billion GDP boost across the industrial design and manufacturing sector by 2030.
Applications for VR and AR Technology in the Industrial Sector
Product design and development
Virtual reality offers the perfect tool to facilitate rapid prototyping, helping businesses to save both time and money across research and development activities. Automotive manufacturers such as Ford have been at the forefront of adopting VR innovations in product design, allowing them to bring end products to market quicker and more cost effectively.
Virtual reality does this by creating a realistic virtual world to develop and test products. The creation of digital twins in a virtual environment allows R&D teams to share prototypes and engage with stakeholders at an early stage in the design process. It also has the potential to revolutionise workflows and give businesses the chance to draw on a global talent pool, as geographical location is no longer a barrier to recruitment. Platforms such as Future Visual’s VISIONxR™ have the potential to create realistic collaborative workspaces, where colleagues can work simultaneously on prototypes. This gives R&D teams the opportunity to swiftly and thoroughly interrogate accurate designs, failing fast and refining designs at speed.
Keeping employees safe while undertaking their work, as well as highly productive is fundamental for all manufacturing businesses. To achieve this, having a well trained workforce with an in-depth knowledge of equipment, as well as company policies and procedures is crucial.
Immersive technologies may hold the key to training employees effectively and at speed. VR based training offers employees a space to undertake practical, hands-on and realistic experiences, but in a risk free environment. What’s more, VR can offer the chance for employees to train together – essential when teams are working together on interdependent tasks.
But it’s not only virtual reality that can be used for training purposes. Augmented reality (AR), a technology that blends real and digital worlds via devices such as the Microsoft Hololens 2, as well as more widely available devices such as tablets and smartphones can provide a hands-on learning experience to support real life, on-the-job training.
For example, AR was used extensively by businesses in response to the UK’s Ventilator Challenge, the collective drive toward the production of ventilators in response to the Covid 19 pandemic. This challenge included training thousands of employees from across a consortium of aerospace, motorsport, automotive and medical businesses such as UK-based Formula 1 car manufacturers, Ford, GKN Aerospace, Airbus, Meggitt and Siemens UK to produce ventilators – with no prior experience of producing such equipment. But through the deployment of Hololens 2 devices across multiple factories, training was scaled up at speed. Over a period of a few weeks, over 3,500 people were trained to produce ventilators. At Ford’s factory alone, over 850 people completed over 18,000 hours of training in just seven weeks – a feat that would usually equate to over two years of training.
Improving Factory Floor Maintenance
Manufacturers with the ability to control the data and optimise the use of data, accessing the right type and amount of data at the right time and in the right place. For example, using projected AR, the right information can be projected onto the shopfloor to access the relevant information required at that stage in the manufacturing process.”Professor Rab Scott, Head of Digital at the AMRC
Organisations such as the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and the High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult have been championing the use of immersive technologies as a digital support for factory floor employees to help support maintenance of equipment and improve safety, while minimising downtime and accelerating production.
For example, augmented reality can be used by employees as a digital user manual to support them to complete process driven activities and successfully identify and fix faults. Businesses can create digital twins Moreover, using AR equipment such as the Microsoft Hololens can feed digital information through glasses worn by the employee – as well as giving remote support teams the chance to offer real time, tailored support employees, identifying quickly where faults lie, additional equipment may be needed.
By learning on the job with the aid of AR technologies, employees not only learn faster, speeding up the learning process and allowing employees to learn while contributing to production. What’s more, knowledge acquired with the support of AR is retained more effectively when compared with using printed user guides. This means that it doesn’t simply provide a short term fix to solve immediate issues, it has the potential to provide long term improved productivity.
A New Era for Industry?
With the exciting opportunities that VR and AR promise, does the future of manufacturing include becoming increasingly immersive? As with many sectors, the Covid pandemic has forced the sector to re-evaluate operations and explore the possibilities that digital technologies promise to help businesses to survive and thrive.
What’s more, the rollout of 5G technology across the UK will help to unlock the power of immersive content for the manufacturing sector. High bandwidth and low latency connectivity will power digital content that will be limited only by the imagination. For the manufacturing sector, the immersive future is looking exciting, offering employers the tempting prospect of making a tangible difference to workflows, making the design, production and distribution processes work seamlessly together.