Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are not new. They have, however, transcended their gaming origins to become transformative tools within industry. From manufacturing to customer experience, these technologies are revolutionizing the way we interact with products, services and the digital world. One domain where their impact is increasingly profound is product lifecycle management (PLM).
Immersive technologies allow companies to create interactive and memorable experiences for customers and employees, fostering emotional connections, innovation and loyalty. Additionally, these technologies empower engineers with realistic training scenarios, improving skills and confidence. They also encourage product design improvements by enabling teams to immersively explore and visualize ideas collaboratively, leading to faster problem-solving and product development.
In what remains of 2023, businesses should invest in user-friendly interfaces and comprehensive training programs to familiarize engineers with these powerful technologies. This is because in 2024 AR and VR will become indispensable for many PLM users. This article explores this transformative shift.
Enhancing Manufacturing and Design with AR and VR
The primary goals of digital manufacturing are clear: enhance quality, improve operability, reduce delivery times and cut costs. In 2024, AR and VR technologies will emerge as linchpins to achieve these objectives.
By creating immersive, interactive simulations, engineers and manufacturers can visualize and analyze products in ways previously unimaginable. Engineers can leverage AR to project 2D and 3D models into real-world contexts, improving comprehension and decision-making. With the growth of markerless AR, a technology that detects real-world objects and scenes without prior knowledge, even more applications become feasible. For instance, AR can aid assembly line workers by overlaying digital work instructions onto physical components, improving assembly, health and safety, operations and reducing errors.
On the other hand, VR provides engineers with partial or fully immersive design environments. This enables them to feel, touch and interact with designs, simulations, bills of materials (BOMs) and data analyses in a virtual environment with experiences akin to the real world. This helps engineers better detect and resolve issues—prior to creating physical prototypes—than they could on a 2D computer screen. This results in significant time and cost savings.
Humans are very skilled at finding issues with products once they physically interact with them. As a result, a VR simulation that enables engineers to ‘walk through’ virtual prototypes, move them around, and use them as intended (or unintended) will uncover design flaws impossible to detect any other way.
Moreover, AR and VR can serve as bridges, connecting fragmented processes within digital manufacturing workflows. In a typical manufacturing environment, various software and tools are used at different stages, often leading to disjointed communication, inefficient workflows and data loss. By simulating the manufacturing process using AR and VR, engineers can find ways to better unify these elements into a seamless, interactive experience—even when the facility isn’t built yet. This integration not only streamlines production but also significantly enhances collaboration between cross-functional teams, leading to a more efficient and agile manufacturing process.
AR and VR Transform Collaboration in PLM
One of the significant challenges faced by PLM professionals is the lack of seamless integration between existing tools and the enterprise PLM data backbone. Traditional software solutions often fall short when it comes to providing an immersive, collaborative environment for product development and design. This is precisely where AR and VR technologies shine.
In the realm of collaborative design, VR enables geographically dispersed teams to walk, talk and work together in a shared virtual space. Engineers and designers can manipulate 3D models in real-time, foster instant feedback and iterate designs in the palms of their hands. This dynamic collaboration not only accelerates the design process but also ensures that all stakeholders are on the same page, resulting in products that meet both technical specifications and user expectations.
AR, on the other hand, augments physical prototypes with digital overlays, allowing designers to visualize potential modifications and enhancements. The ability to overlay digital data onto physical objects enables designers to explore different design iterations rapidly. It is akin to seeing the future prototype, in its test environment, before it is even manufactured. This real-time visualization not only sparks innovation but also facilitates quicker decision-making, saving valuable time and resources in the product development lifecycle.
Why Now: AR and VR in PLM during 2023 and 2024?
The pivotal question that arises is: why are old technologies like AR and VR gaining prominence in PLM now?
Several factors in 2023 have contributed to this transformative shift. Firstly, advancements in AR and VR hardware have reached a point where they offer high fidelity, ease of use and affordability. Headsets have become lighter, more ergonomic and accessible to a broader audience. This accessibility democratizes immersive technologies, making them viable options for businesses of all sizes.
Secondly, the growing complexity of products and the demand for customization have necessitated more sophisticated design and collaboration tools. Traditional 2D visualization methods no longer suffice when assessing these complex 3D objects. AR and VR, with their ability to provide immersive, interactive experiences, fill this void and offer solutions that align with the intricacies of modern product development.
Furthermore, most PLM vendors have built lightweight 3D model integration. This enables real-time, or near real-time, AR and VR usage and validation.
Lastly, market demands for faster time-to-market, increased innovation and higher quality products are pushing companies to explore innovative technologies. By facilitating rapid prototyping, collaborative design, enhanced employee and consumer experience and real-time visualization, AR and VR align perfectly with these market needs.
Businesses that leverage AR and VR technologies will gain a competitive edge, allowing them to innovate swiftly and efficiently, ensuring their products not only meet but exceed customer expectations.
Embracing the Potential of PLM through AR and VR
The integration of AR and VR into PLM marks a paradigm shift in how we conceptualize, design and manufacture products. The immersive experiences offered by these technologies not only enhance collaboration and design processes but also significantly contribute to the efficiency and effectiveness of digital manufacturing. With the confluence of technological advancements and market demands in 2023 and 2024, AR and VR will transition from novelties to necessities, heralding a new era in PLM.
As businesses continue to embrace these immersive tools, they not only unlock new realms of creativity but also position themselves at the forefront of innovation, ensuring their products are not just ahead of the curve but defining it.
Businesses utilizing AR and VR technologies also gain a competitive edge by establishing a distinctive brand identity rooted in innovation and exceptional customer and employee interactions.
The global AR and VR technology market within the manufacturing sector alone is valued in the tens of billions of dollars and has experienced significant double-digit growth in recent years. Most business analysts predict further growth acceleration in the years to come. It will be interesting to see how this translates in 2024 and how PLM software developers push these technologies.
Foto: Though AR and VR help businesses enhance customer engagement through interactive experiences, they can also empower engineers to innovate when linked to PLM. (Image: Bigstock.)