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HOW AR IS REVOLUTIONIZING FACTORY OPERATIONS AND MANUFACTURING PRODUCTIVITY

K.A. Gerardino details the transformative impact of augmented reality (AR) on factory operations and manufacturing efficiency.

HOW AR IS REVOLUTIONIZING FACTORY OPERATIONS AND MANUFACTURING PRODUCTIVITY

Augmented reality (AR) is a technology that enhances the real world by adding digital information, such as images, sounds, or texts, to what we see, hear, or feel. The global AR market size is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 39.8% from 2023 to 2030, according to Grand View Research. But how can AR shape the future of manufacturing? You can find answers to this question and more as you read this article on Augmented Reality in the Factory.

AR is very important in manufacturing, as it can improve the efficiency, quality, and safety of various production processes. But before we go deeper into our topic, we need to understand the difference between virtual reality (VR) and AR.

AR and VR are a tale of two realities that can alter our perception of actuality. However, they have some key differences that make them suitable for different purposes and applications. AR adds digital elements to the real world, while VR creates a completely immersive virtual environment. AR is only 25% percent virtual, while VR is 75 percent virtual. This means that AR users can still see and interact with the real world, while VR users are isolated from it. AR users can switch their attention between the digital and physical layers, while VR users are fully immersed in the virtual layer.

How does AR work?
There are different types of AR, depending on how the digital content is added and displayed. Some common types are:
  • Marker-based AR: This type of AR uses a specific image or symbol, called a marker, to trigger the digital content. The device recognizes the marker and overlays the digital content on or around it. For example, you can scan a QR code on a poster and see a video or a website related to it.
  • Marker-less AR: This type of AR does not use markers, but instead uses sensors, such as GPS, gyroscope, or accelerometer, to determine the location and orientation of the device. The device then overlays the digital content based on the user’s position and movement. For example, you can use Google Maps to see directions or landmarks on your screen as you walk or drive.
  • Projection-based AR: This type of AR uses a projector to display the digital content directly onto real objects or surfaces. The user can interact with the projected content by touching it or moving it. For example, you can use a projector to create a virtual keyboard on your desk and type on it.
  • Superimposition-based AR: This type of AR replaces or enhances the view of a real object with a digital one. The device recognizes the shape and appearance of the real object and replaces it with a digital version. For example, you can use an app to try on different hairstyles or clothes on your image.
AR for Manufacturing
AR is changing the way we connect and interact in manufacturing. It is an enhanced version of the world around us, which is a combination of digital and audiovisual elements that connect the real and digital worlds. Nowadays, manufacturers are investing more in human-and-machine interaction in their shopfloors. But in order to stay competitive, top manufacturers continue to bring in automation to run uncomplicated, monotonous tasks and track data. However, manual processes are still extremely relevant. Manufacturers are giving more complex tasks to their workers and increasing their agility to variation.

Empowering factories with augmentation, data and complex problem-solving increases efficiency and productivity overall. AR provides this connection. It guides and tracks manual processes, leading to a new understanding of our operations. AR can help workers in various stages of the manufacturing process, such as training, assembly, maintenance, design, and collaboration.

Benefits of using AR In Manufacturing
AR has many benefits for manufacturing that can improve cost-effectiveness and learning of the industry. By adopting AR technology, manufacturers can gain a competitive edge in the market and prepare for the future.
  • Training and upskilling: AR can provide hands-free and interactive work instructions to workers, helping them learn new skills and tasks faster and more accurately. For example, GE Aviation used smart glasses to guide its mechanics in assembling engines, reducing errors, and increasing productivity.
  • Assembly: AR can help workers assemble complex products by showing them the right parts, tools, and steps to follow. For example, LightGuide Systems uses projection-based AR to illuminate the work area and provide visual cues to workers.
  • Maintenance: AR can help technicians diagnose and repair problems by providing them with relevant information and guidance. For example, SAP offers an AR solution that connects remote experts with field workers via video calls and annotations.
  • Design: AR can help engineers and designers visualize and test new concepts and prototypes in a realistic environment. For example, Ford uses AR to create 3D models of cars and modify them in real-time.
  • Collaboration: AR can help workers communicate and share information across different locations and devices. For example, Microsoft HoloLens enables workers to collaborate on holographic models and documents.

HOW AR IS REVOLUTIONIZING FACTORY OPERATIONS AND MANUFACTURING PRODUCTIVITY

AR Trends in Manufacturing
AR is shaping the future of manufacturing by enabling new ways of designing, producing, and delivering products and services. AR can help manufacturers to create more efficient, flexible, and sustainable processes, as well as improve the quality, safety, and customer satisfaction. AR can also provide a competitive edge for manufacturers in the global market, as they can offer more value-added and customized solutions. AR is not only a technology, but also a strategic tool that can transform the manufacturing industry and create a more intelligent, more connected world.

Cross-platform AR
This trend refers to the development of AR solutions that can run on different devices and platforms, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, smart glasses, and head-mounted displays (HMDs). This can enable manufacturers to access AR content easily and conveniently without being limited by hardware compatibility. For example, a company that produces furniture could use a cross-platform AR app to visualize how its products would look in different settings and environments.

AR Glasses
This trend refers to the emergence of AR glasses that can project digital information onto the user’s field of view. AR glasses can offer a more immersive and hands-free experience than other AR devices, as they can overlay data and graphics in the real world without requiring the user to hold or look at a screen. For example, a company that manufactures electrical equipment could use AR glasses to provide their workers with real-time instructions, feedback, and alerts during assembly, maintenance, and repair operations.

Predictive Maintenance
This trend refers to the use of sensor data and artificial intelligence (AI) to detect failure patterns in machinery and components. The idea is that by understanding when a machine or part is likely to fail, manufacturers can take preventative action and maintain their equipment more effectively. For example, a company that produces car engines could use an AR platform to provide its technicians with detailed instructions for disassembling an engine.

Spatial Audio
This trend refers to the use of sound to enhance the immersion of AR experiences. Spatial audio can create a realistic and natural sound environment that matches the visual content of AR. For example, a company that manufactures aircraft parts could use an AR system to compare the actual parts with the design models and detect any deviations. The system could also use spatial audio to guide the user through the inspection process by providing auditory cues and feedback.

AR in Marketing
This trend refers to the use of AR to promote and sell products and services in the manufacturing industry. AR can help manufacturers showcase their products in an interactive and engaging way, as well as provide customers with more information and value propositions. For example, a company that produces medical devices could use an AR app to demonstrate how their products work and how they can benefit patients.

Implementing AR in an Existing Manufacturing Business
The first step in implementing AR in an existing manufacturing business is to develop and define specific use cases for the technology. It involves assessing the business’s existing processes and technologies and determining which tasks can be enhanced or automated through AR. Some of the possible use cases for AR in manufacturing are:
  • Logistics: AR can help workers quickly and accurately identify and track assets in real-time, such as inventory, tools, or parts. AR can also display key performance indicators (KPIs) of the equipment, such as temperature, pressure, or speed.
  • Complex assemblies: AR can provide workers with step-by-step instructions and 3D models of the products they need to assemble, reducing errors and downtime.
  • Quality assurance and inspection: AR can help workers detect defects, errors, or deviations from the standard by comparing the actual product with the digital model. AR can also provide feedback and suggestions for improvement.
The second step is to select the appropriate hardware and software for the chosen use cases. It involves evaluating the available options in terms of features, functionality, compatibility, cost, and user experience. Some of the common software platforms for AR are:
  • Unity: This is a cross-platform game engine that allows developers to create interactive 3D content for various devices. It supports both native and web-based AR development using frameworks such as AR Foundation, Vuforia, EasyAR, Wikitude, and WebXR. Unreal Engine: This is another cross-platform game engine that enables developers to create realistic 3D content for various devices. It supports native AR development using frameworks such as Unreal Engine’s own XR Plugin Framework, Google’s ARCore, Apple’s ARKit, Magic Leap’s Lumin SDK, and Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Toolkit (MRTK).
  • WebAR: This is a term that refers to web-based AR applications that run on browsers without requiring any additional software or hardware. It uses web standards such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, WebGL, WebAssembly, WebRTC, WebAudio, etc., to create immersive experiences. Some examples of WebAR platforms are 8th Wall, Zappar, A-Frame, Three.js, Babylon.js, etc.
Some of the common hardware devices for AR are:
  • Smart glasses: These are wearable devices that project digital information onto the user’s field of view. They allow hands-free operation and interaction with the environment. Some examples of smart glasses are Microsoft HoloLens 21, Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2, Vuzix Blade, and Epson Moverio BT-300.
  • Smartphones and tablets: These are handheld devices that use their cameras and screens to display digital information on top of the real world. They are widely available and easy to use but require manual operation. Some examples of smartphones and tablets that support AR are the iPhone 12 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, iPad Pro, and Lenovo Tab P11 Pro.
  • Head-mounted displays (HMDs): These are devices that cover the user’s eyes and provide a fully immersive experience. They block out the real world and replace it with a virtual one. They are mostly used for VR but some models also support AR. Some examples of HMDs are Oculus Quest 2, HTC Vive Pro 2, Valve Index, and Sony PlayStation VR.
The third step is to design and develop the AR solutions for the chosen use cases using the selected hardware and software. It involves following the best practices and guidelines for creating engaging, intuitive, and user-friendly AR experiences. Some of the key aspects to consider are:
  • User interface (UI): This refers to how users interact with the AR application, such as through gestures, voice commands, buttons, menus, etc. The UI should be clear, consistent, responsive, and easy to use.
  • User experience (UX): This refers to how users feel when using the AR application, such as satisfaction, enjoyment, comfort, etc. The UX should be immersive, meaningful, relevant, and fun.
  • Content: This refers to the digital information or images that are displayed on the AR application, such as text, graphics, animations, videos, etc. The content should be accurate, informative, attractive, and appropriate for the context and purpose.
  • Performance: This refers to how well the AR application runs on the device, such as speed, stability, battery life, etc. The performance should be optimized, reliable, and efficient.
The fourth step is to test and evaluate the AR solutions for the chosen use cases using the selected hardware and software. It involves conducting various types of testing, such as:
  • Functional testing: This checks whether the AR application works as intended and meets the functional requirements and specifications.
  • Usability testing: This checks whether the AR application is easy to use and provides a positive user experience.
  • Compatibility testing: This checks whether the AR application works well with different devices, platforms, systems, and environments.
  • Security testing: This checks whether the AR application protects the data and information from unauthorized access or misuse.
  • Performance testing: This checks whether the AR application runs smoothly and efficiently on the device.
The fifth step is to deploy and maintain the AR solutions for the chosen use cases using the selected hardware and software. It involves:
  • Distributing the AR application to the target users or customers through various channels, such as app stores, websites, QR codes, etc.
  • Updating the AR application regularly to fix bugs, improve features, add new content, etc.
  • Monitoring the AR application’s performance, usage, feedback, etc., to measure its impact and effectiveness.
  • Providing support and assistance to the users or customers who encounter any issues or problems with the AR application.
Challenges in Manufacturing
AR in manufacturing is growing rapidly and steadily. However, most manufacturing companies are still in the proof-of-concept phase, and companies face significant challenges with regard to successfully implementing this innovative technology. Some of the main barriers are:
  • Implementation cost: AR requires a significant investment in hardware, software, and infrastructure, which can be prohibitive for small and medium-sized manufacturers. For example, IKEA’s AR app, which allows customers to visualize furniture in their homes, costs between $30,000 to $60,000 to develop and implement.
  • Technology and skills gaps: AR is a relatively new and complex technology that requires specialized knowledge and skills to use and maintain. Many manufacturers lack the talent and expertise to implement AR solutions effectively. Additionally, some workers may resist or be reluctant to adopt AR due to generational or cultural differences.
  • Lack of standardization and interoperability: There is no universal standard or protocol for AR technology, which makes it difficult to integrate with existing systems and processes. Different AR devices and platforms may have different requirements and specifications, which can create compatibility issues and increase complexity.
  • Security and privacy risks: AR involves collecting, processing, and displaying sensitive data and information, which can pose security and privacy risks. Manufacturers need to ensure that their AR solutions comply with relevant regulations and protect their intellectual property and customer data from unauthorized access or misuse.
  • Ethical and social implications: AR canhave ethical and social implications for both workers and customers. For example, AR can affect the autonomy, dignity, and well-being of workers by monitoring their performance, behaviour, or emotions. It can also influence the perception, decision-making, or behaviour of customers by manipulating their reality.
Companies using AR
The advancements in AR technology have been transforming the way manufacturing activities are conducted. With key players investing in AR technology, manufacturers are increasingly embracing this cutting-edge technology for improved cost-effectiveness and increased productivity. Below are some examples of companies using AR in the manufacturing:

Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin has integrated AR for manufacturing into its production processes to increase speed and accuracy. Their innovative AR system enables personnel to identify potential issues before they become major problems, resulting in improved workflow, better quality control, and faster production times.

Cisco Systems
Cisco Systems is a technology leader that uses manufacturing AR to enhance workplace safety. They have developed AR-enabled safety glasses, which provide workers with real-time information and safety notifications, allowing them to work more efficiently.

Dassault Systèmes
Dassault Systèmes is one of the leaders in the 3D design and product engineering field, and they extensively use Augmented Reality industrial applications in their manufacturing processes. Their 3DExperience platform allows employees to view essential information through AR headsets or tablets. It includes engineering drawings, parts lists, technical documents, ergonomics data, and interactive assembly instructions.

Siemens AG
Siemens AG is one of the leading providers of industrial Augmented Reality solutions and services. Using AR devices, Siemens has developed several products that improve building processes and workplace safety. For example, they have implemented AR-enabled goggles, allowing workers to access tracking and performance metrics and receive guidance on assembling and repairing components.

Volkswagen
Volkswagen uses AR to optimize its production and engineering. They use AR to visualize and test new designs, components, and systems in a virtual environment, saving time and resources. They also use AR to assist workers in repairing and inspecting vehicles, providing them with step-by-step instructions and relevant data.

Factors Driving the Growth of AR
Following are the various factors which are driving the growth of AR:
  • The increasing popularity of smartphones and app integration, which enable users to access AR content easily and conveniently.
  • The growing adoption of AR technology by healthcare industry incumbents, who use it for diagnosis, treatment, training, and remote assistance.
  • The rising demand for AR devices and applications in education, gaming, and entertainment, which provide immersive and interactive experiences for learners and gamers.
  • The emergence of 5G networks, which offer high-speed and low-latency connectivity for AR applications.
  • The development of innovative AR hardware and software components, such as head-mounted displays (HMDs), smart glasses, head-up displays (HUDs), handheld devices, marker-based and marker-less technologies, and cloud-based platforms.

HOW AR IS REVOLUTIONIZING FACTORY OPERATIONS AND MANUFACTURING PRODUCTIVITY

Conclusion
The barriers to AR adoption in manufacturing are understandable, but not impossible. AR is a relatively new and complex technology that requires a lot of investment, training, and integration. Not all manufacturers may be ready or willing to use AR, especially if they have other priorities or challenges. However, AR has a lot of potential benefits for manufacturing, such as improving efficiency, quality, safety, and customer satisfaction. It can also help manufacturers gain a competitive edge in the global market, as they can offer more value-added and customized solutions. Therefore, manufacturers who are interested in using AR should overcome the barriers by following some of the steps mentioned in this article.

AR is a powerful technology that can transform the manufacturing industry and create a more intelligent, more connected world. Nevertheless, it also requires a careful planning and implementation process that considers the potential barriers and how to overcome them.

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