It was just about two decades ago when Paul Milgram, a professor at the University of Toronto, introduced the idea of reality – a virtuality continuum to us. And we have travelled and raveled miles and dimensions in these few years. The human condition is based on evolution, and trending in the evolution is Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).
What really is AR? It is a technology that allows one to see the product in one’s relative surroundings. It superimposes a computer-generated image in one’s view of the real world, hence, giving a more enhanced version of reality. On the other hand, when it comes to VR, one can wear a VR headset and get immersed into a completely virtual world and interact in this virtual world the way one does in the real world.
Yes, it sounds like the future. But guess what? It is reality; it’s used everywhere around us – right from entertainment and gaming to healthcare to education to manufacturing. When it comes to the manufacturing and industrial sector, AR and VR technologies are coming in quietly and now taking over the industry. With so many miniscule parts and complicated assembly, it is becoming a power packed tool for the industry to use. Many large and small companies have built demos and proof of concept experiences to analye the use of AR & VR, and now they are bullish on these technologies and integrating it in mainstream. Some of them have already started with it.
Here are a few ways in which AR and VR can be used in the manufacturing industry:
Assembly & quality control
Speed is the foundation of our time. There are hundreds and thousands of small parts and tools, that when put together in the perfect manner, will get us the final product. Everything from smart phones to rockets has a set of assembly instructions. Manufacturing companies have been using paper manuals for assembly instructions. Being humans, assembly line workers tend to make mistakes in complex assemblies and the cost of reassembling the product could be large.
Here, AR can assist employees in assembling the product with 100 per cent accuracy. Head-mounted AR headsets or tablets can be used to achieve this. This tends to change the entire dynamic of spending hours on figuring out which part goes where. AR helps get it right on the first try. Not only can AR provide reduced rate of errors in assembly but can also be useful in reducing paper work and help companies go green.
AR and VR maintenance
Like assembly and quality control, maintenance too is an integral part in manufacturing. Currently, there are large maintenance manuals in a lot of places. These can take up a lot of time to read and to memorise. And who has that kind of time anymore? With the help of AR, companies can make this entire process a lot simpler.
Imagine one being able to see the status of the machine in front of them just with the help of a handheld gadget. With real-time super-imposed digital information, users can go through step-by-step information to repair the machine. If the user gets stuck at some point, he/she can go for a digital simulation on fixing the machine. Or he/she can opt for remote maintenance, where with the help of a handheld device, one can get assistance from the technical team sitting in an office. Few of the benefits of AR and VR in maintenance include reduced human errors, execution time and downtime and increased productivity and speed.
Virtual Reality for training
VR opens up a lot of doors when it comes to training individuals to operate the machinery and conduct processes. There is only so much that can be taught in manuals and presentations. VR gives one all the benefits of reality without the associated costs or dangers that might come with a trip to the plant in order to achieve the same goal. Companies can combine the classroom and on-the-job training in a virtual environment, where users learn about product/machinery and can immediately do hands-on training on a virtual 3D machines. Additional repetitions can be done, which is an important practice and builds a muscle memory to perform tasks fluently.
Furthermore, immediate managers can understand learning gaps and can give specific instructions to the users in order to get better at their work. While using virtual reality for training, productivity can significantly be boosted through every phase of the industrial development process – from initial design to assembly optimisation.
Experiencing optimal product designs
Building a complex production machine has always been challenging. The design process, prototyping, identifying errors and then redesigning takes several iterations. Even a small error can make designers go through another iteration, which delays manufacturing, and in turn, delays go-to-market.
With VR, product design feasibility can be done to identify potential problems before the machine is built. Companies experience deeper insights into their designs and engineers interact with models, visualise design implications and collaborate closely with internal team members and with customers to avoid rework. This reduces the risk of delays and companies can experience faster time to market and optimal product designs.
AR-VR’s role in sales and marketing
This brings us to our last point for manufacturing – sales and marketing. Whenever we buy a certain product, we want to go and experience it. But what if one could have the product in one’s space, without even having to get up?
With the help of AR and VR, we get to see small and large products, how they will fit in a customer’s space and their external & internal working. For example, let’s consider an elevator product; a user could see and choose the kind of elevator he/she wants. The user could place it in the area of their choice and also customise the external door type, material finish and internal panels, handle and lighting. He/she then gets to go inside the lift and experience it.
Gamification and gameful design
This is the most integral part of designing VR and AR solutions – this can make or break the experience. Blending AR-VR with gamification and gameful design, users can perform better in a simulated environment, with increased memorability and get better at performing tasks. At the same time, it is important to note that gamification for a well-designed experience is not like loyalty marketing. Extrinsic motivations and reward schedules are effective in short-term engagement. When it comes to long-term engagement, intrinsic motivations play an important role in designing the best experience. A well-designed experience can really make tasks fun and enjoyable.
Bringing man and machine closer
AR and VR are reshaping the manufacturing domain. The manufacturing industry is a sector where the opportunities opened up by AR and VR are enticing plenty of enthusiasm. They can certainly lead to enhancement in safety, design function and performance, bringing man and machine closer.