The ‘Make in India’ project has established a high benchmark of transforming India into a $5 trillion economy by boosting the manufacturing sector’s growth to more than 12% per year, creating 100 million additional manufacturing jobs in the economy by 2022 and increasing the manufacturing sector’s contribution to GDP from 16% to 25% by 2025. Integral to achieving this vision will be the upward movement of Indian manufacturing to higher echelons of quality, innovation and value addition. The adoption of immersive technologies like Augmented and Virtual Reality can enable Indian manufacturers to make this happen.
Key growth drivers of immersive technologies
One of the major lacunae that have continued to constrain the growth of Indian manufacturers is the deficit of design and drawing capabilities. Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are ready for commercial use, and some of the most promising applications for these technologies are in industrial manufacturing and design. When it comes to AR and VR, early adopters in the manufacturing business are thinking creatively. As they look to the future, they are considering how to leverage potentially disruptive technology to improve worker safety, accelerate new product development, cut training costs and boost productivity, to mention a few applications.
Prototyping and product design: We can see the use of AR and VR in designing complex and critical systems that will become the manufacturing processes of the future. People are prototyping virtually and in ‘interactive 3D’ using AR and VR because that helps the thought process and helps reduce failures, if any, in the prototyping phase. The term trial and error stemmed from the prototyping philosophy of building, failing and repairing what did not work. These steps can be emulated in virtual environments, resulting in a lower wastage of raw materials. Of course, it doesn’t replace the actual prototype, but it certainly helps come closer to the final product with fewer failures and in a faster timeline.
AR and VR will enable superior value engineering, a much more detailed value analysis, better sourcing and strategic supplier capability mapping since having a more detailed view on what needs to be sourced and how. This helps plan production efficiencies and improve supply chain management as well. For larger projects, especially in heavy engineering and construction, this helps save a lot of time, effort and money.
Product development: The next logical step from product design is the actual development of the product. Using VR or AR in this process helps identify any flaws using a technique called digital twinning. In manufacturing, a digital twin is a virtual replica of the as-designed, as-built and as-maintained physical product, complemented by real-time operational business intelligence based on a physical product, operational processes or machinery settings. This same process can help build as well as maintain these products remotely or virtually. Advanced virtual simulation technology is now an essential component of the digital twin. Comprehensive simulation platforms can continuously model and evaluate the functionality of a product design, allowing designers to validate their concepts as they go.
Training and upskilling: Numerous studies show a decrease in the number of individuals available for industrial positions, as well as a widening skill gap. According to a 2015 Deloitte report, 2 million of the 3.5 million open manufacturing positions in the United States would go unfulfilled over the next decade due to a shortage of trained labour. AR and VR may accelerate new employee onboarding and increase worker productivity by providing more immersive on-the-job training. AR smart glasses that show video, images and text may visually train a worker through step-by-step assembly or maintenance operations. For example, the worker has to look at the machine part to be fixed to conduct a repair. This also provides an opportunity to upskill specific talents, especially manufacturing & engineering and become future-ready using AR and VR.
Product maintenance: Maintaining assets in the field have historically been a time-consuming and expensive activity, but it is essential to the uptime of equipment and smart manufacturing systems. Maintenance professionals can now use AR to access virtual engineering models and overlay these models over the actual equipment on which they are doing maintenance by wearing specialised AR goggles or glasses. This enables them to apply the most accurate and up-to-date engineering, assisting in effectively performing the necessary maintenance and performance criteria.
Technicians can use handheld devices to execute real work, input how long it takes to complete work orders, search through old work orders and log out of the system. Because all information is captured in real-time, managers may view it at any moment. New-age systems could combine the ability to track work, document it and send it to managers with wearable technology. This system can provide engineers with an elevated view of assets via thermal technology or the ability to see instructions on assets and use that data to train new hires without worrying about onboarding.
Factory planning: Virtual technology can be employed for factory floor design and manufacturing trade shows. Factory planning — where to locate tools, equipment and staff – is critical for productivity and efficiency in mass-production manufacturing. Engineering a new factory or modifying an existing one entails planning, testing and trials, and any unforeseen delays or production line halt, even if brief, may be costly. Virtual technologies have the potential to simplify and significantly reduce the procedure. Before modifications are made in the actual world, virtual plants may help evaluate production flows and how employees and robots accomplish jobs.
Warehouse managers and personnel will be able to handle goods hands-free thanks to AR. Workers may obtain precise instructions on how to accomplish a certain operation using AR smart eyewear. A worker, for example, can see the essential information shown on the screen, such as the order number, trolley number, bin information (where the robot must drop the items) and passage number. This data will assist employees in selecting which goods should be placed into which bin. As a result, personnel can complete the loading and unloading operation quickly.
AR and VR for the future of manufacturing?
More and more industrial and engineering companies are realising the benefits of AR and VR. Aerospace, automotive, energy, defence and medical industries are among those benefiting. Prime manufacturers are rapidly integrating their supply chain SMEs into their AR and VR setups, with digital models and cross-functional teams being immediately integrated.
AR is bringing precision to production and empowering workers with state-of-the-art methods for efficiency and ease. Through personalised guidance, automated support, better monitoring and analysis of faults & flaws, this technology assists people in focusing on their work and having an eye for detail.
The ability of new-age technologies such as AI, Big Data and IoT to make manufacturing smarter and more inventive has received a lot of attention in recent years. And today, the potential of AR for manufacturing is only beginning to be explored, signalling enormous potential. Because of the development of sophisticated technology, every critical activity previously carried out by a time-consuming, manual method is now automated, simplified and painless.
It is yet too early to tell if AR and VR investments indicate a coming revolution that will forever change manufacturing as we know it or if early adopters are experimenting. In any case, virtual technology in production is no longer just hype.