Manufacturing Through Smart Glasses: The Future of AR on the Shopfloor
Isaac Maw posted on February 24, 2020 |
How does Augmented Reality fit into today’s manufacturing landscape?

AMT has sponsored this post.

Augmented reality, like so many other emerging technologies in today’s manufacturing sector, has generated significant hype over the past few years. But what are the real applications for augmented reality technology and devices in manufacturing and industrial environments?

According to a recent whitepaper by the AMT – The Association for Manufacturing Technology, augmented reality has the potential to increase worker productivity by an order of magnitude.

Attend the upcoming MT360 conference in Santa Clara, California to experience a deep dive into the future of manufacturing—including the impact of AR.

AR Applications in Manufacturing

“We have found that the manufacturing market still has a few misconceptions about AR, but when customers see that the applications of AR are extremely practical and straightforward, they understand how it can potentially benefit them. They often look for opportunities where the technology is likely to provide a step level change in their business, something with a 10-20 percent impact on ROI,” said Amar Dhaliwal, CEO of Atheer Inc.

Technical Field Support

Currently, the most notable application for AR technology in the manufacturing workplace is for delivering real-time work instructions and knowledge to workers via AR devices such as smart glasses and headsets, as well as tablets and smartphones. Manufacturing production lines and the equipment on those lines are highly complex, and developing personnel with the knowledge to maintain and repair them is an ongoing challenge. With AR, manufacturers can augment the skills of their workforce with tools such as remote expert assistance and equipment diagnostics.

Digital annotations are a major element of this application. With digital annotations, experts can, for example, digitally overlay an image of an arrow in 2D or 3D space onto the equipment, virtually replacing the essential teaching tool of pointing and gesturing in person.

Connecting remotely to an expert allows technicians to quickly and easily access the knowledge and skills of that expert on demand. This can greatly expand the value of subject matter experts to the company by multiplying their capability to use their knowledge where it’s needed, without the need to travel to field locations, for example, such as an offshore oil rig. Empowered with AR, this communication between expert and technician is much more effective than explaining complex technical issues over the phone or by email.

In this application, AR enables companies to empower a large base of service technicians with the expertise and capability of a much smaller pool of experts to maximize productivity.

Inspection and Surveying

Just as AR can be used to assist maintenance technicians, the technology can also be used to assist inspection and surveying personnel. For example, detailed visual information can be easily transmitted directly to technicians for use during evaluation of the status or safety of equipment, materials or infrastructure. While a remote drone gathers images of the subject, an offsite technician can evaluate the images in real time. A technician on site can use AR to digitally annotate images or video of inspection subjects, highlighting defects or other issues.

Cargo and Warehouse Operations

AR can be used to optimize communication and directions for cargo and warehouse workers, such as order pickers and packers, truck and forklift drivers, and air cargo workers. Conventionally, warehouse pickers are commonly directed to products using aisle and bin numbers via an earpiece. With AR, more specific and intuitive instructions can be delivered using an AR application and headset. According to the AMT whitepaper, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), which represents 290 airlines in the air travel and air cargo industries with member airlines carrying about 82 percent of the world’s air traffic, piloted an Atheer AR platform for cargo handling applications in 2018. IATA reported a 30 percent improvement in the speed of cargo handling and a 90 percent reduction of errors.

Training and Compliance

In nearly all AR applications, the role of AR is to guide the worker by making digital information accessible in a transformative way, whether that’s by bringing the right work instructions to hand, by making expert guidance visual, or through any of the other ways that productivity is enhanced when digital information augments physical reality.

Training and compliance is perhaps the most accessible case for AR to add value. AR-enabled teaching and guidance strengthens visual and experiential learning, strengthening learning compared to other types of classroom instruction. AR learning is especially powerful for training a remote workforce.

Adoption of AR in Manufacturing

Despite the technology’s potential, there are still challenges facing AR as it is adopted into the manufacturing industry.

Forrester Research estimates that 14 million workers will wear smart glasses by 2025, up from 400,000 in 2016.Yet according to the AMT whitepaper, industrial workers typically have low tolerance for new technology or new processes that get in the way of completing their work. This may make workers less likely to tolerate an AR system that doesn’t immediately add clear value to their work. For example, highly experienced technicians that rarely meet a maintenance task they can’t resolve may struggle to see the point of an AR system that provides work instructions. A new worker or apprentice, on the other hand, would gain great value from such a system.

To learn more about how augmented reality is making an impact in the manufacturing industry, check out the AMT Whitepaper here.

Do you need to know how AR and other cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Additive Manufacturing are changing the manufacturing industry? Attend MT360, the upcoming conference taking a deep dive into the future of manufacturing. Visit the event website for more information.

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