It would not be the wonder if we say that the manufacturing industry is the mother of all other industries. When there is a product, there must be some manufacturing processes related to it. And this manufacturing sector is having tremendous importance for ancillary industries. Manufacturing is an industry where every second matters. Modern automated factory floors never stop running, and even the tiniest mistake in design or layout can cost untold millions. That’s the reason why Virtual reality and augmented reality are important for this particular sector.
The ability to simulate everything from the factory floor to the most extreme edge case of the final product is invaluable, and the ability to do it instantly and effectively for free makes VR a transformative technology for factories.
In the current highly competitive business and manufacturing environment, manufacturing industry is facing the constant challenge of producing innovative products at reduced time-to-market. The increasing trend of globalized manufacturing environments requires real-time information exchanges between the various nodes in a product development life cycle, e.g., design, setup planning, production scheduling, machining, assembly, etc.as well as seamless task collaboration among these nodes.
In addition, with increased environmental awareness and legislation, more constraints have been placed on product disposal, hence promoting product recycling, servicing and repairing activities. Product development processes are becoming increasingly more complex as products become more versatile and intricate, and inherently complicated, and as product variations multiply with the trend of mass customization.
Thus, manufacturing processes have to be more systematic in order to be efficient and economically competitive. An innovative and effective solution to overcome these problems is the application of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies to simulate and improve these manufacturing processes before they are carried out. This would ensure that activities such as design, planning, machining, etc. are done right-the-first-time without the need for subsequent rework and modifications.
AR and VR can be helpful at various stages of manufacturing process. Starting from product design, AR and VR can be applied for further stages like, trial and error, manufacturing process planning, organising the manufacturing processes, inventory management, and waste management.
Manufacturing industries are having two phases namely pre-production phase and production phase.
AR and VR are helpful in both phases as follows:
Application of VR and AR in product planning
Product planning is a very tedious work. It demands tremendous dedication and expertise of an engineer. Starting from product’s feasibility to its optimum production cost, an engineer has to take in mind all the aspects of product design. Here AR and VR come into the picture. AR and VR convert all this paperwork, trial and error into digital and visualized data. Any changes in product design charges just few minutes vis-à-vis many hours before VR and AR revolution. Use of AR and VR in product design has drastically reduced the time and expense.
Applications of VR and AR in manufacturing
From machine layout to safety training, manufacturing is one of the main drivers of widespread VR adoption. Here are some of the most innovative ways the technology is used.
Let’s take an example of our very own automobile manufacturing company, M/s Ford.
Ford was one of the first car manufacturers to utilize virtual reality in its processes. The company has employed dedicated virtual reality specialists for many years, and uses the technology in all aspects of its operations. Engineers are able to design and build an entire care, from the power train to the upholstery, in a virtual environment.
Today, Ford utilizes consumer-available head-mounted displays such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, but in fact they developed their own in-house solution long before VR headsets were available at retail.
Benefits of using AR and VR in manufacturing sector
Work can be done faster: Usually, it can be a hassle for fighter jet engineers to assemble an aircraft because it would take years of training to do so. But with the aid of AR glasses that use depth sensors, cameras, and motion sensors that overlay images into real world during work, engineers are able to see renderings of bolts, cables, part numbers and instructions on how to assemble a specific component.
- Frequent shop floor problems solved easily: With augmented reality in manufacturing on your side, your manufacturing operations employees can directly show all of the problems to your maintenance teams and engineers. They can also view KPIs (Key performance indicators) in real-time as well as diagnose and resolve the issue without interfering with production.
- Date access becomes handy: Service engineers and manufacturers can go up to any item that comes with IoT technology and identify any object to help you get any information from a company’s back-end enterprise resource planning system. With that, they will have access to the object’s specs, location, inventory, and lead times.
- Maintenance time reduces drastically: In any manufacturing unit, maintenance plays a crucial role. As we all know, without proper preventive maintenance no industry can run efficiently. Proper maintenance reduces breakdowns and increases productive time of the industry. With the help of virtual reality and augmented reality devices, your team can hurriedly identify the flaw and prevent the downtime from ever occurring.
By having AR apps on your mobile devices, your team is able to visually identify the problem on the shop floor and resolve it there and then.
- Prevention of errors: Airbus has been using augmented reality in manufacturing for several purposes under the brand Smart Augmented Reality Tool (SART) since 2011. Although this technology can be used in many applications, aircraft programs use it more often. As a matter of fact, nearly 1000 employees use SART every day. A very good example of this is the inspection of bracket installation in fuselage assembly when a tablet camera superimposes a virtual image of the as-designed assembly over the real as-built product. This technology quickly enables the engineer to detect any flaw.
Augmented reality Hardware on the factory floor
It seems that the use of AR and VR in manufacturing sector is not new in the market. As we have seen the examples of Ford and Airbus above, there are various such players present in the market that are already incorporating AR and VR on their factory’s shop floor. We will know one by one that how the giant companies incorporated AR hardware and software in their production line.
- Microsoft HoloLens used by Thyssenkrupp
Thyssenkrupp recently started using Microsoft HoloLens – a fully self-contained, holographic computer that enables interacting with high-definition holograms overlaid in real world, for designing bespoke home mobility solutions. The process that involved a complex system of label and camera along with tedious manual data-entry for developing a custom stair lift solution is now transformed to digital, reducing the delivery time manifold. The salesperson now measures the staircase through HoloLens and the measured 3D point cloud data is then sent to manufacturing team automatically. The company is now able to make quick decisions and near real-time design approval for manufacturing. At the same time, the technology is allowing the sales person to provide the customer with a visualization of how the new stair lift will look like and function in their home. This Augmented Reality application is bringing Thyssenkrupp incredible amount of productivity and satisfaction for customers.
- Boeing using google glass as hardware and skylight software for assembly
World’s leading aeroplane manufacturer Boeing is using google glass and skylight platform in training and manufacturing to amplify the wiring process. Traditionally, the workers were using charts and printed diagrams. But with the AR solution, however, technicians get instructions right when needed without looking away through Google Glass touchpad, voice commands and the head tracking interface. While voice commands enable freeing up both the hands of the technician, barcode readers and Google Glass cameras help in identifying and confirming the wiring inventory. Whenever in need, technicians have the provision to look how-to videos for more clarity on the assembly process right in their field view. Implementing AR solution has enabled Boeing to save 25% time in wiring production and reduced the error rates to virtually zero.
- Range rover uses AR based app for training its employees
Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) partnered with Bosch and RE’FLECT to design an AR integrated training app for employees. The objective of the app is to train new technicians without removing and reinstalling the vehicle dashboard.
- Automobile Giant Porsche applied AR tools in Quality control
For Porsche, the factory of the future is already a reality, and you can see that through their upgraded factories at Leipzig and Zuffenhausen. The company calls it as “Production 4.0”, which signifies their commitment to continuous improvement using new technologies and methods.
Apart from using robots for repetitive tasks, Porsche is applying augmented reality to take quality control to the next level. At the company’s quality centre, experiments are conducted with Augmented Reality to figure out if the technology can be used to obtain precise design information about components quickly. Using an AR tool that can work within tablets, engineers can instantly gauge the dimensional accuracy, surface finish, tolerances and interference and other potential issues. The app also provides the functionality to test the functional aspects of components such as power windows and lights.
- Caterpillar applied AR in Maintenance sector
Caterpillar successfully completed a pilot project that involved using AR for machine maintenance tasks. The company has developed its own AR app that assists technicians in performing service and maintenance checks. The hardware independent app can be used on a phone, tablet or AR glasses.
AR and VR are going towards their own zenith day by day. By taking into account the recent scenario, the below image shows some statistics.
Both VR and AR are improving the skills of the workers as well as eliminating errors in product designing and production planning at the same time. AR and VR in manufacturing sector, are helping the manufacturers to produce more efficient and competitive products. With the aid of AR and VR, a company can overcome day to day hurdles and can focus on the quality of the product. AR and VR are having tremendous scopes in manufacturing sectors as we discussed above. Let our future products be the children of AR and VR aided manufacturing.