Increasing productivity in the production environment is crucial in order to remain competitive, especially in challenging times like the ones we are currently facing. Thanks to Industrie 4.0 and the wealth of new technologies on the market, there have never been more ways to save valuable time spent on manufacturing processes and to increase overall productivity. Immersive technologies such as Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) are just some of the cutting-edge technologies changing the face of the modern factory. According to a 2018 report by the Capgemini Research Institute, three out of four companies implementing AR or VR on a large-scale confirm yielding operational benefits of over 10%. They also found that 66% of organisations consider AR is to be more useful than VR, in particular where efficiency and productivity is concerned.
With its capability to augment the real world view with computer-generated information, AR is revolutionising how workers carry out maintenance and assembly tasks, how products are designed and how employees are trained. Here are five ways this versatile technology could boost productivity in your business.
1. Increased worker productivity
One of the most obvious benefits of AR in manufacturing is its ability to increase worker productivity. Equipped with an AR headset instead of a clunky manual, factory workers are left hands-free and can easily navigate the technology with their voice. Complex tasks are simplified, as step-by-step audio instructions can be delivered with the aid of images and videos superimposed on the live view. Hence they are able to complete their assembly and maintenance tasks more efficiently, and the likelihood of errors is reduced. Another advantage is that the instructions may be available in different languages, allowing employees to choose the language they feel most comfortable in.
In the following video, the time-saving possibilities of AR technology are clearly illustrated by a GE Renewable technician performing a wiring insertion task. When wearing smart glasses powered by software platform Skylight, he is able to carry out the task in 34% less time than before. Time spent going back-and-forth between the paper manual and his work station is eliminated, because instructions are delivered through the voice-powered AR device.
2. More efficient training of employees
In addition to increasing worker productivity, AR makes training employees easier and faster than ever before. The rapid changes associated with Industrie 4.0 mean that extensive on-boarding and upskilling are becoming increasingly important priorities. With the aid of immersive technology, these processes are much less resource-intensive, for one, because in-person instructors are no longer necessary. Workers can learn interactively through an AR-based system, possibly combined with remote instruction. Machine downtime is saved, as workers may no longer need to physically use a machine in order to learn how it is operated. Furthermore, interactive, digital forms of training have also been found to be very effective. In a study conducted by Stanford University and the Technical University of Denmark, it was discovered that people tend to remember more after participating in virtual rather than traditional instruction, with learning effectiveness increasing by as much as 76%.
An example of a software solution which facilitates the creation of such training content is Machine@Hand from Fraunhofer-Institut IGD. Once created, the content can be accessed on various technological platforms such as HTC Vive and HoloLens. Users can look inside machines in order to understand how movements are performed and are guided step-by-step through assembly and maintenance procedures.
3. Accelerated product design process
Like training, designing products can be expensive and time-consuming. Comparable to rapid prototyping made possible by 3D printing, AR has the potential to accelerate the design process as well as reduce the associated costs by allowing engineers to try out their ideas in a risk-free way. As AR enables the overlaying of features onto physical objects, it reduces the constant need for developing expensive prototypes. One basic prototype can serve as the blank canvas for a series of design changes.
This possibility became a reality for Ford in 2017 when they partnered with Microsoft HoloLens. While technically based on mixed reality rather than AR, use of the device reduced the need for building numerous vehicle prototypes, thus greatly speeding up the design process. Collaboration across teams also became easier, and innovation thrived.
Of course, not every company can afford a large investment like the HoloLens but fortunately, there are many other more affordable options on the market for those who wish to start implementing AR in their design process. i4 AUGMENTED REVIEW is a free app developed by CAD Schroer, which enables 3D CAD models to be viewed in a real space. This kind of technology not only improves the design process but also makes it easier to present products in trade shows, investor pitches and team meetings.
4. Enhanced remote collaboration
For many reasons, it is often not possible to have the entire design team or all stakeholders in the same room at the same time. Due to the current pandemic, many of us have now grown accustomed to virtual meetings on Zoom, Skype and other video conferencing software. In the future, this type of communication is likely to remain an important feature of our working lives, due to the immense savings realised on time and cost. While they are generally good alternatives to face-to-face meetings, sometimes the rigid nature of these technologies can make working together on projects quite frustrating, despite options like screen-sharing. AR-based solutions enable better remote collaboration by adding an additional dimension of interaction.
PTC’s remote assistance app, Vuforia Chalk, brings a whole new level of interaction to your video calls with teammates. The app allows you to draw on your live view, so that you can point out features as you talk. The best part is that the markings remain where you drew them even after you move. In the context of COVID-19, PTC is offering a free trial of its product until August 31st and possibly longer. AR remote collaboration apps are also useful in many other scenarios, for example in solving maintenance issues. Rather than submitting a request for technical support and waiting for the technician to arrive and fix the problem, an employee can receive guided instructions from an off-site technician, allowing issues to be solved much faster.
5. Facilitation of predictive maintenance
Solving technical problems, whether by means of in-person or remote assistance, will always be necessary in the production environment. But, when it comes to machine maintenance, prevention is better than cure, and prediction is better than prevention. The flexibility of AR technology enables better prediction of equipment issues and identification of their causes. As they work on a machine, a factory worker wearing an AR headset can simultaneously view real-time information about the machine’s status. In this way, they are more likely to spot possible issues before they lead to complete failure, prioritising predictive maintenance and saving on future repair or replacement costs.
There are many technologies which can facilitate AR-supported maintenance in factories. For example, ProManage AR software is designed to help factory managers to identify issues in real-time while carrying out a routine Gemba walk on the shop floor. Causes of waste are highlighted based on a multitude of factors, including Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), downtime, quality and performance.
With the huge potential of AR to reduce time spent on assembly, maintenance, product design and many other manufacturing processes, its use in factories is only going to become more widespread in the next years. The productivity gains make it worthwhile to consider making an investment in this exciting technology and bringing your manufacturing environment to the next level.
Still not sure how AR-based technologies or other Industrie 4.0 innovations could increase productivity in your production environment? If so, feel free to send us a message at email@example.com with details of your problem. Drawing on our industry expertise and AI-enhanced search methods, we will conduct extensive research and suggest the best technology solutions tailored to your specific situation.