Augmented Reality Reshapes the Face of Manufacturing: 4 Use Cases

We explore 4 ways in which augmented reality reshapes manufacturing: from knowledge transfer and technician training to the assembling of high-tech jets.

The discussion of whether automation will eliminate jobs, especially in manufacturing, remains a raging debate. What is more certain is that while some industries estimate significant job growth in the future, they are also doubtful of the ability to find relevant and suitable workers to fill those vacancies.

According to a joint report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, in the next decade, the United States will be looking to fill 3.5 million manufacturing jobs, while currently estimating that 2 million of those jobs will go unfilled as a result of a skills gap. Many executives feel that this gap will be directly related to their ability to meet customer demand, implement new technologies, develop new products, and expand internationally.

In order to bridge this skills gap, the manufacturing industry will have to evolve to include investment in technology related to human-machine interaction, such as augmented reality (AR) – a powerful tool that is changing every industry today.

AR headsets and screens empowered with AR software allow users to see virtual objects superimposed on a picture of the real world. Integrated literally in front of workers’ eyes, digital information helps them make the right decisions in real time, as they accomplish tasks. This way, augmented reality in manufacturing can help increase the speed of assembling and repairing complex products such as vehicles and elevators, assist in technicians' training, and facilitate knowledge transfer from industry experts to ordinary employees.

In this article, we describe 4 real-world use cases where AR software development combined with special equipment has reshaped the manufacturing industry.

4 real-world use cases where AR software development combined with special equipment has reshaped the manufacturing industry.

1. Remote Repair with Industry Specialists

As the manufacturing industry evolves, experts are growing older, and the industry is increasingly challenged with how to best tap that talent, which may also be located in remote areas. AR headsets and integrated software allow technicians to receive assistance from experts regardless of location and in real time.

Most of these AR headsets include a “see what I see” function, which enables the expert to have a direct view of the machine through the view of the technician to better identify the cause of the malfunction. This is in stark contrast to the days of paying an expert to travel to the site, all while the damaged machinery is costing the factory in downtime. The faster organizations can adopt this technology, the better suited they will be to meet their customer demand.

AR is already being implemented in US car dealerships to help mechanics connect with Porsche specialists located at the company’s headquarters in Atlanta. The custom AR system they use is called Tech Live Look. It consists of AR glasses, a camera, and a microphone. Using this equipment, mechanics can show the experts what they see. In response, the experts can provide voice instructions illustrated with visualized guides that mechanics see overlaid onto the details of the car. According to Porsche, the new augmented reality system allowed them to cut the time needed to solve service problems by 40%.

AR in US car dealerships
The custom AR system 'Tech Live Look' allowed Porsche technicians to cut the time needed to solve service problems by 40%

2. Continuous Machinery Maintenance

Imagine machines used by a billion people each day – elevators in skyscrapers across New York City, for example. Combined, hardware and software AR components create powerful AR use cases for maintenance crews of these types of machinery that are often in disrepair due to constant use.

ThyssenKrupp, a German multinational conglomerate and one of the world’s largest producers of steel decided to connect its 24,000 US-based field elevator service technicians with the Microsoft HoloLens AR headset to better serve its customers. The headset would be combined with augmented reality software that would provide access to data that can be tailored to the technician’s needs, such as that particular elevator’s history of repairs, task orders the technician must complete, and the latest safety alerts for that elevator. Technicians equipped with the AR technology will have the opportunity to arrive at the job site better prepared than in the past with the relevant data, saving time and effort.

It takes a lot of stress out, it saves a lot of time, and it has a huge potential to increase productivity. The job that normally takes from one to two hours and maybe ends up with having the expert traveling to the site, – now one is able to carry it out on the first attempt and it may take less than 20 minutes.
Andreas Schierenbeck, CEO of thyssenkrupp Elevator
ThyssenKrupp connects its 24,000 US-based field elevator service technicians with the Microsoft HoloLens AR headset to better serve its customers, saving time and effort.

3. On-the-Spot Training in Real Time

As the skills gap in manufacturing widens, AR will be instrumental in training skilled talent in the future. In addition to complete courses, it can offer technicians and mechanics on-the-spot training with experienced engineers via telepresence. By combining experience with guided tasks in real time and instant access to documentation and resources, AR can offer a shorter learning curve.

Bosch has trained 10,000 service technicians on direct injection and braking technology using AR technology complemented with a 3D tour of the inside of a car engine for training in real time using a tablet or AR glasses. Combined in a three-dimensional environment, instructions can be easier to understand, which greatly improves the speed and accuracy of task completion. Complementing this visualization with data reporting integrated with software AR components allows a course instructor to monitor the progress of a student or group of students and tweak the tasks accordingly.

On-the-spot training in real time. 3D visualization with data reporting and AR components integration allows a course instructor to monitor the progress of a student or group of students and tweak the tasks accordingly.

4. Faster and More Accurate Complex Assembly

Another application of augmented reality in manufacturing is in the simplification of complex assembly. Whereas work instructions were once PDFs that are difficult to work on in real time, an AR headset offers cameras, depth sensors, and motion sensors on top of up-to-date instructions that overlay a real-world view of the working environment. Such a system ensures that a floor manager oversees the progress of his or her team, whether on-site or virtually.

Plane's assembly with AR glasses

This is the solution Lockheed Martin engineers found for assembling and repairing F-35s, which delivers results that are 30% faster and 96% more accurate than the team received earlier. A combat aircraft specifically designed for ground attack and air missions, it is critical that F-35s be assembled correctly. With augmented reality, assembling the warplane becomes similar to building a Lego model with a holographic scheme of the future machine and the instructions on how to combine the details projected right onto the scene.

Use case: an AR headset offers cameras, depth and motion sensors on top of up-to-date instructions that overlay a real-world view of the working environment for faster and more accurate complex assembly.

The Evolution of Manufacturing

There has been much discussion about how automation will change the face of the new economy, particularly in industries such as manufacturing. A Pew Study finds experts to be divided: half foresee a future where automation is eliminating jobs, while the other half believe that while automation will take over many human tasks, the workforce will respond by creating new jobs and industries.

AR technology, with its ability to communicate with remote, soon-to-be-retired experts in the field, offer on-the-job technical training, and provide continuous maintenance to machines, allows the industry to evolve to suit its changing demands.

McKinsey reports that investment in AR technology will be responsible for a total of 30 – 50% reduction in machine downtime, leading to greater productivity. The four applications described above are only the tip of the iceberg. Will AR technology assist to close the skills gap in manufacturing in the future? For that, we’ll have to wait and see.

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