The concept of immersive environments in factories dates back to 1960s and gained traction in 1990s when Boeing superimposed a computer-generated image of the manufacturing process in real time using the operator’s head-mounted display. Recently, the game of Pokémon Go had swept the world with its augmented gaming user interface, and clearly, it was highly appreciated by the consumer world.

On the other hand, the industrial world too is bustling with tech buzzwords like cloud, cognitive, and Internet of Things, but the excitement in the industry sector is low when compared to that of the consumer world. This can be attributed to the low real-world applicability of IoT, as perceived by industrialists. Augmented reality can serve as the bridge between cyber-physical IoT and real world to create an immersive IoT environment, visually showcasing the industrial impact of IoT in real time to the user.

What exactly is Augmented Reality?

Augmented reality literally means amplified reality. This is done by imposing visual layers onto everyday objects and surroundings aimed at redefining user perception and decision making. As the concept is completely artificial, technology advancements become the key enabler and disabler towards its realization.

Apart from industrial applications, stage 1 prototypes find application in architecture and interior design, education, retail, healthcare, and gaming. The consumer curiosity to experience new technology to witness near-real-world experience is emerging as a silent but strong supporter of augmented reality. In the educational sector, augmented reality brings learning tools to life, making education interactive and interesting. The inbuilt intuitive design of augmented reality apps allows users to disassemble, assemble, relocate, resize, and explore the subject at hand, creating an immersive experience lauded by novel applications in diverse sectors ranging from medical surgery to hard-core gaming.

Augmented reality layers virtual enhancements on the real landscape whereas virtual reality creates an immersive environment complete with objects, light, sound, and characteristics. When AR layers virtual enhancements upon existing reality, VR is a virtual simulation or recreation of a real-life environment.

This Frost & Sullivan perspective aims to peek into the potential opportunities for augmented reality in different functions of manufacturing.

Industrial applications for AR

Augmented reality finds application in several stages throughout the lifecycle of the product, beginning from design, manufacturing, equipment commissioning and decommissioning, maintenance, and inspection.

Design

Using augmented reality, 3D CAD designs can be relayed over solid skeletal base structures to create depth perception. The 3D CAD model can be redesigned; its results and physical scale can be experienced in real time, creating depth of perception in design. In addition, with the help of augmented UI add-ons, designers can add or remove specific product modules/subsystems, introduce and switch between inbuilt functional features, and collaborate with other designers at the same time. This enables designers to experiment and experience the look and feel of their creation without investing heavily on traditional prototype building process. With augmented reality, designers can navigate around a mock-up design for evaluating the intended features. This would enable factories to speed up their design and manufacturing process, reducing time to market for new products.

Manufacturing

Assembly guidance: Any new product in the line will have a manufacturing process comprising of steps unique to that product. Once the production process is finalized, the engineering department releases standard operating procedures comprising of machine setting, process flow, assembly, and inspection instructions that dictate the flow of raw materials throughout the manufacturing process. When integrated with vision sensors, the camera AR facilitates model-specific instruction display to the user. The camera captures the image of the object in front and displays the pre-requisite settings to be done before the operation. This way, each line operator need not carry a copy of standard operating procedure all the time, and over time, eliminate paper-based instructions. The operating procedure will update automatically according to the captured image. Once the process is completed, line operators can update the work status of the product in the process flow chart, allowing the system to offer the right information for the next stage of the product. With short product life cycles, development overhead that might be incurred for AR implementation will become more profitable than indulging in product process documents.

Worker Support

Augmented reality can also assist skilled workers in their operations. When skilled workers handle complex machinery, the augmented display can show various sensor readings in situ RPM, cutting force, position, and environment data, alerting the user using sound and haptic feedback in case of deviation and protect them from accidents. This allows operators to focus on the assignment rather than worrying about safety. By superimposing the infrastructure layout hidden within walls and structures, AR improves the operation speed of workers by aiding them in spotting the right location without the worry of damaging assets. The recorded video view can be used in future to identify possible failure symptoms or to train new hires on the operating procedure.

Separate simulator modules and hypothesis packages built as apps can serve as tools to train unskilled workers. The hypothesis models based on construction process represent the evolution of the product being assembled. Based on the different combinations of assemblies done by the trainee, the algorithm generates hypothetical situations and effects in the later process stages. This allows trainees to understand the evolution of the product being assembled using step-by-step animation and also learn complex processes that can be harmful.

Equipment Maintenance

To handle maintenance operations, the AR display can be programmed with the methods in 3D animation explaining the maintenance process and action evaluators. Using head-mounted display or glasses, the AR system will capture the current state of the system and recommend action to be performed using highlights, animations, and tracking labels. Simultaneously, the system would also record the sequence of actions being performed, understand the action taken, and provide feedback regarding the interaction.

AR maintenance systems can bridge the gap between diagnosis documentation and fault documentation as the whole maintenance process will be recorded simultaneously while the task is being performed, improving the productivity of the worker.

AR can also provide expert assistance to lone workers at remote locations carrying out maintenance operations. Using live video feed, the expert at the control center can guide the worker at the remote location by interactive screen sharing and voice instructions. This aids in improving the problem-solving skills of the lone worker and giving expert access to novice professionals. AR improves collaboration and worker confidence in handling new problems. This way, AR integrates and improves employee workflow, scalability, along with cost benefits.

Furthermore, industrial augmented reality experts envision an ideal future where the augmented reality interface would be natural and would not require additional gear setup. This augmented reality (AR) may be the application that serves as the pivot point for IoT adoption because of its proven applicability and readiness for core industrial activities such as quality inspection, work instructions, and training. However, the real challenge of whether technology can leap into such progressive acceptance levels remains as a question to be answered by time.

About Frost & Sullivan

For six decades, Frost & Sullivan has been world-renowned for its role in helping investors, corporate leaders and governments navigate economic changes and identify disruptive technologies, Mega Trends, new business models and companies to action, resulting in a continuous flow of growth opportunities to drive future success.

Frost & Sullivan

For six decades, Frost & Sullivan has been world-renowned for its role in helping investors, corporate leaders and governments navigate economic changes and identify disruptive technologies, Mega Trends, new business models and companies to action, resulting in a continuous flow of growth opportunities to drive future success.

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