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How augmented reality can boost worker effectiveness

More than just offering rich media experiences, augmented reality has the potential to lower cost and improve productivity across industries

Augmented reality (AR) is now a part of our everyday lives. Mobile apps like Snapchat enable us to communicate in novel ways by changing the way we look digitally, while games like Pokémon Go allow us to interact with virtual monsters in real-world physical locations.

While there are many examples of how AR is used in gaming and entertainment, the technology can also benefit industries such as manufacturing and automotive, where companies typically go through a multi-stage product development process – from product design and manufacturing to sales and distribution – to create and deliver products to their customers.

AR, in particular, will come in handy in three main areas across industries: product development and design, manufacturing and assembly, as well as support, maintenance and inspection.

Product development and design

In automotive design, AR imaging is being used to work out vehicle dimensions before prototypes are created. With the ability to visualise life-size computer aided design (CAD) models of a car through AR headsets, designers can now interact and test design changes without going through unnecessary and expensive prototyping. This helps to lower cost by eliminating the need for unnecessary scale models, while improving the efficiency and speed of the design process.

Manufacturing and assembly

In an aerospace assembly trial conducted by Boeing, technicians donning Google Glass headsets carried out complex wiring tasks by using voice controls to query for specific instructions which were then displayed on the headset displays.

How AR differs from virtual reality (VR)

AR is the art of superimposing computer-generated content over a live view of the world. It integrates digital information with the user’s environment in real time and is increasingly becoming accessible and affordable in varied applications.

AR augments virtual things and puts them into the user’s real world. It is open and partly immersive; there is clear visibility for the user to see through and around the AR device. VR, on the other hand, immerses users inside a virtual world. It is a closed and fully immersive seated experience with limited movement for the user wearing a closed VR headset.

This lets a technician keep both hands on the task at hand, by eliminating the need to refer to paper- or laptop-based instructions. During the trial, Boeing had dramatically reduced error rates and cut wiring production time by 25%.

Support, maintenance and inspection

In a motor workshop, technicians can use AR applications on a digital tablet to display detailed locations of hard-to-reach components. Repair instructions and special tools requirements will be overlaid onto the live camera image, enabling workers to quickly assess and identify the cause of malfunctions. This allows the workshop to increase productivity by improving the speed and quality of repairs.

Starting on the AR journey

As discussed in the above examples, AR has the potential to improve the effectiveness of workers by using new machine interfaces that display relevant digital data in a real-world environment. Industrial companies can achieve business value today by using AR in their operations to increase efficiency, reduce rework and improve worker safety.

It is crucial that you take the first step to see how AR can benefit your business. Frost & Sullivan recommends taking an “internal start-up” approach to explore the use of AR in your organisation.

For starters, a small team should be identified, given a specific process to improve and provided with a small budget to explore the technology. Leveraging low-cost smart devices and AR toolkits, a proof-of-concept project can be undertaken to prove tangible return on investment (ROI) to management before moving to production systems.

These small steps to prove industrial AR in an organisation should be treated as a learning experience, where employees can learn about the extent and limitations of the technology before implementing a full-scale project.

Kenny Yeo is a senior industry analyst for the internet of things and connected industry at Frost & Sullivan.

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