How Could Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Improve the Manufacturing Industry?

From training to real-time feedback and beyond, there are numerous applications for virtual reality and augmented reality in manufacturing — they could even transform the industry.
October 5, 2022
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We’ve seen virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) in the automotive industry, retail, hospitality, travel, health care, gaming, and education. The technologies have completely disrupted numerous fields — and manufacturing is one industry that has been forever changed by the power of AR and VR.

There are numerous applications of augmented reality in manufacturing. From training to creating, offering real-time instructions to introducing safety measures, the possibilities are endless. 

Specifically, the benefits of AR/VR in manufacturing include:

  • Cost savings
  • Greater innovation
  • Efficiency and productivity
  • Higher levels of safety 
  • Upskilling and training
  • Risk reduction and management
  • Higher quality products and processes
  • Better performance
  • Increased worker engagement
  • Stronger learning retention

How Do AR and VR Work?

The global AR, VR, and mixed reality (MR) market hit 28 billion USD in 2021 and is expected to reach more than 250 billion USD by 2028. That’s hardly a surprise, given the widespread adoption and appeal of the technologies. You know there are critical applications for AR/VR in manufacturing, but the uses hardly end there. 

Virtual reality offers a completely immersive experience, digitally recreating alternate worlds and landscapes. With the aid of equipment like headsets, along with tools that are continuously being developed, the technology digitally projects images, sounds, and total experiences, such that users truly feel as though they are part of the virtual world — all without leaving their seats.

Augmented reality, on the other hand, overlays virtual features on top of the real world. For example, you might hold your mobile device over a sign and see a real-time translation of the text on top of the actual text in the native language. 

Applications of AR and VR in Manufacturing

Smart Glasses

Smart glasses and other wearables allow users to take in and process information through an alternate lens. Images are projected on top of real-life objects, places, or people. In manufacturing, for example, operators might receive additional instructions or information thanks to images projected against a real backdrop, viewing them through smart glasses. Because they are hands-free, they can complete their tasks simultaneously. 

Field Support

AR and VR also have the power to deliver real-time instructions to workers in manufacturing. Smart glasses are one vehicle for receiving field support, as are devices like smartphones and tablets. Thanks to a variety of tools, technicians will be better equipped to diagnose problems and develop immediate solutions for, say, repairing faulty tools.

One example of AR or VR in field support is the use of digital annotations. Workers could view written text or a project icon overlaid on a real image via a device, telling them where to direct their view or identifying a faulty part, for instance. This eliminates the guesswork — something that has no place in manufacturing.

Safety

VR and AR are instrumental in protecting workers and ensuring that they are operating equipment safely. It can, for example, aid inspection by providing critical visual feedback while workers are using often dangerous tools. 

Workers can also make digital annotations using AR while surveying equipment, providing feedback in real time. That way, they can make notes of potential problems and defects before they become dangerous or cause injuries. Meanwhile, VR can replicate hazardous conditions to help workers navigate different scenarios before facing them in the real world.

Identifying Areas of Improvement

Sometimes, looking at your critical processes through a different lens will allow you to reconceptualize how you tackle obstacles and what you should be doing differently. AR and VR offer you a literal alternative perspective — giving you new insight. You will be better equipped to identify areas you need to improve simply by looking at your equipment and procedures through a new view.

Quality Assurance

In manufacturing, inspection and quality control are pivotal for ensuring that everything is functioning properly. Integrating AR into the process will allow you to conduct more frequent quality assessments, rather than leaving the QA until the end. 

Analytics

The rise of digital tools has meant a rapid influx of complex data. AR and VR blend both manual and automated processes, allowing you to gather an abundance of information in real time. Having access to this wealth of data enables you to assess your processes and develop plans for improving them further. This is critical in manufacturing, where you are always looking to hone your procedures.

Prototyping

VR is particularly instrumental in prototyping. The entire purpose of a prototype — in manufacturing and elsewhere — is to bring a product or tool to life before taking it to market, anticipating how it will behave. VR makes it possible to consider what a product will look or feel like without having to create a physical version of it. 

This is far less costly and time-consuming than the process of building a physical prototype, and you will reap the same rewards.

How Can VR and AR Transform Training?

Thanks to VR and AR, training across industries has been wholly reimagined. Manufacturing is one of the clearest examples of this.

Augmented reality manufacturing training gives technicians and workers feedback on the spot, so they can learn the ropes in reality. They can “see” instructions with the help of smart glasses, for example, teaching them how to use tools safely and effectively. Even workers with a low level of experience will receive the necessary guidance without having to consult manuals, ensuring that they are well equipped to operate machinery.

VR takes manufacturing training to a whole new level. Before workers even touch complex and potentially dangerous equipment, they can learn the ropes in an entirely simulated environment. This reduces the hazard, as well as makes certain that workers are well prepared before they broach an unfamiliar environment and have all the necessary skills. 

Clearly, there is a place for virtual reality and augmented reality in manufacturing. These tools have the power to transform safety, training, and the entire industry for the better.

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