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AR in Manufacturing

Need for Speed

Manufacturers always need to be on their toes as customers demand products that are new, innovative, have some key differentiators and are of better quality. Well, that is not something new. What’s new is that the complexity of developing new products has increased at an accelerated rate. Manufacturers can address this issue by either building additional production lines or improving the availability, productivity, and flexibility of their established lines.

They are also beset by two unique problems typical of today’s times:

i. Skilled workforce, who were dedicated to their craft and spend years honing their skill in a single area are fast disappearing. When they retire, they take with them invaluable experience and expertise. Their replacement, the younger generation of today, lack experience and in addition are difficult to retain.
ii. The operation centres themselves are becoming more spread geographically in order to reduce manufacturing costs and to better address custom regional demands for a product. As a result, manufacturing companies must allocate their product and process experts across a global network of facilities and find better ways to share knowledge remotely.

While imparting knowledge and technical skills to the new entrants is the logical way ahead, it is not easy in practice. In the absence of a human factor, there are clear limitations to imparting this training. And it is further aggravated by the geographical distances between the tutor and the student. Companies have learnt the hard way that the traditional hardcopy or video work instructions and basic, offline training is not sufficient to develop a highly efficient workforce. Nor can they rely on the memory and skill retention of their operators and technicians to handle the increasing complexity and variation of products and production lines. This is where Augmented Realityor ARplays a major part in the manufacturing sector today.

Introducing Augmented Reality (AR)…
So, what exactly is Augmented Reality? And how does AR helps the manufacturing sector? Simply put, AR is a technology that superimposes bits of digital data on the physical world and presents a composite image to the viewer. This superimposition provides valuable tool to manufacturing companies. In essence, the viewer can see part of digital data in real surrounding using special devices. Augmented reality thus provides a competitive edge to the manufacturers. Leveraging the power of AR, manufacturers can achieve nearly zero defects in their products.  A few surveys have shown that implementing augmented reality solutions can improve assembly timelines by as much as 50%

By leveraging augmented reality, manufacturers can optimize their most valuable asset – their front-line workers. Augmented reality can provide the right information to the right people at the right time, effectively reducing errors, improving overall factory throughput, and enhancing worker safety.

Let’s see a simple, practical case where manufacturers benefit from using augmented reality technology in the automobile sector.

Despite automation of production lines, assembling a car is still a complex procedure that involves humans putting together all the parts that make a car. Sophisticated automobile companies rely on augmented reality software (for example, PTC VuforiaStudio) to enable production line crew to digitally view assembly instructions and that too in real-time. Car assembly workers can seek instructions, check associated technical drawings and even watch instructional videos by wearing an AR headset while still working on the assembly time. This allows workers to keep their hands on their task with virtual guidance, increasing their output efficiency.

There are several such use cases for using augmented reality in all the manufacturing sectors, and their use is on the rise.Here, in a nutshell, are a few benefits of using the augmented reality technology for manufacturing:

Efficient Training
Augmented Reality superimposes virtual objects on real objects and provides a valuable aid when it comes to training and simulation. AR can be used in training to facilitate the learning process.

Speed up Development
By enabling instant comparison of existing products with the proposed prototype, augmented reality enabled devices boost up product development process.

Increase Production
Irrespective of what you are manufacturing, every product needs to follow a set of assembly instructions. AR makes hands-on instructions possible using text, images and even instructional videos.

Facilitating Maintenance
Using AR enabled technology like PTC Chalk, troubleshooting experts can assist the shop-floor team fix problems even remotely. In addition, they can also keep track of the progress of diagnostics processes remotely.

Quality Control
Every great product that has established itself in the market has obviously gone through rigorous QA. Current QA requires human vision to identify problems. However, by using AR technology, digital overlays of products can be projected and inefficiencies can easily be identified at the design stage itself. Through this, technicians can identify the most minor issues with greater speed and accuracy.

Software for AR
There are quite a few software choices today that allow programming for a rich AR experience. Vuforia Studio from PTC in particular is a popular choice in India and other regions as it allows users to quickly and cost effectively author and publish scalable AR experiences without deep programming or previous AR expertise.