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Manufacturing the ARt of optimisation

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Ahmet Misirligul)

Augmented Reality (AR) has a mixed reputation. The technology is often hyped, but according to recent research from CCS Insight, sales of Virtual Reality (VR) and AR devices will grow almost six-fold to reach 60 million units in 2023. Yet the rising popularity in AR technologies extends beyond consumer sales. The business case for AR is stronger than one might think. By “democratising AR” and using it as a solution for all people in the workplace, companies can minimise risk and maximise return on investment (RoI). AR is therefore emerging as an accessible solution for manufacturers, enabling them to stay ahead of the competition by taking business efficiency to the next level. 

The race to keep pace 

In today’s globalised economy the manufacturing sector, like many others, is in fierce competition. So much so that the aerospace sector alone is in demand to create 37,400 new aircraft in the next 20 years. In order to become a leading manufacturer and optimise RoI, companies are on a mission to push for smaller prices per part, shorter lead times and more stringent quality control. This can be easier said than done. With research from Deloitte reporting that unplanned downtime costs industrial manufacturers in excess of $50 billion every year, it is clear that managing machine failure remains a top concern for manufacturers — who risk high costs and loss of production as a result of downtime. To manage machine failure, manufacturers are investing in new technologies to help increase efficiency across the entire supply chain. This is why AR is emerging as a critical solution. 

The ARt of optimisation 

Once seen as a consumer technology, AR is being adopted in the workplace to help people with common problems in their day-to-day business. It is helping manufacturers to reduce the risk of supply chain disruption thereby getting operations up and running even when there are no  technicians on the ground. Manufacturers can use AR for remote access management in order to react to, plan for and mitigate the risk of machine failure. 

Furthermore, AR-powered remote access tools can be used to connect expert technicians hundreds of kilometres away to a remote site in real-time. This opens a realm of benefits when it comes to troubleshooting issues at speed. Connecting through video sessions, AR tools can help technicians to identify the issue on the ground and guide the person on-site to solve the problem. Take 3D object tracking as an example; this enables the expert technician to annotate objects on the conference screen even as the person on the other end moves their smartphone camera. Thanks to AR, manufacturers can react quickly to downtime issues and fix problems remotely, but in real time. 

Preparing for failure

Beyond reacting to supply chain disruptions with speed and accuracy, AR can also help manufacturers plan a preventive maintenance strategy to avoid unnecessary outages caused by broken machinery. Whilst fault detection is often complex, technicians can virtually solve these challenges by using AR to put themselves in the shoes of the person on site. In addition, these tutorials can be saved as videos for future use, thereby further reducing time and cost. Used in this way, AR can be a useful training solution not just train new technicians, but also to ensure more stringent quality control and sustain a level of high-quality knowledge exchange within the business. 

Remote access to expert technicians can also optimise on logistics and warehouse processes. For example, offsite experts can assist in identifying correct spare parts, document the part number, and initiate the order process for replacements immediately. This is a huge benefit for logistics teams as they can pre-empt specific demands on resources. 

AR upskilling the workforce 

Both VR and AR technology have demonstrated great potential when it comes to training, with VR has been used to simulate training for military operations, aircraft pilots, maritime operations, advanced surgery. Meanwhile, AR is being relied upon to provide instant upskilling of the workforce and on the job training in often risky scenarios, regardless of location. 

For example, in manufacturing, one of the issues with new employees and having inexperienced talent on the floor is that they are unfamiliar with necessary protocols, equipment, and procedures that are critical for business and day to day success. This can lead to safety issues for both the individual and wider workforce. With the right AR applications and devices, these new employees can be trained, informed, and protected at all times without wasting additional resources.

For instance, AR technology can be used to deliver the required updates and information to help individuals understand real life scenarios, what’s happening, why, and how that relates to their duties, without needing to be in risky situations, until fully competent. This can be used to efficiently kick off the new employee process and place them in the field straight away — albeit through smaller, less dangerous tasks. 

Furthermore, as businesses across the manufacturing struggle to retain talent and find the right people with the right skills, AR is providing the opportunity for individuals to start a career in manufacturing and engineering early, while also providing hands-on experience along the way. 

With technical training and development often costly when dealing with large, complex pieces of machinery or dangerous equipment, used in this way AR is allowing businesses to maintain the speed and accuracy in the supply chain, while also upskilling technicians and inspiring a next generation workforce with new ways of working.

The future lies with AR 

Used in conjunction with the right technical solutions and expertise, manufacturers can “democratise AR” and make it a tool to help people with their day-to-day problems. From accelerating user collaboration, facilitating shorter communication chains to streamlining processes, educating the workforce and providing training that can attract and retain talent, the use case for AR in business will only get stronger. And as IT infrastructure increases in complexity and organisations come under more pressure to remain competitive AR will deliver multiple benefits to manufacturing organisations, and business as a whole.

Andreas Haizmann, Senior Manager, Product Management, TeamViewer