Have you heard of Pokemon Go, an AR game that had people all over the world using their phones to catch virtual Pokemon? Or if you have children, are they learning geography through AR? AR has a lot of practical—and not-so-practical—uses, but before we get too far down the path of what AR can be used for, let’s define what it is.
AR stands for augmented reality. AR is a technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world, providing a composite view. It may sound similar to virtual reality (VR), but the two are very different.
VR is the computer-generated simulation of a 3D image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as VR goggles, a helmet with a screen inside, or gloves fitted with sensors. VR immerses you in a 3D world and gives you life-like experiences. The image adjusts to your movements, making it feel real. VR is heavily used in the gaming industry.
An example of how AR could be useful is if you are assembling a connector with 35 different cable connections and forget which wire goes where. No need to leave the work station or pull out a blue print—just call up the AR drawing and see where the wires go. You can look at the image inside your glasses, helmet, or other device and be more productive with your work. AR even allows you to move your head to line the AR image up with your part. Companies that use this technology have increased their first-time quality and some even report to be 100% error-free.
Even though this technology is being talked about more, it isn’t new. AR and VR have been around in laboratories and testing since the early 1960s when Morton Heilig first created what he called the “Experience Theater.”
AR found some practical applications in manufacturing around 2014, when Google glasses were used for order picking and inventory management. The glasses allowed inventory pickers to have a parts list and the location of the part as well as an image of the part or product right in their field of view. This helped to assure they picked the correct product from the right location and even allowed real-time updating of the stock.
AR has advanced from that simple and specific task to more complex and advanced uses. Many of the new AR applications focus on assembly work and are used to reduce inspection time and training. Newport News Shipbuilding is just one example.
Now that you have a bit of insight into what AR is and how some manufacturers are using it, you can evaluate your own needs and see if AR would be beneficial to your company and, more importantly, your bottom line.
Don’t brush AR off by saying it is just for large companies. Think about your staff and their day-to-day processes and training. If you are like most mid- or small-sized companies, the largest part of your workforce was made up of baby boomers. However, this dynamic has changed in recent years. One way you can use AR in your business is to transfer knowledge from retiring baby boomers to the millennial workforce.
For example, a newly graduated maintenance employee with a two-year degree is called to a down machine. The new employee received quality classroom and hands-on training, but he has never worked on that machine. He would have to call or find a seasoned employee to help him troubleshoot and repair the equipment, which takes time.
If the new employee is equipped with AR, he can pull up prints, work instructions, and other helpful items without interrupting others. If he doesn’t find the answer, he can dispatch a seasoned employee into his field of view. Now he can receive the needed instruction without the seasoned employee having to leave his place. You can see the time savings that AR brings to this scenario.
Imagine, you can place three or four seasoned technicians in a control center and send your young staff out to repair equipment. See what this can do to their learning curve? Think about the reduction in downtime as well as utilization gains. Your highest skilled employees can now work with all your new staff when needed. They can deal with the challenging and tough problems, rather than chasing around the little problems.
Another benefit is you can dispatch the OEM’s support staff right down to the machine. This can help the OEM to improve parts or components as they see the infield problems, and it can also give your employees the chance to interact with company representatives.
So, in reality—pun intended—it doesn’t come down to if you need AR or not. It is a matter of when you need AR and in what capacity. AR has been around and will become increasingly relevant in manufacturing. At some point, it will become a daily part of the industry. So don’t say “no” before you research this subject.
Like someone once told me, “One thing is sure. Change is a constant and so is new technology and ways of doing your job smarter and more efficiently. It is up to you to find out what makes the most sense for you.”