In the era of Industry 4.0, many manufacturers are turning to various kinds of digital solutions to maximize production in an ever-increasingly competitive market. As a result, businesses have begun incorporating Augmented Reality (AR) in their operations, fostering increased productivity, efficiency, workplace safety, as well as other massive benefits.

In this post, we’ll dive into the use of augmented reality in manufacturing, highlighting the key use cases that AR can help address and the benefits it can provide for businesses looking to stay at the frontline of innovation.

The use of augmented reality in manufacturing

Augmented reality is comprised of different technologies that help blend the physical space that an operator is working in with virtual, computer-generated visualizations that help augment the way people work, provide more details about a given item or process, and provide contextual details about things happening around them.

According to Statista, enterprise spending on AR glasses is forecasted to grow from $2 billion in 2021 to over $12 billion in 2024 with significant adoption of mobile AR across both consumer and enterprise segments.

As businesses continue to identify more and more industrial use cases for augmented reality, it will become increasingly important for manufacturers to adopt these technologies to experience the benefits to productivity and efficiency across their operations.

Augmented reality vs. virtual reality

Augmented Reality shouldn’t be mistaken for Virtual Reality (VR). The latter involves being fully immersed in a digital, audiovisual world via a wearable headset. On the other hand, AR takes advantage of the physical world, superimposing digital artifacts and allowing users to interact with their physical environment.

Despite the considerable resources required to implement augmented reality in manufacturing, the technology is applicable in various ways that can make a business more competitive in their respective market.

Benefits of augmented reality in manufacturing

Embracing augmented reality offers plenty of benefits for manufacturing businesses that apply the technology properly. Some of the notable benefits of implementing this interactive technology include:

Optimized product development: Conventional product development utilizes two-dimensional paper images and computer-assisted designs. These formats are ideal for creating schematics detailing the specifications required for the final product. However, these formats don’t usually provide a visually accurate 3D representation of the product.

Augmented reality gives manufacturers the ability to project 3D images through wearables, enabling product designers and key stakeholders to see what the final product will look like when it rolls off the production line.

Simplification of complex processes: Most manufacturing processes are made up of a series of complex steps that must be executed correctly in order to produce the finished product.

Augmented reality makes following these complex processes easier as it can be used to guide operators, allowing employees to see how the process is done in their physical space. As a result, manufacturers are able to ensure assemblies are done consistently and efficiently, reducing human error that could potentially result in quality defects.

Easier troubleshooting on the shop floor: Sometimes, equipment on the shop floor breaks down or production is haulted with no visible cause. Getting to the bottom of the problem can take some time if the operator can’t find the exact cause of the issue.

In these scenarios, augmented reality can be used to supplement work instructions and maintenance docs to superimpose images on equipment, showing detailed, step-by-step instructions and implement corrective measures.

Better collaboration: AR allows operators on the ground to digitally interact with physical equipment and machinery. And in the burgeoning era of the IoT-enabled devices and equipment, wearable AR devices are easily connected via the cloud, allowing verified remote access and collaboration.

For instance, off-site engineers can seamlessly communicate with operators at the factory whenever issues occur, enabling on-site personnel to address mechanical issues quickly and efficiently.

Lower operation costs: All the benefits discussed above can be distilled down to one significant advantage – lower production and operating costs. Optimized product development, streamlined assembly processes, and easier troubleshooting ultimately reduce the amount of waste caused by these respective departments.

Uses for AR in a manufacturing environment

With the benefits discussed above, it makes business sense to incorporate interactive technology into the manufacturing process.

Here’s how businesses can apply augmented reality in their manufacturing processes:

1. Guided operator workflows: As discussed, many products require complex assembly procedures. Reading paper-based SOPs and work instructions can needlessly complicated operator workflows, lengthening the assembly process, reducing productivity, and resulting in product quality defects.

By tapping into the power of augmented reality, operators can easily see where each part is supposed to go. Additionally, AR-enabled wearables can go into more detail, displaying identification codes for each piece, ensuring that it’s part of the kit being assembled.

2. Employee training: In industrial environments, employee training can be challenging because of the complexity of the work and the safety concerns posed by some potentially dangerous processes. As such, training new employees might offer safety challenges associated with particular tasks.

But with AR-enables training programs, employees can safely attempt different tasks without exposing themselves to hazardous situations before they’re ready. Additionally, augmented reality provides a more interactive learning experience, enabling new and existing employees to take on and retain information more easily.

3. Maintenance and repair: Wearables equipped with augmented reality allow operators to assess equipment status and effectiveness at a glance. For instance, looking at the machine through AR-enabled glasses shows machine operational status and parameters like temperature.

Additionally, wearables can display or superimpose instructions that guide a technician through machine maintenance and repair, streamlining maintenance management for manufacturers.

4. Changeover and setup procedures: AR mobile screens or wearables can be used by businesses modifying the space in their facilities or completing regular changeovers.

Using augmented reality allows the decision-makers to optimize equipment placement to ensure optimal space utilization. Consequently, the new environment can improve workflow, productivity, and production efficiency.

Additionally, changeovers become a significantly more efficient task with intuitive, guided instructions on what needs to be done to prepare for the next production run.

As outlined in this post, there are a number of reasons why manufacturers should consider implementing augmented reality within their operations. As businesses continue to identify relevant use cases to help streamline their various business processes, and as more investment is made into AR technology, augmented reality will soon become commonplace in many of the leading manufacturing facilities across the globe.

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