Characterized by a fusion of technologies that blur the lines between the physical and digital, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is spreading across the manufacturing world. As a component of this revolution, a growing number of suppliers are using augmented reality (A.R.) to improve operations in workforce training and equipment maintenance. A.R. is a technologically enhanced version of reality created by using technology to overlay digital information on an image of something being viewed through a device, such as smart goggles or a smartphone camera. The goggles are often voice-controlled, leaving wearers with both hands free.

Statista estimates the A.R. market was worth $5.91 billion in 2018 and that it will reach more than $198.7 billion by 2025. The technology naturally has a stronghold in the video games and entertainment sector, but a growing number of manufacturing suppliers, including large automated equipment manufacturers, are utilizing the technology to provide their employees and customers with virtual hands-on instruction for operating machinery, troubleshooting and conducting repairs. In fact, 10% of the Fortune 500 companies already have begun exploring shopping and operation applications for A.R. Gartner predicts that by 2020, 20% of large enterprises will evaluate and adopt augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality solutions as part of their digital transformation strategy.

Training and maintenance

The “model-based digital twin” is an increasingly popular use for A.R. technology in manufacturing. The digital twin is a clone of the physical asset, providing a dynamic, self-teaching model to optimize performance in conjunction with an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform. The combination of machine learning and physics-based modeling enables engineers to create entire A.R. experiences that show technicians how to service factory floor machines. Using the digital twin, a technician can repair a faulty device in record time and with greater accuracy.

In-person training can be expensive and requires that the equipment be readily available for student training. Companies can use A.R. tools to provide real-time visual guidance and can connect students with teachers without the cost and logistics of getting everyone in the same room. For example, Bosch Rexroth, a global provider of power units and controls used in manufacturing, uses an A.R.-enhanced visualization called Hägglunds InSight Live to demonstrate the design and capabilities of its smart, connected CytroPac hydraulic power unit. The A.R. application allows customers to see 3-D representations of the unit’s internal pump and cooling options in multiple configurations and how the subsystems fit together.

Technicians can also take advantage of smart goggles’ video and photo recording abilities to keep track of progress and keep tabs on errors. Goggles can capture hands-free photos in seconds, and those images can be submitted to off-site teams for troubleshooting help.

Improving productivity

Incorporating A.R. into industrial processes has proven to boost worker productivity. For example, GE health care warehouse workers use Skylight, an industrial augmented reality application platform from Upskill, to kit and completely pick list orders up to 46% faster. Upskill provides augmented reality software for the industrial workforce, and it boasts an average worker performance boost of 32% for Skylight customers. 

In GE’s application, Skylight connects to warehouse systems to get real-time information on an item location by connecting to smart warehouse systems. It then gives workers easy-to-read instructions for where to locate items throughout the building. The previously paper-based process, where workers flipped through printed orders to locate parts and waded through depleted stock locations, is now efficient and digitized.

In another use case, Lockheed Martin used Microsoft HoloLens headsets to view holographic renderings of an aircraft’s parts and the instructions on how to assemble them. Microsoft HoloLens offers mixed reality solutions to increase communication and improve efficiency. The A.R. technology reduced assembly time by 30%, and digitizing the workflow helped Lockheed Martin increase engineering efficiency to 96%. 

Evaluating the investment

These case studies make a strong argument for A.R.’s ability to improve manufacturing operations, but manufacturers still may wonder if augmented reality is worth the investment. Companies considering investing in A.R. should be strategic, approaching the opportunity by establishing the bottom-line value first. Approaching digital with a clear vision and a phased roadmap, and with a focused ecosystem of technology partners will help maximize the return on investment in new technology. Workforce training and equipment maintenance applications for A.R. have the potential to help companies get ahead of the capabilities gap and build the culture to sustain that lead.

Manufacturers can connect with peers on the latest enterprise technologies at Pack Expo 2019, being held Sept. 23-25 in Las Vegas. The event will showcase innovations from more than 2,000 exhibitors spanning over 900,000 net square feet of exhibit space. In addition, the show will bring together top companies from around the world to explore packaging technologies, equipment and materials as well as exchange ideas and build professional relationships with 30,000 packaging professionals in attendance.