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AR and Industry 4.0: How Augmented Reality Is Transforming Manufacturing

20.10.2021

AR and Industry 4.0: How Augmented Reality Is Transforming Manufacturing

The next best thing since AI-powered solutions achieved industrial ubiquity, augmented reality is actively driving the current digital transformation of manufacturing companies

Industry 4.0 has been greatly accelerated due to the global pandemic, with industrial manufacturers embracing new technologies like AR to streamline the connection between people, machines, and real-time data, minimize costs and downtime across the production cycle, and improve operational efficiency and productivity on the plant floor.

How does AR do all that? With the help of mobile devices, headsets, or AR smart glasses, augmented reality overlays computer-generated information, from text to video and interactive 3D visuals, onto a factory worker’s real-life view. That information is crucial not only for guiding engineers through complex assembly and repair procedures and enhancing remote collaboration with experts in the field but also for fast and cost-effective prototyping.

Before we go into more detail about the practical applications of AR technology, let’s take a quick look at how augmented reality fits into the operational layout of smart factories. 

The new era of smart manufacturing solutions

The adoption of AR within the manufacturing industry is closely linked to other advanced technologies such as AI, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, and 5G networks that provide engineers with real-time access to an endless amount of accurate data and predictive analytics.

In other words, we can think of AR as a powerful and engaging visual interface that allows manufacturers such as Bosch to leverage valuable data and gain unprecedented visibility into supply chains and day-to-day operations

Everything from visualizing the status of assembly lines to monitoring environmental conditions and inventory levels and identifying potential safety threats is achieved in a frictionless and context-dependent manner (where a plant worker using AR looks or walks). Thus, the overall factory performance is enhanced, and businesses can quickly and efficiently deliver products to market. 

Apart from enabling workers to seamlessly interact with the intelligent infrastructure available on the shop floor, AR promises to revolutionize product prototyping similarly to how 3D printing technology did. To create a prototype, a 3D printer requires a computer-aided design (CAD) file representing a real-world object’s virtual model. The same CAD file can be used within AR applications to visualize how a 3D simulation of the prototype looks from all angles and make necessary adjustments before investing in a physical model.

Pretty exciting, isn’t it? Now, to avoid giving you too many spoilers right away, let’s explore together the most important AR use cases in the manufacturing sector.

How Augmented Reality can enhance your shop floor

Here are the top 4 areas where implementing AR can help you unlock crucial business benefits, such as boosting worker skill retention and productivity and meeting rapidly changing customer demand:

Training and remote assistance

Training inexperienced workers can be a great challenge, especially with limited face-to-face interactions due to COVID-19 social distancing rules and travel restrictions. Not to mention, referring to hard-to-follow paper-based manuals and drawings or even digital documentation can be distracting, leading to numerous errors and safety concerns.

Augmented reality technology helps manufacturers accelerate the workforce training process while ensuring compliance with industry regulations. In short, this immersive technology enables you to record interactive training modules and have them available on-demand whenever you need to onboard new personnel. 

Trainees wearing AR glasses can easily access essential information — be that a video tutorial, step-by-step instructions, or safety warnings showing up on the screen — and remain hands-free all throughout completing a task. Moreover, AR applications also enable trainees to get familiar with a piece of equipment they need to use by safely interacting with their digital twin, the 3D virtual replica of the real-world industrial asset. 

At the same time, thanks to AR’s video calling functionality, the trainer can closely observe a trainee without being present on-site, and the trainee can get real-time expert advice whenever they encounter a problem. 

During the video call, the experienced engineer can see what the trainee sees and make annotations directly on the screen for better visual guidance. Having the right information available at the right time in the most engaging format allows new engineers to complete tasks more efficiently and accurately, thus enhancing their productivity.

Complex assembly

When it comes to the manufacturing process for aircraft, ships, or medical equipment, there’s literally no room for error, which is why hundreds if not thousands of components have to be assembled manually with a high level of precision. Most often, the workers involved in complex assembly processes are under tremendous mental pressure, having to switch their attention back and forth from reading instructions on a screen to completing their tasks. 

With AR wearables, engineers have detailed instructions always in their field of view, helping them focus on the task at hand without constantly checking in at their workstation. This way, workers can perform their tasks much faster and with increased accuracy, thus minimizing human errors and non-compliance costs

The famous American aerospace manufacturing company, Boeing, has succeeded in decreasing wire harness assembly time by 25% using a dedicated AR application and AR glasses that provided technicians with hands-free, voice-enabled wiring diagrams right in front of their eyes.

Maintenance and repair

The use of digital twins extends beyond training programs, enabling technicians to visualize animated 3D visuals created with the help of CAD data and collaborate, if necessary, with more experienced staff when troubleshooting technical issues and fixing complex machinery. A great example of this is the AR workshop solution created by Porsche and Siemens to enhance service and maintenance for the newest electric car model, Porsche Taycan. 

Manufacturers can also use AR apps to improve predictive maintenance initiatives by displaying valuable information about the factory’s equipment, including maintenance guidelines, operation times, date of last service, AI-generated failure predictions, and more. This data allows engineers to identify and fix issues faster, thus minimizing machine downtime and related costs.

Product design and development

In the manufacturing industry, product development is a time-consuming and resource-intensive activity. So there’s no surprise that companies are in constant competition to deliver innovations to market in the fastest and most affordable way possible.  

By implementing augmented reality into their product design process, engineers can create realistic 3D models using digital twins and test them in a risk-free relevant context, share the visuals with the rest of the project team, and make design adjustments in real-time

Compared to physical prototypes, virtual AR prototypes are much more efficient in terms of manufacturing time and costs and extremely versatile, allowing the project team, investors, and other stakeholders to remotely visualize and compare different variants of the same product. Thanks to this digital trial and error design stage where potential flaws can be effortlessly identified and fixed, the final prototype is more sophisticated and, in some cases, ready for mass production.

Augmenting your manufacturing operations with customized AR solutions

As AR matures and understanding of this immersive technology grows within the manufacturing industry, more and more companies embrace it as a vital tool for enhancing workplace collaboration and operational efficiency and productivity in the post-COVID-19 era.

If you want to reap the benefits of AR experiences, you first have to identify those use cases that could help you reduce training costs and boost knowledge retention, optimize assembly lines and maintenance tasks, and get products to market quicker than your competitors. And that can be quite a mighty task to undertake on your own.

Our team at Flint Tech is always excited to use their AR superpowers to good use and help you bring your ideas to life. Contact us today and let’s discuss your next AR project.

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