AR And VR: Driving The Factory Of The Future

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The author highlights how manufacturing companies in every industry can leverage AR/VR to facilitate efficient equipment management and optimise the production process, as well as usher in the next era of manufacturing, which is Industry 4.0.

Article by HH Yeo
Photo: HH Yeo (Hee Haur Yeo), Senior Vice President, Operations
Jabil Green Point, Jabil Inc. Photo credit: Jabil.

A computer in your phone or for wearing on your face like glasses were once considered far-fetched sci-fi fantasies – but today, they are reality and changing the way we work, communicate and access information. The idea of entering a virtual world through Virtual Reality (VR) or imposing digital elements into the physical world through Augmented Reality (AR) might be most prominently leveraged in the gaming industry but the sheer potential of these technologies extend beyond and into industrial environments as well.

Yet the AR/VR market is still in its infancy stage in various industries as fears of how such technologies might eliminate jobs still remain coupled with a lack of understanding on the value AR and VR can bring. An Augmented and Virtual Reality Trends Survey Report sponsored by Jabil revealed that only 29 percent of respondents have a plan in place in AR/VR currently and among them, only 11 percent are executing these plans. Additionally, the report showed that only one in three stakeholders are very confident regarding the quickly evolving AR/VR landscape.

Now, more than ever, manufacturing companies in every industry must rethink how they can facilitate efficient equipment management and optimise production process to achieve bigger business gain and be better poised to usher in the next era of manufacturing, Industry 4.0. Here are three major ways AR and VR are revolutionising the manufacturing space and accelerating businesses.

Reducing Inefficiencies, Enhancing Productivity

A key proponent in the initial phases of product development is prototyping. Adding AR and VR into the mix will enable workers to move beyond the screen and interact with the product in the real world at full scale beyond traditional computer-aided design (CAD) modelling. Companies like HaptX have developed haptic gloves that allows the user to physically grasp the product, walk around with it, and understand what works and what does not.

This will accelerate the prototyping process and reduce costs spent on producing numerous physical prototypes in the final stages while boosting the quality of the end-product. Furthermore, the use of AR and VR will accelerate the prototyping process drastically, streamline development and nudge companies closer towards lean manufacturing.

In addition, AR and VR can simplify and hasten intricate modern manufacturing processes that require complex assembly. Instead of depending on static documents, workers can use smart AR-powered glasses or headsets to keep their hands on a task and glance at the information that is right before their eyes and even make contact with fellow workers instead or physically walking over.

Greasing The Wheels On Field Services And Maintenance

Keeping equipment in tip-top condition is hugely important, especially as factory floors are increasingly populated with robots and automation that require regular maintenance and servicing. In a worst-case scenario, equipment failure will lead to machine downtime, which can have huge implications on productivity and profitability.

This is where AR comes in useful. Instead of relying on complex maintenance manuals, AR is being integrated into maintenance-support technology that enables users to inspect a machine’s status with a quick glance through AR/VR goggles and even pre-determine any potential issues using remote, hands-free access. This is only set to improve as more factories move become more IoT-friendly.

In field services, the engineers or technicians typically have to travel to the site where the machine is to conduct checks, but with AR and VR, these experts can now inspect the machinery from across the globe and deliver instructions to the onsite workers in real-time, supported by diagrams that are super-imposed in the engineer’s field of vision.  By doing so, these workers are empowered with a new set of skills to do more and stay in touch with the technological advances in the workplace. Moreover, the company can tap on AR technology to expand their employees’ existing knowledge via telepresence instead of dedicating additional hours to conduct training workshops.

Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce

New technologies are not taking away jobs. Instead, they are opening up new opportunities for workers to bridge skills gaps as well as learn in a more interactive format compared to traditionally flipping through wordy manuals and textbooks. With AR and VR, the workers are provided step-by-step instructions visually and orally in real-time in the factory versus a classroom. The hands-on engagement better prepares them for any possible scenarios as they have actually dealt with the issue instead of simply of reading or hearing about what to do.
Manufacturing in 20 years’ time will look very different from today as technology continues to evolve and develop innovative new solutions that will transform how the factory floor of the future will look like. To keep up, constant adaptation is essential but that is not to say that humans will be deemed redundant and replaced by automation.

Without the intellectual and cognitive abilities of humans, there will be no VR and AR in the first place. In the next era of Industry 4.0, an integrated ecosystem is required where employees will be able to work more efficiently and smartly thanks to these innovations.

 

About the author: HH Yeo is senior vice president of operations at Jabil Green Point, Jabil. Based in Singapore, he is responsible for all JGP factories globally. 

Featured photo by Bruno Bueno from Pexels

 

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