Count the Ways VR and AR Beef Up Manufacturing

Count the Ways VR and AR Beef Up Manufacturing

A panel discussion at IME West explored the many ways virtual reality and augmented reality have improved manufacturing. Panelists covered core technological requirements, best practices, and core training techniques for implementing AR-based work instruction systems. They also looked at how this technology integrates into existing enterprise systems and how manufacturers can use VR/AR systems for remote diagnostics and maintenance.

Please note that panelists often used the term XR to mean VR, AR or both in the discussion.

Why do we need VR and AR

Reality systems can be used as a simulation of the plant when it comes to design and layout. “With VR, you can be free to look at different scenarios. Change the lighting, change the factory floor,” says Elizabeth Baron, senior manager of enterprise solutions architecture at Unity Technologies. “You can safely simulate different scenarios. The AR can be used to display information to get to you to make smart decisions.”

Training is also a major benefit that comes with XR systems. “Manufacturers are using AR to train and cross-train their line workers. The AR system can update the employee file so the company knows who is trained in what,” said Jason Bean, IIoT market specialist at Pepper+Fuchs. “Then they can decide which employee to place where based on what they’ve been trained with. We developed the system together with the local university. So far, manufacturers have saved time to train employees.”

XR technology can also detect problems in the plant before outages or outages. “With VR, AR and IoT, people see if there’s an event. It comes in from the IoT, and the VR and AR identify the context and track what they’re doing. That’s powerful,” Trey Taylor, Fairbanks director of digital innovation at Morse Defense. “You get muscle memory by working with the virtual artifacts.”

The XR systems can be placed on plant employees to alert them when something out of the ordinary occurs. “There are applications where engineers with wearable devices are referred to the manufacturing issues before they become problems,” Baron said. “This is ambient intelligence. The technology identifies problems before they occur.”

VR and AR for Worker Training

XR for training has become more efficient and effective than traditional training. “With traditional training, you have to connect the employee with someone and schedule a time. AR allows you to train employees without tying down another employee. You can train on a larger scale and do it at the employee’s pace,” Bean said. “One manufacturer tested it with an employee with Downs syndrome and found that they succeeded with AR in ways they didn’t with traditional training. So now the Downs employee is doing more complex work.”

XR training can travel to places that traditional training has difficulty reaching. “We use AR to train sailors. With AR, you get finite detail of the inner workings of systems. It covers security issues and lockout systems. IT can’t take the training on a roadshow,” Taylor said. “With the XR you have no limits. You have an ecosystem of training in four different countries. And the training retention is high. You get six to nine months’ retention instead of a month or two.”

In terms of effectiveness, users retain the training longer with XR. “The retention is great. Users retain the knowledge and the interaction, so they have a better understanding of how it works,” said Baron. “You can use training and then put them in a dangerous situation. They will know how to get out of dangerous situations.”

Use AR and VR for remote support

XR is beginning to be deployed as a remote service technology. “We use it on our support. The support staff used to come to the factory to learn how to solve the problem. Now we can virtually drop the solution at the site,” said Taylor. “We cannot always send an engineer to where the fleet is. Now we have two field service men for a specific application for the whole world. With XR, I can get my remote operator on the boat when it’s at sea.”

Remote service is especially useful in emergencies. “What happens if there is an unexpected problem? With XR, we can remote a system and see where it breaks and have collaborative troubleshooting on the scene without traveling,” said Baron. “It saves the day several times over.”

The time and expense saved by remote service can be significant. “I’ve seen systems integrators take advantage of this training, especially during the pandemic,” Bean said. “An Australian customer was able to solve a problem in six hours that would have taken days if he had to travel.”

Besides helping the customer, XR remote service saves wear and tear on service personnel. “Rather than losing time with people in transit, rather than losing two days a week, it’s solved with remote control,” Taylor said. “And the employee is happy that he doesn’t have to travel.”

Overcoming resistance to VR and AR

For XR systems to be effective, planning and integration are critical. “Users often do not have the infrastructure to support XR. And if the technology is foreign to the users, they won’t deploy it,” Bean said. “If you don’t involve the users when you deploy it, they won’t use it.”

One of the keys to a successful rollout is to introduce the technology in phases. “Start small with well-defined processes that work,” Taylor said. “There is a significant loss of time if you don’t do it beforehand. The union in our plant had concerns. Some people have experienced photosensitivity. You can design the system to protect those who use it.”

Overcoming resistance requires careful planning. “I faced the storm cloud of resistance to the use of XR. “The IT department needs to validate the security models,” Baron said. “It is every company’s task to decide on the integration with IT. We rely on the suppliers for testimonials. We ask how they made sure that the data is secure.”

Security is a particular issue in the defense industry. “In the defense space we have to ensure security. We have a cloud. It’s shared, but it’s also protected,” Taylor said. “It’s a higher investment if you have to provide your own IT.”

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