What is Augmented Reality and how can it help boost productivity within your business?

Andrew Borland, Commercialisation Manager for the Virtual Engineering Centre (University of Liverpool) shares his 5 top talking points regarding Augmented Reality…

 

Augment Reality (AR) is predicted to be one of the most used tools in manufacturing since Computer-aided design (CAD). It aims to boost productivity, improve Quality Assurance and help employees develop new skills to keep your established business competitive.

Yet, a number of manufacturing firms struggle to see how this technology will fit into their production process or how they could even make the technological “leap”. The Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC) has been helping manufacturing SMEs adopt digital tools for a while now, and there are four questions manufacturing businesses bring up:

 

1)    AR, I don’t know what AR is?

Often confused with virtual reality, augmented reality focuses on a superimposed menu or additional image and data appearing on your screen over a real environment. For example, if you held your camera on a tablet or smartphone at a device, an augmented menu will appear over this which will show that your handheld device has identified what you are looking at.

For example, in manufacturing we wear a lot of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), Imagine if your safety glasses included a screen which you have with you all the time. This screen can present you with a helping hand and identify parts of the environment in front of you, advising you what to do next and making real-time recommendations.

2)     What use can AR be in the factory?

Supply chains are getting smarter, production costs are going up and margins are getting thinner. AR can help you make the most of your existing assets. Here are a few examples of how:

Error Proof Assembly: AR can provide support to workers in the assembly process; AR glasses recognise components and know the routine at a particular station. A worker is provided with step-by-step assembly instructions as they go through the glasses they are wearing. If they make a mistake, the glasses alert the worker as to how to safely correct this. In your vision, you are guided through which tools to pick and from where, in what order to assemble them, how much torque to apply etc. The video below from SCS Concept Group gives a useful insight into how AR can be used in assembly, the demo uses projectors rather full AR glasses but gives a great introduction to what can be done in AR:

Quality Assurance: QA issues can be flagged automatically. AR glasses can capture, an image, and raise an issue at the touch of a button. The issue report is automatically logged on the system with a corresponding photo or video, the time, the location and the name of the individual. Quality managers can immediately see a schematic from the CAD file to help identify the problem, as well as which stations and processes the part has been through and when, which suppliers and shipments have been used, all without paper or computer.

Maintenance & Training: The same approached used for assembly can be used for maintenance. AR can guide new staff through the training process with hands-on tools. Apprentices can always see what is needed and how they can achieve this. Technicians in the field can be guided step by step through repairs on unfamiliar installations and share what they are seeing with engineers back at the factory.

Connected Factory & KPI: You do not need to invest in the latest factory systems from Bosh or Siemens. You can build on your existing software and tools and use AR as a new way to access production data without a computer or tablet. Just look at a machine or workstation and see everything you need to know about it. Utilisation, current project, current operator, maintenance record, scheduled downtime etc.

3)      We don’t have the technology or money to adopt AR, do we?

A lot of manufacturers said the same thing about CAD and CNC (Computer Numerical Control); Cost is a barrier and integration can be a challenge, but if you are using CAD or CNC, the foundations are already there. PwC research shows that 55% of adopters of Industry 4.0 technologies see a return on investment within two years.

Right now one thing banks are willing to lend for is technology, to improve productivity. The Virtual Engineering Centre is here to provide free and bespoke help with technology scoping and integration. We can also help you undertake proof of concept projects, factory simulations and build the plan for system integration and the financial case for investment.

4)      What if my staff won’t accept it?

People did not accept smartphones until Apple got the user experience right. AR is a way to support the workforce in being more productive, empower them to see how their efforts improve outputs. The advantage of Industrial AR is that the interface can be tailored to your business cheaply and quickly and with workforce engagement you can design a system which works for the whole business. The video below showcases how AGCO’s Group have been developing Google Glass to fit with their existing processes. From training and assembly to QA, stock control and field maintenance.

For more information or to enquire about a space on any upcoming workshops or even to ask about this technology, please email Andrew Borland