Manufacturing is an industry where every second plays a vital role in product development, manufacturig, assembly and delivery, so how can virtual and augmented (VR/AR) reality help? Safety, accuracy and reducing costs; these are just some of the ways in which VR/AR is affecting manufacturing. Having the ability to simulate a process within a manufacturing plant is useful, being able to simulate an employee in a situation and observing the effects of certain variables whilst being able to investigate how the employee reacts is indispensable. Being able to test and simulate is a big advantage that VR brings to manufacturing.

 

Ford Motor Company has been implementing VR in the ergonomics research of assembly line processes since 2003 and has seen a 70% reduction in employee injury rates during this period [1]. Having the ability to put a range of employees through processes and measuring the stresses and strains being exerted on the body allows Ford’s ergonomists to design the assembly line processes to be as safe as possible, with most injuries coming from overextending movements or repetitive strain. Thus, why not apply it to factory employees to maintain a healthy staff.

Accuracy is crucial in manufacturing. If a product is fully assembled and a mistake is highlighted, this can be hugely expensive and wasteful, leading to re-work or disposal. For a company such as Lockheed Martin (LM), where each plane can cost upwards of $100 million, any problems in assembly are costly for the company. Hence why LM have run a trial to implement Epson Moverio BT-200 Glasses – AR glasses that gives users overlaying images onto the working environment. For example, if installing a brake component, users look at the wheel and the glasses will show renderings of every bolt and cable, with annotated part numbers, ordered instruction, and diagrams to inform the employee of the exact processes to follow, aiming to minimise errors within assembly.

How can VR save companies money?

Training. Having overlaid instructions of the task required streamlines the training process and minimises the amount of training staff required to carry out the training, this saves money. An example of where this is useful is in aircraft manufacture. Traditionally wiring diagrams were used for engineers to see how wiring fits in the fuselage, which are very large and complex. VR allows employees to get a clear and detailed understanding of how the wiring works before performing any physical tasks and projects an overlaying image, identifying where the wiring goes, simplifying and streamlining the training process.

VR and AR possibilities within manufacturing:

  • simulate virtually anything
  • train staff
  • offer instant decision making possibilities
  • track analytics
  • streamline workflows
  • improve efficiency
  • improve quality control processes

The use of AR and VR within manufacturing is used heavily with large corporates, but now, advanced manufacturing and engineering SMEs are starting to realise the potential of AR & VR and are beginning to invest in the process.

Research institutes like Cranfield University and Norfolk’s University of East Anglia are working with AR & VR to see how it can benefit the region.

The potential of AR & VR hasn’t yet been fully exploited within the manufacturing sector and I’m sure there are some exciting new features to be seen within the near future.