This article is published by Skoda Minotti’s Manufacturing & Distribution Group.
Manufacturers are increasingly implementing augmented reality (AR) technology to improve their manufacturing processes. And for good reason—AR typically results in cost reductions, increased speed and fewer errors.
Although AR technology is not new to manufacturing, it’s technology that continues to evolve, both in capabilities and in the benefits it delivers to those using it. AR tools and processes can take many shapes; within the manufacturing space, the technology is increasingly leveraging head-mounted devices that superimpose a computer-generated image within a user’s real-world view. This provides a wealth of data that enables tasks to be performed faster, more precisely and more safely. In conjunction with tablets and other tools that are connected via the “internet of things” (IoT), AR technology is uniquely positioned to change the way people and technology interact within the manufacturing space.
Work More Accurately
Many AR eyeglasses use depth and motion sensors and cameras to overlay images onto a task being performed, allowing workers to “see” such things as part numbers, renderings, instructions and next steps. This eliminates the time-consuming task of accessing printed manuals and instructions while working on a machine or assembly task. Speaking of instructions, they can be updated digitally in real-time, helping to ensure workers have only the best, most accurate information. QR codes can be incorporated into AR functionality, too; manufacturers can scan them and access how-to videos, critical updates and other relevant information.
In addition, some manufacturers are incorporating AR technologies into their automated processes. For example, when dangerous work is being performed by a worker who is trading off tasks with a machine, AR helps the machine complete a step before handing the work back to the human.
AR can help deliver more accurate and up-to-date data where it’s needed most. As workers tackle and complete tasks, AR cameras can record their process. This allows data to be gathered and shared, for example, on difficult or error-prone processes that can then be solved and optimized. In other words, you’re always learning and improving. Combined with IoT technology, team members can connect with their company’s ERP systems to access any object’s specs and location. The ability to quickly locate items from across an enterprise can result in countless hours and hassles saved.
Save on Maintenance and Downtime
Machines break. It’s a fact of manufacturing life. And the resulting cost – in loss of opportunity and in actual repairs – can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. AR can help by simplifying the diagnostic process and by providing real-time, step-by-step instructions to get you back up and running. And because AR can speed up and simplify what is traditionally a laborious inspection process, keeping machines properly inspected and in top condition is less of a chore.
Manufacturers have long complained of the difficulty of finding qualified workers among today’s prospects. At the same time, they’re hesitant to invest in training due to job-hopping. There’s also the issue of how quickly skill set needs change. By delivering information to workers on the manufacturing floor, AR can dramatically reduce time spent in the classroom. AR also plays an increasingly important role in helping both new and experienced workers learn new skills and more quickly transition between new or different jobs. This kind of training helps workers be less susceptible to the negative impacts of changing technology and manufacturing processes. And that’s a plus for everyone.
A Few Guidelines for Getting Started
- Do your research. AR is complex, and even with increasing numbers of digital natives working in manufacturing, your company will need a comprehensive plan, complete with test-and-use cases, and an idea of how you want AR to help your business as a whole connect with your other technologies (g., virtual reality (VR) and IoT).
- There are many AR products to explore. Take the time to determine those best suited for your needs.
- Look for areas to experiment with AR—where will it create the most value? This may be in areas where ramping up safety or eliminating errors is key.
- Remember that AR is not intended to replace workers, but to improve their processes and procedures.
Do you have questions about the rapidly changing technology in the manufacturing industry, or other manufacturing issues? Skoda Minotti’s Manufacturing and Distribution Group can help. Please contact Jon Shoop, CPA, at 440-449-6800 or email Jon.