Manufacturers are increasingly incorporating augmented reality (AR) into their digital transformation strategies. AR is an interactive tool that overlays graphics, text and other visual information onto a view of the real world. In manufacturing, warehousing and logistics, and other fields, the solution typically is used to present visual information to a worker within their field of view automatically to guide them through a process or to prevent them from having to look down at an instructions sheet. The technology also has promising benefits in the consumer retail space. As artificial intelligence becomes more robust and capable, the AR technology it supports becomes even more useful too.
For production, inspection and other manufacturing processes, AR provides a multiplier effect for improving the efficiency and quality. Specifically, organizations can prevent process errors from happening in the first place by efficiently and effectively communicating instructions and other guidance. This translates to both time and cost savings.
There are many other benefits of leveraging AR in a manufacturing facility.
Increased productivity: AR can help workers be faster and more effective in tasks such as manufacturing, assembly, inspection and maintenance. The technology provides digital instructions that operators can follow in a heads-up manner while working through a task. The technology also can help teams identify nonconformities faster and drastically reduce errors and related costs. AR gives the right worker the right visual instructions at the right time to perform a task correctly. The system can automatically update reports and documentation so that workers are not given outdated information. AR also makes it easier for organizations to onboard new workers because they are continuously guided through their tasks by the system.
Improved quality. The detection and reduction of nonconformities is one of the main objectives of inspection and quality teams. The slightest error can be extremely costly and lead to a series of time-consuming corrective actions, such as correcting identified defects, stopping and correcting a production run or executing a new production run, adding more quality controls, paying additional logistics costs, and addressing customer dissatisfaction. Instead, organizations need to detect errors as early as possible in the process to avoid late detection and the need to stop production. However, this is a major challenge, especially when you want to be part of an operational excellence strategy.
AR can help an organization anticipate these errors. With an AR tool, quality control information is contextualized and localized to simplify the inspection process. Operators are guided through each inspection point using 3D data imported directly into the visual field and superimposed on the part to be inspected. This capability supports efficient validation of product conformity. In addition, errors are precisely localized, allowing the proper corrective and repair actions to be applied. In addition, AR makes the inspection process more efficient, cutting inspection time by as much as 84%. But the best way to reduce quality problems is to avoid assembly errors in the first place. AR effectively guides the operator to complete the task properly by overlaying easy-to-understand visual instructions onto their field of view.
Digital connectivity. What if the AR operator was the connection point that could reconcile the real and virtual worlds? An AR system displays digital data from the design team on the shop floor for an operator and allows the operator to interact with the data. AR becomes the link to creating a tangible connection from the virtual world – meaning the digital information being created by the engineering office — and the real world where the operations are physically happening. AR solutions with integration capabilities to connect with a manufacturing execution system can bridge this gap.
Skills development. Integrating AR solutions in a factory can positively affect team training. The digital work instructions projected in the field or visualized through a tablet or AR glasses can guide operators through their tasks to help them learn at first and then become more efficient later. It is proven that using a virtual world helps workers better understand information and apply it to the physical world. When working with AR, operators are better able to memorize important information and develop more intuitive gestures that help them to complete the task and address any issues that arise.
Heightened safety. AR technologies also can improve worker safety and comfort. The systems can guide workers to do their tasks properly to avoid accidents and injury. In addition, the systems can consider many risk factors and detect and communicate faults with better accuracy than any other resource, including documentation or a human supervisor, in order to help the worker correct behavior that could be harmful. The heads-up guidance style provided by AR also reduces worker distractions from looking down at instructions or other documentation. The technology also is hands free, allowing the worker to focus their hands on executing their task safely. Plus, because the correct documentation is always available through the system, workers don’t have to make extra trips to the office to find the right instructions, which reduces fatigue.
Optimized documentation, traceability and reporting. AR offers a solution for better industrial traceability. Getting the right information to the right place at the right time can be complex. Too often, manufacturers work with documentation that is outdated or difficult to use. An AR system can help companies maintain updated documentation and transmit the right information to the right worker at the right time. AR also can positively impact traceability. A good AR solution offers data-collection capabilities with automated reporting, which provides full visibility into the assembly and inspection processes throughout the product production and distribution chain. With such capabilities, an organization can conduct documented inspections for internal traceability purposes as well as for customer requirements.
AR supports the factories of the future
Major companies consider AR to be a key part of digital factories, warehousing and logistics. The tool is useful for preventing errors and improving productivity, which translates to lower costs and a higher return on investment. AR also is beneficial amid labor shortages because it can help companies onboard new employees faster and help existing employees be more efficient to fill productivity gaps. As AR and its supporting technologies continue to develop, companies will be able to leverage even more applications to improve manufacturing operations and increase productivity while making work less challenging and more enjoyable for employees.
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