Augmented reality in manufacturing gives employees and businesses the tools they need to keep up with rapid innovation and digital transformation. Companies apply AR in various ways, particularly to help the workforce bridge the growing skills gap. Here’s how AR in manufacturing is changing the industry and how it can be utilized.
Opportunities for AR in Manufacturing
Augmented reality is making its way into many industries, including manufacturing. The rising popularity of AR in this sector is due to its numerous revolutionary applications that could transform the industry and jobs. Here’s a look at some of the main opportunities for augmented reality in manufacturing.
One of the top uses for AR in manufacturing is training. AR combines the benefits of virtual and in-person training while allowing employees to have greater independence and learn at their own pace.
For example, new employees could be given AR glasses or a smartphone app that guides them through a virtual manufacturing facility tour. They can go through an extra chapter in the AR app if they find something that interests them or they have questions about, such as a particular step of the production process. Industrial IoT devices can even give employees real-time manufacturing equipment data in their AR app as they move through the facility.
Unlike purely virtual training, AR connects to the actual real-world space someone will be working in. It can act as a personal one-on-one guide so everyone gets a personalized experience. AR also relieves pressure from training personnel since the app often acts as a teacher, giving trainees greater independence and educators more time for each trainee.
AR is also perfect for guiding manufacturing employees through repairs and maintenance processes. These have particularly high potential to benefit from AR since the conventional method can be inefficient.
Employees typically have to read through a manual to find the technical details and instructions they need. Then they must go back and forth between the book and the work and hope they don’t miss any steps. This process certainly works, but it leaves many opportunities for errors to go unnoticed until something breaks or malfunctions.
AR glasses or apps can guide employees through repairs in real-time and without the need for any back-and-forth with a paper manual. The app simply overlays the object the employee is repairing with digital assets showing which part goes where and how to attach it. Experts point out that this process is more accessible and flexible than the traditional paper manual approach. With visual step-by-step instructions anchored to the real-world repair, employees are much less likely to make mistakes or forget steps.
Augmented reality in manufacturing is also changing how people collaborate and work together, especially with remote and hybrid employees. AR can put digital, 3D versions of any asset, part, or machine in any employee’s environment. For example, if a hybrid team is working on a new motor design, a remote worker could pull up an AR CAD model of the prototype, look at it in 3D, and inspect it from all angles, just like someone in the office would.
This could also prove helpful for collaborative, efficient problem-solving. Digital AR models of new robots can be tested in a real manufacturing environment without the time and cost needed to install a physical prototype. A remote engineer could help solve a problem on the manufacturing floor by pulling up an AR model of the malfunctioning component.
Industry 4.0 and Manufacturing Skills Gap
These applications of AR in manufacturing have significant implications for the industry. It’s undergoing a wide-scale digital transformation as Industry 4.0 brings automation and robotics front and center.
The rise of Industry 4.0 is gradually making manufacturing jobs much more technical as automation takes over many mundane hands-on tasks. As a result, employees need more technical abilities and knowledge in areas like robotics and automation systems. Building these skills is not easy, though. In fact, an estimated 2.1 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled by 2030 due to the technical skills gap.
Augmented reality could be the key to transforming the manufacturing workforce to close the skills gap. AR has massive potential when it comes to workplace training. Manufacturing companies can use these programs to upskill and reskill existing employees quickly and easily, in addition to training new ones.
Plus, AR-guided repairs can help existing maintenance personnel learn how to work efficiently and effectively with new technologies, such as manufacturing robots. The independence that AR-guided training offers can also leave employees feeling empowered and confident about their skills, potentially reducing fears that they will be “replaced” by robots.
Implementing AR in Manufacturing
Augmented reality in manufacturing could help improve jobs and bridge the growing skills gap threatening innovation and growth in the industry. However, companies that want to utilize AR in their workplace may wonder where to start.
The first step to applying AR in manufacturing workplaces is pinpointing a specific application for use. Training or guided repairs are often great places to start. For example, a company might be struggling to keep up with the maintenance needs of its new assembly line robots. The repair technicians are smart and capable, but learning the ins and outs of the technology is highly demanding.
The company could clearly benefit from trying an AR-guided repair app. Once it pinpoints this first application, it can search for the right software program. AR glasses may become more popular in the future, but the technology is still very young. Therefore, most tools are still based on smartphone or tablet apps that are more affordable and accessible.
A growing number of AR-guided repair apps are available for the manufacturing industry, so businesses have plenty of options to choose from. Manufacturers adopting AR for the first time should take their time exploring all possibilities before testing an app for a pilot program.
The Potential for Augmented Reality in Manufacturing
AR in manufacturing can help employees and manufacturers get up to speed with a rapidly changing industry. Digital transformation is sweeping through the industry, but AR can give employees the tools they need to adapt. This lets companies innovate and utilize cutting-edge automation technologies without leaving anyone behind.