In recent years, the industrial landscape has witnessed a remarkable transformation driven by cutting-edge technologies. Among these, extended reality (XR) technology has emerged as a key catalyst for innovation, offering a spectrum of benefits that redefine the way industries operate. XR, encompassing virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR), has demonstrated its potential to revolutionize various facets of industrial processes, fostering enhanced efficiency, safety, and collaboration.

Apple and Meta have been leading the charge in the development of XR technology, with both companies announcing new XR headsets in June 2023. The Meta Quest 3 released in October, boasting mixed reality capabilities and powerful technical specifications. Apple’s own headset promises extensive AR and MR capabilities aimed largely at professional use in the workplace. As more and more companies continue to develop top-of-the-line hardware, the manufacturing industry needs to adapt and find ways to take advantage of these developments.

One of the primary advantages of XR in the industrial space lies in its ability to revolutionize training and skill development. Traditional training methods often fall short when it comes to providing hands-on experience, particularly in high-risk environments. XR enables immersive training scenarios, allowing workers to simulate complex tasks and procedures in a safe and controlled virtual environment. This not only enhances the skills of the workforce but also minimizes the risks associated with learning on the job.

Maintenance and repairs are integral components of industrial operations, and any downtime can result in significant financial losses. XR facilitates remote assistance through AR applications, enabling on-site technicians to collaborate with experts located elsewhere. Using AR, technicians can overlay digital information onto physical equipment, providing real-time guidance and diagnostics. This accelerates troubleshooting processes, reduces downtime, and ultimately contributes to substantial cost savings.

XR offers a dynamic platform that enables engineers, designers, and manufacturers to collaboratively visualize and iterate on product designs in a virtual environment, fostering enhanced creativity and innovation. Through VR, teams can simulate and analyze the entire product lifecycle, from conceptualization to production, identifying potential issues and refining designs before physical prototypes are created. AR, on the other hand, integrates virtual elements into the real-world environment, allowing workers on the manufacturing floor to access real-time information, assembly instructions, and maintenance guidelines, improving efficiency and reducing errors.

The igusGO app is one such example of AR for product development, allowing users to see where various igus products could be implemented within an application. This technology minimizes the need for physical prototypes, accelerates prototyping cycles, and ultimately streamlines the entire product development process.

XR technology plays a pivotal role in streamlining complex workflows and enhancing overall operational efficiency. In manufacturing, for instance, AR applications can overlay digital information onto physical production lines, offering real-time data on performance metrics, quality control, and equipment status. AR apps can even be used to overlay life-size digital machines over a physical space to assist with floor planning. This level of transparency allows for quicker decision-making, proactive problem-solving, and optimization of processes.

The globalized nature of modern industries often requires collaboration among geographically dispersed teams. XR technology facilitates seamless remote collaboration by providing immersive communication channels. Whether through virtual meetings, shared AR workspaces, or holographic conferencing, XR fosters effective communication and collaboration, eliminating the barriers imposed by physical distances.

An unparalleled advantage of VR technology in particular lies in its capacity to unite individuals from diverse locations within a shared virtual space. This is why igus has developed the “iguverse,” an industrial metaverse platform for users across the globe to share ideas, concepts, and insights. Customers can also speak with igus experts for assistance in choosing products, performing maintenance and repairs, or optimizing designs.

Ensuring the safety of workers is a paramount concern in industrial settings. XR technology contributes to safety by creating realistic simulations for training purposes, enabling employees to practice emergency procedures in a controlled virtual environment. Additionally, AR applications can provide real-time safety information, such as hazard warnings and equipment status, directly in the field of vision, minimizing the risk of accidents and enhancing overall workplace safety.

As industries continue to navigate the complexities of a rapidly evolving technological landscape, the adoption of Extended Reality technology emerges as a strategic imperative. The transformative benefits, ranging from improved training and maintenance procedures to increased operational efficiency and enhanced safety protocols, position XR as a powerful tool for innovation in the industrial sector.

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This article first appeared in the January, 2024 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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