Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are in the same vein when it comes to modern technology. Both deal with digital content relayed through an immersive environment or experience. The difference, however, is how encompassing that experience truly is.

With virtual reality, you don a headset that fully delves you into a new world or environment — some that even mimic the real world. You're given both a visual and audible experience that is meant to take you away from known reality.

Augmented reality is similar in concept, but it also displays digital content in the real world. Think Pokemon™ Go or IKEA®'s Place app, both of which allow you to interact with and experience digital objects.

Due to the nature of these two technologies, they are used in completely different situations. Augmented reality, for example, could be enabled through the use of eyeglasses or a simple display piece, changing the modern experience for construction workers, plant workers, delivery personnel, and much more. You wouldn't want workers in these industries to stumble around with a virtual reality headset on, however, because it would impede their movements and prevent them from interacting with the real world. Augmented reality devices, on the other hand, make this much more natural and seamless.

Why AR Will Disrupt Manufacturing

That brings us to the variety of uses for the technology in enterprise and business. In construction, for instance, workers could use AR wearables to measure various changes, identify unsafe working conditions, or even visualize a finished product or structure.

In manufacturing, the technology can be used in much the same way. The beauty of it is that you can use it to present more than digital characters, images, or content. You can also overlay text, stats, and information relevant to the worker's current task. Looking at a furnace or piece of equipment might show its current running temperature, revealing it as hot and unsafe to touch with your bare hands.

Just the concept of this tech sounds like something from a sci-fi movie, but this is the reality we live in. These devices will become more commonplace everywhere — not just in a single industry. Augmented reality glasses are forecasted to reach around 19.1 million units by 2021, and when combined with VR devices, could hit 59.2 million units.

AR can be used to present more than digital characters, images, or content. Text, stats, and information relevant to the worker's current task can be displayed. (Photo by Zapp2Photo/website)

Imagine knowing everything that's happening around you, including whereabouts of colleagues, what machinery is malfunctioning, or even what parts of a factory are off-limits. These are just a few things an AR device can tell you.

There's much more the tech can be used for. Here are some ways it can be leveraged in the manufacturing industry.

Hands-On and Safety Training

In manufacturing, one of the issues with putting rookies and new talent on the floor is that they are unfamiliar with necessary protocols, equipment, and procedures. This can lead to safety issues. With the right AR applications and devices, these inexperienced personnel can be trained, informed, and protected at all times without wasting additional resources.

They could, for example, shadow existing personnel but remain out of the way to observe. The AR system would deliver the necessary updates and information to help them understand what's happening, why, and how that relates to their duties.

This could even be leveraged to put them right to work — albeit through smaller, less dangerous tasks that require little to no oversight. Atheer, an industrial tech company, has already crafted an experience remarkably similar to this. Its enterprise-centric AR application offers step-by-step task guidance, contextual documentation and manuals, additional resources, and even barcode scanning for quick help.

We're talking about the potential for students and novices to start a career in industrial maintenance and engineering early, while also getting hands-on experience along the way. It's an incredible opportunity and one that deserves further exploration.

Streamlined Logistics

When it comes to order fulfillment and warehouse organization, employees must multitask to manage orders and regular duties. Let's say an order comes in. A worker has to check the information, find the necessary product or goods, scan it and report the data, deliver it to the loading dock, and then sign off on the order. That's a lot of manual work, which can balloon the time it takes to finish a simple, yet tedious process.

With emerging AR technologies, however, those same workers could tap into a connected system that tells them exactly where products and goods are, allowing them to work at a much faster pace. Better yet, they could scan the necessary information using the AR system, which could then be designed to propagate the order. Then, all the employee would need to do is fetch the product and deliver it to the correct party. Shipping and freight service DHL is already testing mobile AR systems in local environments. Its setup offers real-time object recognition, indoor navigation and wayfinding, barcode reading, and more.

A VR/AR system can show maintenance personnel the operation times, date of last service, and potential points of failure for a machine. (Photo by Power best/website)

Maintenance

Imagine if your maintenance crew could see exactly what equipment and hardware needed servicing, as well as any potential issues. Better yet, imagine if that same system were expanded to show them operation times, date of last service, potential points of failure, and much more.

A maintenance crew could don an AR device that relays this information every time they visit the factory or warehouse floor. This would take the guesswork out of the process, allowing for faster repairs, quicker response and recovery times, and better operations all around. The U.S. Marines are already using a system similar to this for their mechanics.

Product Design and Development

Concept, prototyping, and traditional design can be incredibly lengthy and resource-intensive processes. They also require several revisions and back-and-forth communications between related parties. That's before anything is even passed to production and manufacturing, which also requires further review before a final production is launched.

AR can eliminate some of the tedium of this process by augmenting and enhancing the task at hand, and streamlining collaboration and communication between parties. Imagine if a director or executive can see the actual product being designed and constructed in real time through AR. They could provide insights and direction that would eliminate the back-and-forth that many conceptual systems require.

The Potential is Unprecedented

It's important to remember that the cases discussed here are just a small handful of the true potential this technology has to offer, especially in manufacturing and product development. We'll have to wait and see where the current market goes from here, because there are almost certainly some scenarios we never thought possible.

This article was written by Megan Ray Nichols for ThomasNet, New York, NY. For more information, Click Here . 69510-121.


Tech Briefs Magazine

This article first appeared in the September, 2018 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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