Manufacturing is a fundamental industry in our economy, so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the first to seek out new technology in a search to boost productivity. With no other industry as focused on improving KPIs, virtual reality may provide some possible solutions.
Extended reality in manufacturing, which is an umbrella term for augmented reality, virtual reality, and some other immersive variations, is becoming widespread. It’s difficult to conceptualise at first how such a tangible, machine-laden industry can implement an intangible, virtual world to its benefit… But there are many, many ways it’s being done.
Product design is one area in which virtual environments can really help in manufacturing – it allows for more rapid prototyping. Within the VR world, products can be created and tested in a virtual sandbox. This makes it easy for R&D teams to collaborate and share prototypes with stakeholders and other departments, making the design process much faster as it’s quicker to receive feedback.
Of course, the design teams themselves could step into the VR world in order to work remotely together. This allows for chance encounters, easier communication, and a replication of an office environment in a world of WFH.
Safety and maintenance
Of course, a clear benefit of VR is that you can simulate an activity from afar, which has huge implications for safety. For example, handling and operating heavy machinery could have an element of risk involved for the operator. Perhaps the operation is too complicated for the machine to be self-driving, but perhaps it could be remotely operational through a VR headset.
Augmented reality can be used also as a user manual of support to help them complete tasks. So, by wearing digital glasses whilst still actually performing the task, but the user can efficiently bring up instructions and help, as well as remote support from a supervisor.
Productivity within manufacturing is sure to increase when there’s so much help and support that can be provided to employees on-demand, as well as preventing mistakes.
Minimizing downtime is important within manufacturing, and AR can help solve this. For example, instead of waiting for a specialist to fix a piece of equipment, a specialist can be more quickly live-streamed into the AR for a non-specialist to follow instructions on how to fix the equipment.
Training through VR and AR is a powerful way to keep employees safe. For example, learning how to operate certain machinery and becoming accustomed to the warehouse floor through VR before stepping starting. This could even be pre-programmed and delivered to employees from home.
Once onsight, employees can be further training through AR as mentioned above. There is evidence that employees learn much faster when practicing hands-on than simply reading a printed user guide – the AI can visualize things in front of them, where they can make the connection to reality much more easily. Information is more easily retained this way.
It sounds expensive, having to create virtual environments to test product in, developing VR-based training guides, and so on. However, it’s likely that Virtual Reality as a Service will begin to take off, in which manufacturing companies can pay a subscription for the headsets, software, and support, making the onboarding process much less time and capital intensive.