How Augmented Reality is Modernizing Manufacturing

Augmented Reality (AR) is proving to be one of the most impactful technologies influencing the manufacturing industry, helping many enterprises in the space overcome current obstacles.

The manufacturing industry has a long history of constant innovation. In this “man versus machine” industry, there has always been a precarious balance between innovation and having the right labor force to successfully drive these innovations. A new skills gap study by Deloitte predicts that 4.6 million new manufacturing jobs will be created in the U.S. between 2018 and 2028. More than half (2.4 million) of these new are predicted to be unfilled. 

“Why?” you may ask. As an aging workforce is soon walking out the door, taking with them years of expert knowledge, the manufacturing industry is now facing tremendous pressure to do more with less.  Costs of equipment, product assembly, and workforce training are continuing to rise. At the same time, technology is driving an even greater need for a skilled labor force as the complexity of machines and manufacturing equipment is also increasing. These drivers are creating new challenges for manufacturing companies to identify innovative ways to save time, cut costs and ensure their more generalist workforce has the knowledge they need to successfully complete their jobs.

Augmented Reality (AR) is proving to be one of the most impactful technologies influencing the manufacturing industry, helping many enterprises in the space overcome current obstacles. Workers can now connect in real-time to get the expert help they need, reducing errors and equipment downtime. Knowledge experts even have the ability to share predefined AR-driven work instructions for common problems in the field. AR technologies can also jump start training processes by circumventing the need for large volumes of paperwork instructions or user manuals. Workers can access intuitive AR content on-demand, which is overlaid on top of a piece of equipment or machine in the real world, dramatically reducing the time it takes to reach a certain competency level or even learning a new procedure on the fly.

A perfect example of how AR is transforming the manufacturing world is with Lockheed Martin, an American global aerospace company, and their current project of building the Orion spaceship. Historically, aerospace companies have been dependent on paper manuals (sometimes thousands of pages in length) to access detailed manufacturing instructions. As you can imagine, building a spacecraft takes incredible precision—it’s a “measure twice, cut once” scenario magnified to the extreme. Using AR, Lockheed Martin’s Space division technicians can now see digital information and assembly instructions overlaid onto components of the spacecraft. The results have been dramatic. They have seen a 35-50 percent reduction in overall technician time, a 90-99 percent reduction in the time it takes technicians to interpret drawings and text instructions and an 85 percent reduction in overall time for training. 

Unilever, a British-Dutch transnational consumer goods company, is another great use case where AR is driving dramatic ROI.  They are using real-time remote assistance AR technologies to connect workers on the factory line with experts located in a different part of their campus. This enables manufacturing factory line workers to solve problems quickly and dramatically reduce downtown of essential equipment. They have experienced a 50 percent reduction in overall downtime and an impressive 1,700+ percent ROI relative to their cost of using the AR solution.

A final example is with Prince Castle, a manufacturer of steaming, toasting and smallwares technology. Prince Castle supplies the leading, global fast food chain with food preparation and other kitchen equipment such as toasters. When their highly specialized equipment becomes inoperable, Prince Castle contracts with general contractors in local markets to come onsite and assess the problem. Using an AR-based live video calling solution, these general contractors can quickly and accurately diagnose the problem and get immediate remote expert advice to fix the equipment. As a result of adopting AR solutions, Prince Castle has experienced an amazing 100 percent success rate in diagnosing the problem on the first visit, a reduction of 50 percent of the service trips needed to properly repair a piece of equipment and a 50-80 percent reduction in labor spend. 

With a dwindling labor force coupled with an increased need for highly trained and specialized workers, the importance of technologies like AR will play an increasingly critical role in the manufacturing industry. Early adopters have already realized they must transform business processes to improve worker efficiency, reduce equipment downtime and maintenance costs, and more accurately diagnose and resolve support and repair issues—and that AR can be the answer to these challenges. More and more manufacturers will realize the benefits AR can deliver and its impact will become even more pervasive in the years ahead.

Scott Montgomerie is the co-founder and CEO of Scope AR.