The pandemic’s effects on the economy, as well as that of individual businesses and their bottom lines, has added pressure to companies that need to become even more efficient with their factory operations.
While many of these manufacturing facilities continue to rely heavily on human labor, an increasing number of locations have begun to implement automation technologies such as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) as a way to speed efficiencies, lower costs, and minimize human touch points for social distancing.
The statistics show that this shift is picking up momentum, as over half of the warehouse operators who participated in a recent survey commissioned by Honeywell1 reported they’re more willing to invest in automation because of the pandemic. Other companies, particularly in aerospace manufacturing, show that 42 percent of manufacturers2 in this sector are looking to implement automation tech such as AR/VR in the next 12 months.
The business benefits of increased productivity and reduced costs are obviously a boon to the bottom line. However, other leading drivers show that these technologies are helping to enhance new social distancing policies enacted during the early days of the pandemic.
The automotive industry saw this first-hand as the majority of car manufacturers completely shut down their operations in March after the widespread outbreak of COVID-19. This shutdown had a profound impact on the industry, as the supply of new cars dried up - forcing many car buyers to instead opt for used cars, which subsequently saw their prices rise precipitously.
The automotive industry had to deal with a second blow in the summertime, as many of plant workers decided to remain home for fear of catching the virus while working at the manufacturing facilities. This placed additional pressure on production lines, just as the economy began to feel a restart across the country.
Increased Flexibility Across Manufacturing Facilities
The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the need for more operational flexibility where advanced technology and automation can be applicable. In addition, the ability to scale up or down quickly in order to meet project deadlines, without impacting hourly shifts, has further helped with manufacturing efficiency.
Technologies such as robotics and automation have also greatly increased across plant floors, especially as the need to adhere to tighter supply chain and logistics demands has been paramount this summer. And while these have been growing in importance for manufacturers such as carmakers, consumer goods, cleaning products and consumer electronics have also been more reliant upon them to meet the demands of online shopping.
AR/VR, in particular, has been showing great promise for auto manufacturers for a number of uses.
The technology allows automotive designers and manufacturers the ability to:
- Conduct real-time 3D visualization and CAD for design and manufacturing.
- Implement faster training cycles.
- Professionals can work at drastically higher levels.
- Some manufacturers report minimized errors using AR/VR through instructions overlay, remote assistance, and better planning and visualization.
This has resulted in a more than 40 percent increase in productivity in some instances. AR/VR technologies provide significant time savings to the manufacturing build process through optimized decision process, which positively impacts the entire OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act).
One caveat facility managers must take into account is that not all automation technologies are created equal. It is important to pay close attention to the technology infrastructure and to choose a platform that is cloud-enabled so that projects can truly scale when needed. Manufacturers are overcoming their growth limitations by leveraging cloud-based (or remote server based) AR/VR platforms powered by distributed cloud architecture and 3D vision-based AI. These cloud platforms provide the desired performance and scalability to drive innovation at speed and scale.
Dijam Panigrahi is Co-founder and COO of Grid Raster Inc., a leading provider of cloud-based AR/VR platforms. For more information please visit www.gridraster.com.