December 2, 2022

How companies are implementing augmented reality in manufacturing

Industrial digitalization has prompted more companies to incorporate augmented reality (AR) into their manufacturing processes. The technology is expected to simplify routine tasks like prototyping and machinery maintenance.

Key takeaways: 

  • Companies are implementing three main types of AR technology into their manufacturing processes; namely tablet AR, wearable AR, and projected AR
  • AR technology is used in training and upskilling, giving digital work instructions, prototyping, quality assurance and machinery maintenance
  • Manufacturing units in the automotive, aerospace and defense, electronics, and pharmaceutical sectors use AR technology to streamline routine processes

The fourth industrial revolution is already underway. Valued at USD 65.53 billion in 2021, the Industry 4.0 market size is expected to grow at a CAGR of 20.8% between 2022 and 2030. Several companies are already implementing digital tools like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and augmented reality (AR) into their manufacturing processes in response to this.

Among these technologies, augmented reality in manufacturing is of particular importance. It can simplify various processes, from training to quality assurance, and the manufacturing sector is already lapping it up. For perspective, the industrial and manufacturing sector accounted for the largest revenue share (about 24.3%) in the Global Augmented Reality market in 2021, according to Grandview Research. That figure is expected to grow even more in the future as more and more companies adopt augmented reality into their manufacturing processes.

Types of Augmented reality in manufacturing

  • Tablet AR for manufacturing: The user interacts with digital objects via a tablet or a mobile phone through a designated AR app. It is useful for simple AR-based activities like checks or monitoring in the manufacturing sector. This is because such tasks do not require complex interactions with digital objects or long screen viewing time.

Besides, most individuals are already familiar with using a tablet. For perspective, in 2021 there were 1.28 billion tablet users worldwide. So, implementing tablets doesn’t require much additional training for staff, keeping costs low.

  • Wearable augmented reality in manufacturing:  Unlike tablet AR, here the user views and interacts with digital objects through wearable technology like a headset or glasses. One does not need to hold a handheld device or controller. The user can use AR to overlay digital information onto real-world objects and perform tasks simultaneously.

Wearable AR is used for manufacturing processes like repairing equipment. This reduces the back and forth between doing the job and referring to a manual, thereby reducing maintenance time. For some companies, that amounts to about 40 hours per week.

  • Projected AR for manufacturing: The interactive AR object is displayed on any surface. Since multiple people can view the object at the same time, the tech is used for many processes, including testing, training, inspection, and maintenance.

The above types of AR tech have different applications and are used to streamline various manufacturing processes.

Five uses of augmented reality in manufacturing 

One can interact in real time with virtual objects and learn more about them through audio. Moreover, all the training materials can be made once and uploaded onto a shared database, enabling workers to access them from anywhere and at any time.

  • Digital work instructions: Manufacturing processes involve workers performing complex tasks, and it can often take at least a few tries for workers to get them right. AR can reduce such errors by overlaying instructions directly onto the work surface. Workers can follow one direction at a time and reduce errors. 

AR-based instructions make documenting instructions easier as well. For example, one can add audio cues to supplement the 3D projections via a simple interface.

AR simplifies the prototyping process by helping designers visualize prototypes working in the real world. This reduces the costs associated with physical prototyping. 

  • Quality assurance: Since AR helps workers project 3D projections of prototypes onto any workspace, they can use it for quick quality assurance checks during manufacturing. 
  • Continuous Maintenance: Machines that get used every day are more likely to need maintenance due to wear and tear. AR reduces the time for such routine repairs by streamlining access to maintenance information.

With AR, a technician can immediately retrieve machinery health status, its history of repairs, the repair manual, and safety alerts from a single device. This saves time and effort.

Click in "See in your space" to see this laser cutting machine

Which manufacturing sectors use AR?

  • Automotive manufacturing: AR allows workers to explore different automotive designs by swapping out individual components. This is followed by simulating tests in different environments to ensure that the prototype is ready for manufacturing.

Many companies implement AR to streamline production processes by ensuring workers have access to all the information they need on demand. For instance, BMW uses AR goggles to assist workers in the stud welding process. The optical tracking system tracks infrared LEDs on the machine and guides the worker to target a particular welding point, ensuring accuracy.

Augmented reality helps aerospace and defense manufacturing units work optimally, improves knowledge transfer across team members, and thereby increases the speed of manufacturing.

Lockheed Martin used AR goggles to figure out accurate attachment points when building the NASA Orion spacecraft. The instructions for the process were directly overlaid onto the physical spacecraft, helping workers perform complex manufacturing tasks quickly.

  • Electronics manufacturing: Companies in this sector must routinely churn out new products while ensuring they follow all the specified quality standards. Besides, given the high employee turnover in this industry (around 3.5 million jobs will open up in the space by 2025, based on reports), workers need constant training to perform manufacturing tasks efficiently.

For example, Bosch, a renowned electronics and home appliance maker, uses augmented reality in their Dresden plant to perform maintenance work remotely and efficiently.

  • Medical manufacturing: Pharmaceutical companies must follow strict quality checks while manufacturing to ensure they receive approval from authorities. This means machines should always operate efficiently in order to minimize errors. AR is helping with this process. Companies can train operators through AR to understand complex manufacturing processes or use the tech to identify components that need replacement based on their service date.

Apprentice.io’s manufacturing execution system, for instance, helps the company follow complex batch recipes through audio instructions and AR-assisted overlays.

These are just some of the exciting ways in which augmented reality companies like Enhance are revolutionizing business processes across multiple sectors, including manufacturing.

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