Augmented reality is a technology which enriches the physical world with digital information in the form of text, images, and 3D models. One of the important aspects of augmented reality is its ability to overlay the same information collected from physical objects through IoT on the same physical object in real time and in a way suitable for easy and meaningful consumption by the user. For instance, a maintenance engineer can readily see the health parameters of the machine projected on the machine itself through the augmented reality interface along with the other relevant information such as the machine specs, parameter threshold levels, and generated alerts. This equips the engineer with the necessary information to take guided action quickly even before opening up the product or machine for repairs. Augmented reality facilitates the engineer during repairs with on-the-fly instructions manual. Such capabilities of augmented reality technology hold immense potential for its manifold application in the manufacturing industry.
Augmented reality (AR) can influence the different departments of the manufacturing organization, including employee training and safety; factory floor and field services operations; machine assembly, inspection and repair; manufacturing facility and product design; and warehousing and distribution of goods. Research shows that assembly rate errors can be reduced by 82% using AR technology and with AR-enabled training, there can be up to 90% improvement in quality at the first attempt. According to Markets and Markets, the AR market is expected to reach $56.8 billion by 2020. AR technology is not just the technology of the future; it’s happening now with several large manufacturing companies already using AR technology in their facilities and in the field to service equipment, such as Caterpillar. Interesting use cases of AR are being piloted across different industries by leading organizations. Some of these are:
- The Chemical Process Engineering Research Institute (CPERI), a nonprofit research organization is pioneering AR in a use case for plant start-up procedures, in which an operator using an AR device completes a task which requires many sequential steps in several hours for starting up a plant.
- Comau, part of the Fiat group, is developing an AR-enhanced system to help a user assemble a robot wrist, a process that normally requires four hours and over 290 individual steps to complete, in less time and with fewer errors
AR reality has evolved but it still has several challenges such as the expensive hardware, unavailability of AR content, and nonuniform requirements to overcome before it is widely adopted. Efforts are on the way to help focus the direction of AR for use in industry. Recently, 65 organizations including industrial companies, AR providers, universities and government agencies came together for a workshop conducted by Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) to offer insight into their challenges and needs to help create the guidelines development process. This will provide a benchmark set of requirements that will help them develop a roadmap and source, select, evaluate, and deploy AR solutions. The guideline documents address AR features such as: hardware: battery life; connectivity; field of view; on-board storage; onboard operating system; environmental aspects; inputs/outputs and safety, and software: authoring; AR content; creating 3D content; deployment of AR content, and IoT.