Augmented Reality (AR) Use Within Manufacturing
In this article, we take a look at how Augmented Reality (AR) use within manufacturing can radically improve production processes and overall efficiency.
Servicing & Maintenance
Augmented Reality (AR) use within manufacturing is increasingly finding its stride with companies looking to implement the technology in the maintenance of their equipment. For example, where maintenance involves field workers who are reliant on using maintenance manuals, AR can provide greater efficiency and improve on the ground insight. At the same time, applying this technology to servicing grants the ability to triage requests ahead of a service call, enabling hands-free and remote guidance on site.
When ThyssenKrupp began using Microsoft’s Hololens in their servicing department, they have managed to implement the technology with astonishing efficiency. According to Microsoft, initial trials showed that ThyssenKrupp were able to reduce the average service call length by 4x.
By adopting the Hololens they have eliminated the need for a laptop, allowing the technicians to keep both hands free and available for the service call. Prior to attending a site, technicians are also able to view a 3D model of the elevator in question. Workers can zoom in and look at singular components with more clarity, with the system even offering training opportunities and on-hand technical information on the highlighted components.
As a result, the workers can arrive at service calls fully prepared. All of this is assisted by Skype which is integrated into the Hololens, allowing users to make remote calls to subject matter experts which prompts a live stream from the Hololens to a laptop. The expert can then provide a second opinion on the job at hand and if any corrections need to be made. This, in turn, reinforces peace of mind and confidence in the work. ThyssenKrupp (as of 2016) planned on rolling out the platform to over 24,000 technicians. In utilising the Microsoft’s Hololens, ThyssenKrupp engineers are now able to provide faster, better quality service to their clients.
Mitsubishi Electric has developed a similar maintenance support technology using AR, with glasses that use a 3D model generated by scanning objects with a wearable AR camera. This builds up a 3D image and provides check procedures to be carried out related to the scanned object. As the worker progresses through the inspection, they can enter the results via voice. The system will also helpfully prompt the worker to re-enter any ambiguous or incomplete data.
Augmented reality has been eagerly adopted into varying production processes involved in the manufacturing field. The assembly process is always a precise and complicated procedure, whether it’s a jet engine, mobile phone or automotive vehicle all of which involve assembling hundreds or even thousands of components. Each new product requiring a new set of assembly instructions. While technological advancements have hugely improved automated production lines, humans are still major contributors to the process.
Boeing has also opted for AR wearables to aid assembly, although they are still experimenting and haven’t completely adopted it. Prior to this, workers would constantly have to consult a laptop to ensure that the numerous wires were correctly installed. This would cause fatigue amongst workers who would lose their train of thought each time they were required to check. However, with AR the engineer is able to see the real-world unit they are assembling, along with the digital instructions attached to that component overlaid on top. This allows workers to keep 2 hands on the product at all times, with the wearable showing workers the cable diagram as to where they need placing.
By using voice commands they are able to view specific parts of the diagram or revisit them, without having to consult elsewhere. Video streaming also allows workers to record and revisit how they assembled prior products, saving time should they need to review a diagram. According to Randall MacPherson, Senior Manager, Electrical Strategic fabrication Center, they have managed to cut the build time by 25%. In Boeing’s area of work, there is no room for error and AR seems to have really improved their workflow.
Volvo has been experimenting with Microsoft Hololens technology for the assembly line, allowing line workers to digitally view the assembly instructions. Typically, physical or PDF assembly manuals would be consulted which results in inefficiencies. By implementing the technology, it allows workers to focus on their current task with the virtual guidance cutting out the need to leave the workstation.
Training future employees to understand and to comprehend servicing or working with complex equipment can be time-consuming and arduous.Augmented Reality (AR) use within manufacturing can help eliminate lengthy classroom demos by providing trainees with hands-on experience without compromising on the quality of training. One of the obstacles stopping companies adopting the tech is the uncertainty and lack of historical data that proves it works. Although of recent, companies experimenting with AR are building a strong case for others to follow suit.
Boeing has begun experimenting with VR and AR and how it can be applied to improve training. They are avid supporters and have already begun implementing AR, but back in 2015, they made a compelling case as to why other companies should adopt it.
During a presentation at the Augmented World Exposition, Boeing Electrical Engineer, Paul Davis, shared his results from an internal study, detailing how well trainees performed after being requested to assemble a mock wing for an aircraft in various ways. The study’s participants were split into three groups, each of the three groups using a different training technique. One group had to look at a PDF displayed on a desktop computer, another had to look a PDF displayed on a tablet, and the third viewed animated AR instructions displayed on a tablet. According to the study, the AR participants were 30% faster and 90% more accurate on their first tries than the other two groups, Davis stated. He pointed out that if research findings revolving around AR continue to be this successful, it could be huge for companies.
Japan Airlines began implementing this software into its training program. They boast a scalable 3D model of a jet engine (shown above) or other components that then allow trainees to access and study certain elements within that model compon ent. They are able to scale the engine to life-size 1:1 if they wish, allowing them to see in more detail how it works.
From a product development and design perspective, AR can help manufacturing companies streamline their workflow. The best examples being the companies generating 3D models of their products, allowing the model to be adjusted and modified swiftly. In product design terms, it means companies are able to refine designs at an earlier stage without compromising time. Ultimately, this will increase the buy-in conversion rate, by offering investors a hands-on look during the earlier product development stages.
ThyssenKrupp, the German-based elevator company, adopted the Hololens to assist with the design of bespoke stair lifts. Installing stairlifts can be a challenge due to the sheer variety and uniqueness of staircases, it simply isn’t a case of one size fits all, so each lift needs to be specially fitted to the individual staircase.
The Hololens provides the manufacturing company with a more streamlined process for measuring a customers staircase and guides the engineer through the process. The Hololens performs digital data capturing by measuring the staircase and storing this data with Microsoft Cloud. This data is instantly accessible by the manufacturing plants, allowing them to begin production immediately. Simon Feismann, Head of Product Lifecycle Management, claims that by implementing Hololens into their workflow they could make the process up to 4 times faster.
BAE Systems, as early back as 2014, have been using AR to help overhaul their traditional approach to designing warships. The company built multiple ‘visualisation suites’ across the country. The suites generate full-scale 3D ship prototypes, which allow engineers to view the ship and test the design prior to any construction beginning. The engineers can inspect every inch of the virtually generated model granting them a chance to deal with any potential issues at the earlier stages before the ship is built. This cuts down the cost of any remedial work that needs to be carried out. Mr Blakemore, BAE’s director of transformation said: “We can get stakeholders involved much earlier with this system, in the past, we had to make wood and card mockups”.
The 3D view of the ship is projected onto a giant screen within the suite. Alternative to this, the user can wear 3D glasses that track their gaze and the system will update the 3D model view reflecting where the employee’s gaze is. All visualisation suites are part of a network, allowing for better collaboration between the engineers in different parts of the country. The system was used to help develop the new Type 26 Frigate which was envisioned to become operational in the late 2020s.
Alstom, a French-based transport service provider, similar to that of BAE, began using AR/VR to help streamline their design workflow and promote their services to potential clients. French VR specialists Immersion constructed the immersion room for Alstom, where engineers and any other observers can view 3D models of the product. The system tracks the user and ensures they see a realistic perspective according to their position in the room.
By viewing the model in a 1:1 scale, it allows engineers and designers to test the ergonomics of the models with realistic conditions prior to any construction work beginning, allowing changes to be made with minimal interruption. Following on from the ergonomics review, engineers can review the more technical and operational aspects of the designs. The tech also promotes real-time collaboration with the other immersion rooms able to view the same 3D rendered models.
Ford was one of the first companies to utilise AR technology. They were using it as far back as 2000, and it has now become an integral part of their processes. Ford generated an immersion room (FIVE Lab), which allows engineers to design and build a complete 3D model of a car, from the engine block to the upholstery, in a virtual environment. Ford’s design team use the FIVE lab as an early step in prototyping before any physical or clay models are made. The system translates CAD designs into a rendered 3D model that can be critiqued down to the millimetre.
As a result, the user is able to sit down inside the car and experience how the model of car would look and feel. The VR headset maps the location of the wearer and their movement inside the room in relation to the rendered car model, to ensure the perspective is correct. All of which presents a unique chance to improve the quality of early concepts before the next point in the process.
As more companies within the manufacturing industry adopt AR as a tool, the collaboration among their workforce and customers is constantly improving. The improved communication transfers into better efficiency and where there may have been a blocker prior, there is now the opportunity to collaborate in an immersive environment that can be easily accessed. AR can also be of benefit to kinesthetic learners who learn & engage more effectively when provided with physical stimuli.
Caterpillar Inc. alongside Scope AR, creator of ‘the first-ever true augmented reality smart instructions and live support video calling solutions’, launched CAT LIVESHARE and announced its availability of the software during the Conexpo-Con/Agg in 2017. The LIVESHARE software acts as an AR-based live support platform.
The complex machinery supplied by CAT are often used in locations that aren’t easily accessible to CAT technicians. The AR software aims to amend this issue among others, allowing an on-site technician and expert in different locations to collaborate in a live, real-time setting using AR. This enables members of CAT to provide and conduct real-time support, training or machine maintenance. The software promotes peer-to-peer collaboration, allowing for a higher level of support to their customers more efficiently.
Manufacturers are constantly seeking ways to improve their product regardless of the market. For companies, the bedrock is quality and this helps them stand out from competitors. In order to be successful, manufacturers are required to improve consistently without sacrificing quality. This pressure has been alleviated by AR offering them a far superior option to maximise quality whilst reducing the time needed.
Porsche began adopting AR into their manufacturing process for quality assurance in 2016 at their assembly plant in Leipzig, Germany. Porsche have some of the tightest QA testing in the automotive industry, by using AR they can reinforce and intensify their checks.
The software enhances how they decide which vehicles pass the QA test, prior to being sent to customers. The system uses laser perfect scans of the model and its accompanying components within a cloud accessible database to compare the real-time image. This is achieved by technicians using tablets to capture a real-time image of a final assembled car, onto which the software overlays the model scan as a comparison and highlights any imperfections. It will flag up any deviations of more than 0.1mm, with the system being able to pinpoint errors that a trained observer may not be able to see.
According to Pocket-lint, as of July 2018, Porsche expects to have the new system ready for implementation in the next 12 months and hopes to halve inspection time, which will potentially save millions of euros. Pocket-lint also claims that Porsche plans to roll the tech out to all of their Porsche brand plants and potentially into the rest of Volkswagen Audi Group.
Airbus launched MiRA (Mixed Reality Application) under the name Testia (Airbus Group Company) in 2011 to help standardise quality assurance across their global network of production facilities. Similar to that of Porsche, the system combines real-time images with digital mockups on a windows tablet equipped with a camera. The tablet superimposes an “As Designed” digital mock-up over an “As Built” product as a comparison. Once the inspection has been completed, management will automatically receive a report generated by the operator including any details of distorted compo nents that can be replaced or repaired swiftly, which improves the quality control.
According to Airbus, by implementing these AR checks they have reduced the time required to inspect 60,000 – 80,000 brackets in an A380 fuselage (80,000 – 120,000 depending on model) from three weeks to just three days. They claim, as of 2015 MiRA/SART has been installed onto an estimated 100 tablets and operated by 1,000 or more engineers at their facilities.
After the success seen from implementing the tech, Testia (Airbus group company) had the approval to sell MiRA under the name SART (Supply Augmented Reality Tool) outside of Airbus to other industries facing the same issues they faced. In a statement released by Airbus dated April 2016, they announced that Testia will supply SART to Spirit AeroSystems. Spirit AeroSystems, one of the world’s largest independent producers of large aerostructures, chose to deploy the tech at 2 factories. What makes SART unique is that it is not constricted to just the aerospace industry, but can be used in a multitude of other industries to aid their QA.
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