Augmented reality, or AR for short, is quickly becoming a vital tool in industrial organizations. This futuristic technology has become much more accessible in recent years, to the point where even small and medium-sized businesses are looking to implement it in their operations. Is augmented reality really necessary for industrial companies, or is it a short-term fad that will fade out? We’re going to examine how industrial businesses are using augmentation today.
We expect the market for augmented technology to increase as the technology matures and becomes more user-friendly. Nevertheless, the current situation is very promising. There are several viable use cases to consider, some of which may be very beneficial for your business as well.
Augmented Reality for Industrial Use Cases
What Is Augmented Reality?
Augmented reality is a relatively new technology that gives the user more information than what they can normally perceive with their physical senses. This is typically accomplished by a heads-up display, which the user can see through a pair of special glasses or goggles. Companies like Google and Microsoft have experimented with these lenses, with Microsoft HoloLens being the industry’s leader at the moment. However, there are several other smaller companies with specialty applications.
Regardless of the solution you choose, the goal is to give your team more information while they work. By connecting augmented technology to the internet and your local network, your augmented glasses can pull data from other sources and project that information. For example, a 3D model of a component your company is designing could be visualized on top of a regular table, complete with its material specifications, even though no prototype has been built.
How Does Augmented Reality Differ From VR?
VR, or virtual reality, is similar to AR, but it goes a step further. Rather than try to augment what a user perceives using additional information, VR creates an entirely distinct 3D environment. When you put on a pair of VR goggles or a VR headset, you are completely immersed in another reality. VR headsets also typically include headphones, meaning that both the visual and aural environments are entirely synthetic. You won’t see or hear anything real in VR.
Both technologies have their use cases in the industry. VR, for instance, has been used to visualize complete implementations. A wind turbine manufacturer may build a 3D environment that accurately simulates the client’s property, showing both how the turbines will look when installed and how they will perform. Aerospace companies have designed fully 3D cockpits to allow clients to see what the inside of a new jet might look like, or to allow pilots to test control layouts.
How Does AR Contribute to Industry?
Reality augmenting tools have already had a major impact on industrial operations. They’re widely used in product design and development in a variety of industries. They can also help engineers and clients visualize a number of real-world situations when combined with simulations. Since more than one person can use a pair of augmented lenses at once, they also promote collaboration in engineering. That collaboration extends to training opportunities for newer workers as well.
Consider a few examples of how successful industrial businesses have found unique applications for their augmented systems.
Product Design and Development
A great example of product design with both augmented and virtual reality comes from the Ford Motor Company. Ford has used Microsoft HoloLens headsets for several years now. Traditionally, Ford engineers would craft life-size clay models of new cars to test out concepts and perform preliminary simulations. While this method isn’t completely obsolete yet, the company has augmented its methods with HoloLens. Engineers can easily visualize changes to the vehicle and can even customize the color of the car.
However, what surprised many Ford engineers is how useful the tool has been for management, as well. Executives love to use augmented glasses while engineers control the overlay, essentially walking their bosses through car development. What used to be a bevy of technical terms and boring presentations has become a dynamic and fun experience. In addition, Ford found that HoloLens promoted collaboration without compromising data security. Without paper plans, losing company secrets became less likely.
Several companies have developed augmenting tools for mobile phones as well. These tools can then help companies develop real-time simulations using realistic environments based on real-world objects. A great example of such a tool is Polycam. Polycam can create high-quality 3D scans using an iPhone. These scans are then processed by Polycam’s network of computers and are returned to users as realistic 3D environments. However, the phone-based AR tool can do much more.
Many industrial operations are using Polycam to scan entire properties with drones and render 3D models so they can plan construction of new facilities. A client looking to build a solar farm could receive a full 3D rendering of what their solar farm would look like in as little as a single day, with realistic spacing and an installation quote to match. Best of all, Polycam is free to use and works on almost every modern device.
AR can bring experts to the field even if they’re located thousands of miles away. A company called VSight has developed a remote AR platform that allows an in-field employee to don the headset and receive instructions from experts at a distance. This has proven especially useful for mining companies, which may not have a local expert available. Such is the case of Compania Minera Pacifica in Chile.
Based in Antofagasta, CMP used VSight Remote to bring in experts to review safety conditions at their Minera Caserones location. As the mining site is located far up in the Andes mountains, access is limited. Even with a flight, engineers may need to travel a full day to reach the site. With VSight Remote, travel becomes an unnecessary expense. Employees can collaborate regardless of where they are and relay vital information to the workers on site.
Although we typically think of Intel as a technology company, its operations are much more industrial in nature. Fabricating microprocessors is a highly industrial task and requires a great deal of precision at every step. Even a mistake as small as bumping an elbow into a machine could ruin a batch of chips. To avoid mistakes and improve employee performance, Intel adopted AR for training and maintenance throughout its facilities.
Instead of pulling out unwieldy paper manuals, technicians are greeted with an overlay of instructions when they reach a machine. If they’re at the wrong machine, a notification will alert them so they do not accidentally cause a problem. After proceeding to the right device, they receive step-by-step guidance and can quickly request live support from a more experienced engineer if needed. This method of training has reduced downtime and improved productivity.
What Does a Company Need to Use AR?
Despite its futuristic appearance, AR technology doesn’t require massive investments. The technology has matured to a point where it’s quite accessible, even for smaller organizations. There are two basic components to any AR system. First, you need the physical glasses or goggles that allow for an AR experience. Second, you’ll need computing power to create the AR overlay. In some cases, these two needs are addressed by a single device.
The AR glasses you choose will determine what features you have access to. There are wireless models that offload processing to another device. These models provide input to the computer in the form of images and return output in the form of an overlay. Tethered models can connect directly to a computer, which is ideal when you don’t want to worry about battery life during long AR sessions.
Although there are designs in the works that do not require a secondary device at all, these are still in their infancy. Most AR systems today require computing power to be provided from another source. This could be a mobile phone or a laptop, or a more powerful computer. However, you likely have a device capable of handling AR applications already.
To determine the best AR solution for your company, talk to the experts in the digital industry. Contact SAAB RDS to speak to one of our representatives and let them know you’re interested in AR for industry. We can pair you with the best providers and help you implement a tailor-made solution for your industry.