7 Ways AR Improves Your Manufacturing Process

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Business leaders can deploy AR in manufacturing to streamline routine operations and create a safer workplace.

Several industries, including construction, pharmaceuticals, tourism and others, have started using augmented reality (AR) to improve their business. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the true potential of AR in these industries. According to the Wall Street Journal, AR has grown from an interesting experience to an essential everyday tool. The ability of AR-based applications to impose images in the real world has enabled managers and experts to communicate and collaborate remotely. For example, Volkswagen AG’s Porsche unit had witnessed increased use of AR glasses at U.S. dealerships during the pandemic. Technology has enabled technicians to perform complicated repairs on expensive sports cars with the virtual help of repair experts. Likewise, many other organizations are looking to follow suit and deploy AR in manufacturing to improve business processes.

Many business leaders may feel skeptical about AR applications in manufacturing, given the digital infrastructure required to deploy such solutions. After looking at the benefits of AR, it seems like a worthwhile investment. By implementing AR in manufacturing, companies can reduce production downtime, identify problems instantly, and provide real-time virtual support. AR-based solutions can speed up manufacturing operations and make them safer for employees. AR will also help companies in the manufacturing sector to streamline several operations. AR glasses and AR apps on smartphones and tablets can overlay crucial information like statistics, images and 3D models into the real world.

Use cases for AR in manufacturing

Business leaders can take a look at the following use cases of AR in manufacturing:

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1. Employee training

AR can be extremely useful in training new employees with the necessary procedures, protocols and equipment. Compromising on these factors will lead to workplace safety issues. With AR devices and applications, new personnel can be trained in all crucial procedures, leading to safer working conditions. For example, Atheer has created an augmented reality-based app that provides step-by-step guides, documentation, manuals, and additional resources that can help new field workers. Industries such as construction and finance are already using AR to train new employees. Technical training can be a big challenge for companies as they have to guide new employees through expensive and complex machinery or dangerous equipment. Manufacturing companies can provide complex technical training for new employees as well as development opportunities for workers experienced with AR. Jaguar Land Rover and Bosch used the Reflekt One platform to develop an AR application that provides “x-ray” vision to train employees to locate components in the Range Rover Sport vehicle dashboard.

2. Solving shop floor problems

Manufacturing companies regularly have to resolve problems encountered in workshops. Key personnel need real-time access to important data to resolve shop floor issues. However, some employees may not be available in the workplace due to travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic or personal reasons. In such scenarios, AR can be useful in presenting any shop floor issues to maintenance teams. Maintenance teams can also view KPIs in real time and detect and resolve issues without hampering production.

3. Maintenance

Researchers at Columbia University have developed an AR helmet for United States Marine Corps mechanics for testing. The results suggest that it helps mechanics find and start a maintenance job in almost half the time it usually takes. Typically, maintenance personnel should refer to a technical manual on their laptop computer when repairing components inside vehicles, where multiple hydraulic, electrical, and mechanical components are in an enclosed space. In this situation, a United States Marine Corps mechanic may wear a compact AR helmet that helps with 3D arrows to indicate components, instructions, floating warnings and labels, and 3D models of relevant tools. A smartphone strapped to the mechanic’s wrist allows him to queue for the next sequence of instructions. Companies in the manufacturing sector could use a similar solution for maintenance. By using AR in manufacturing, maintenance crews will be able to see the specific equipment or hardware that needs to be repaired, and they will be able to spot potential issues. AR devices could also display operating hours, potential pain points, date of last service, and other crucial data. Such easy access to data takes the guesswork out of the maintenance process, enabling faster repairs, faster response times, and streamlined maintenance operations. Faster maintenance times with the help of AR will also reduce production downtime by preemptively identifying potential issues.

4. Efficient logistics

Companies in the manufacturing sector have to go through a long and tedious process of fulfilling orders and organizing the warehouse. When an order arrives, an employee must manually verify relevant information, search for products, scan products, report data, deliver products to the loading dock, and sign the order. AR can streamline the whole logistics process. With the deployment of AR in manufacturing, employees can access a connected system that shows them the exact location of products. AR-based systems can also be used to digitize necessary information, allowing employees to quickly find and retrieve products, and deliver them to the loading dock. DHL is already testing mobile AR systems locally. DHL employees who used smart glasses showed increased productivity and reduced errors.

5. Product design

The process of designing conventional products is extremely long and tedious. Each new product is frequently discussed between the parties concerned and must undergo multiple revisions. AR can reduce the time required for some of the tasks in this process. For example, glasses or AR apps can show the product design process in real time to directors or executives. The affected teams would receive and act on the feedback instantly, speeding up the whole process. Thyssenkrupp uses Microsoft’s HoloLens to design home mobility solutions for people with reduced mobility. Designing home mobility solutions can be a complex process where the business requires a complex system of labels, cameras and manual data entry to ensure that all nuances are captured accurately. The whole process that involves selling, manufacturing and installing, say, a new stairlift requires many tedious processes, resulting in long delivery times. With HoloLens, a salesperson can measure the staircase on their first visit and instantly share it with the manufacturing team. Customers can quickly view and approve the design, reducing delivery times by 4 times.

6. Simplified assembly

Manufacturing companies need to assemble thousands of components into complex assemblies as quickly as possible. These complicated assemblies can be made by following specific assembly instructions. Businesses can simplify this process by using AR in manufacturing. Boeing is using AR glasses built into Upskill’s Skylight platform to streamline the 130 miles of wiring required in a new Boeing 747-8 Freighter. Using AR glasses, technicians receive required instructions through the viewfinder. The glasses are also equipped with a barcode reader and voice command capabilities. As a result, Boeing succeeded in reducing wiring production time by 25% and completely eliminating error rates. Without any margin for error, Boeing ensures that its planes meet the highest production standards. Similar solutions can be used by manufacturing companies to dramatically improve production standards and reduce production time.

7. Customer support

In addition to technicians and maintenance personnel, manufacturing companies can use AR to assist customers and on-site sales representatives. For example, Leybold, a vacuum pump manufacturer, has partnered with REFLEKT to deploy AR applications for on-site sales and customer support. These apps display the components as well as functionality of a product on an iPad or HoloLens device. Customers will get “x-ray” vision with AR applications to see various components of a pump without taking it apart. AR has incredible potential to disrupt the manufacturing sector. However, the deployment of AR in manufacturing is a major challenge. Business leaders should consider the following steps for a successful AR implementation:

  • Hire tech experts or join forces with tech consulting
  • Create strategies to deploy AR solutions
  • Start small by targeting a specific area of ​​business operations
  • Develop a sufficient budget to invest in infrastructure
  • Train and develop employees to ensure they are comfortable using AR technology
  • Record the results and identify pain points to work on

As AR technology continues to develop, businesses will see even more breakthrough applications. Big players have already started investing in AR in manufacturing for several use cases. With larger investments, developers will have sufficient funding to build advanced applications and compact devices. Eventually, AR devices will become mainstream and inexpensive as the technology continues to become more popular. It’s also worth noting that XR technology is developing at a rapid pace and we may be only a few years away from truly immersive experiences.


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