Virtual and augmented reality technology, VR and AR respectively, have been around for quite some time. Mainly seen as a way to enhance the video game experience, this technology is now taking on a more important role for manufacturers. Manufacturers are starting to realize and take advantage of the value VR and AR systems can offer.
There is a distinct difference between virtual reality and augmented reality. Virtual reality brings the user into a completely virtual world where users are immersed in an artificial world. VR can offer amazing benefits for manufacturers that are training new employees or even figuring out where their manufacturing processes can be improved.
Training will never be the same again. The process of training an employee is essential, even if the employee has previous manufacturing experience there is no doubt they will need to be trained in company specific processes. The VR system allows a new employee to be thrown into the manufacturing process without slowing down production because of their inexperience. A VR world can be programmed to replicate the production process and with mock components, the employee can have real world training in a virtual environment.
When it comes to an employee with no previous experience, it offers another great advantage. New employees can get “hands on” training with VR systems without the possibility of damaging machines, tools or even themselves. This will allow training to be much more effective because they won’t have the added pressure of working on the shop floor but they can still see exactly how the operation will run. Once they start working on the shop floor they will already be completely accustomed to how everything should work the second they are finished with their training.
Many companies are already using VR systems to assist in training such as Ford Motors and they are pleased with the results. Ford is also doing something innovative with their virtual reality systems. They re-create their manufacturing processes in VR and have experienced employees go through their normal routine. They can see where their processes need to be improved and find any dangerous situations their employees might be put in while under a very controlled environment. The company can than see how they can improve their manufacturing process to create the most comfortable and safe work environment for their employees.
Augmented realty differs from Virtual reality because it melds the real world with a virtual world. Google Glass is a great example of an AR system. Augmented reality lets the user see the real world but it adds virtual modifications. For example if an engineer needs to fix a machine that they have little experience working with, they can use AR to assist them. The way it works is by using either a tablet or AR headset like Google Glass to give the manufacturer the ability to see a machine in the real world while the AR device gives them step by step instructions on how to replace the broken component or perform the necessary repairs.
AR technology can even send out real time updates to employees that only they can see. Such as arrows directing them to the next task they need to complete or even giving them a list of tools they will need to complete the next project. Augmented reality has the potential to greatly increase the productivity of your staff by ensuring they know exactly where they need to be, what they will need to complete the task, and instructing them on exactly how the task should be completed.
Google Glass failed to catch on with manufacturers because of its cost, but as more manufacturers incorporate smart devices into their operations AR is becoming more realistic. This technology is still having some trouble catching on with manufacturers, but as more companies begin to use the system, the value it adds will be hard to overlook.
Virtual and augmented reality can give manufacturers the ability to create an unstoppable workforce. With advanced and precise training along with employees having the ability to see exactly what needs to be done and how to accomplish the task, manufacturers have the potential to greatly increase their efficiency and productivity across the board. As these technologies become more affordable and easier to use we can expect to see these systems quickly catch on throughout modern manufacturing operations.