There is technological renaissance underway in manufacturing that’s reshaping how organizations leverage efficiencies to make products faster while using fewer resources, to bolster the bottom line. This is especially critical now, as global competition affects manufacturers of all sizes. And, with COVID-19 impacting virtually every business everywhere, manufacturers will rely increasingly on technology to help the bottom line.
Immersive Mixed Reality (MR) technology is a getting a closer look by many manufacturers; it's best described as a fully immersive experience that brings virtual objects into the real world, or one that blends the physical world with the digital one. MR technologies, including Augmented Reality (AR), are poised to expand considerably in the near future. In fact, The Augmented Reality market forecast is expected to reach $70-$75 billion in revenue by 2023.
What is MR for manufacturing? — MR allows industrial designers and manufacturers to conduct real-time 3D visualization and CAD for design and manufacturing, and faster training cycles. Professionals can work at significantly higher levels of efficiency. Some manufacturers report minimized errors using MR thanks to instructions overlays, remote assistance, and better planning and visualization. Some examples show a more than 40-percent increase in productivity. MR technologies provide significant time savings to the manufacturing build process through optimized decision-making, which positively impacts the entire Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) Loop.
These bottom-line improvements are made possible because of the greater efficiencies MR offers. The technology establishes a three-dimensional, computer-generated environment that allows designers and engineers to interact with product builds by an individual. Then, that person becomes a central part of this virtually created world in the form of a hologram, or is “immersed” within the production with the ability to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions in real time.
Reduced maintenance times — Manufacturers are leveraging MR with customers during maintenance calls so as to avoid using outdated manuals for more precise and timely fixes. Some manufacturers leverage MR today during customer calls to the support line, where engineers serve as remote experts able to see what the customer sees, offering guidance as if the engineer was present onsite with the customer.
Increasing the QC process — Overlaid information is becoming more widely used in MR for manufacturing, where quality assurance requires solutions that improve results and lower costs. Many manufacturers and designers now leverage holograms, 3D imagery, and animations in real-world production, and this results not only in faster production times but more accuracy.
Improved employee training cycles — Training programs have received a significant boost through MR, whether it takes place in a classroom setting or an online course for employees. One of the great efficiencies in this method is it reduces the requirement for full-time staff to be away from production lines for training. With MR modules, students' curriculum is overlaid onto real-world parts and assemblies, enhancing training and skill-sets more rapidly and accurately.
Easing retirement losses — As more Baby Boomers retire, manufacturers that require skilled workers need to replace these critical positions on their production lines. Some of these positions can be offset by MR technology using remote-support solutions.
Overcoming MR challenges — However, many manufacturers are finding challenges employing MR technologies. Enterprise-grade, high-quality MR platforms require both performance and scale, but established MR systems (including MS HoloLens and others) are severely limited in both aspects.
Most enterprises have existing depositories of 3D CAD/CAM models, created over the years. These 3D models may vary in its complexity (e.g., poly count, hierarchy, details, etc.), making it difficult to run on standalone MR devices restricted by device limitations. This forces developers to decimate the contents (3D models/scenes) of their records to fit them to different mobile devices, spending months in the process and sacrificing the overall quality of the experience.
As these virtual environments become richer and larger, the problem is compounded. This cycle is repeated for each of the different MR hardware platforms, making it difficult for any enterprise to move from experiments and pilots to full-scale deployable solutions, thus restricting the speed of innovation and effectiveness
The device limitations also severely impede the ability of existing MR systems to generate and work with very fine mesh, with large polygon-count models and point clouds, which is essential to collocate and precisely fuse the virtual objects atop physical objects in the real world, with complex surfaces and varied lighting and environment.
Some manufacturers clear this hurdle by partnering with providers of cloud-based (or remote server-based) MR platforms powered by distributed cloud architecture and 3D vision-based Artificial Intelligence. These MR cloud platforms provide the desired performance and scalability to drive innovation at speed and scale.
Today, manufacturers are experiencing a wave of technology innovation that will fundamentally alter the way they operate. This transformation is primarily driven by the merging of digital and physical worlds to create a better, smarter, and more efficient way of operating. Immersive technologies like Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) are pivotal role in this transformation. The organizations that take a proactive role not only will be those that leverage these technologies to their own productive advantage, but also those that will partner with the right technology provider to help scale appropriately, without stunting technological growth.