Augmented Reality in Manufacturing Operations

May 12, 2016

The Role of Robots

Highly dexterous robots and advanced factory floor automation are gradually taking over many of the routine and often difficult and dangerous manufacturing and assembly tasks traditionally carried out by assembly line workers. At the same time, there are many activities in which robots are still unable to match human capabilities, especially in tasks that require refined dexterity and flexibility, and those involving unplanned problem solving and ability to improvise.

While there are diverging opinions about when fully-automated robots-only factories will be commonplace, it is estimated that robots now perform only about 10 percent of manufacturing tasks that can be done by machines. Undoubtedly, we will witness growth of manufacturing automation in new factories and revamped assembly lines, but, at the same time, many existing manufacturing facilities will not be able to afford making the full transition to complex and expensive automation technology and will continue to rely on skilled human workforce for quite some time to come.

But as an aging workforce is egressing the workplace at a growing pace, manufacturing companies will struggle finding and training their replacement.

Augmented Reality

Augmented reality (AR) technology is a natural fit for manufacturing personnel performing intricate assembly, maintenance and repair jobs. AR is a way to annotate real-time images of physical objects by superimposing virtual work instructions that guide assembly line workers and quality assurance technicians in performing complex tasks. For example, the AR annotation layer could highlight a sequence of operations, precise bolt torque values, special tools needed for the task, or display warnings about potentially hazardous activities and materials.

AR in Manufacturing Operations

Although the overall assembly process may be very similar across different product variants, assembly line workers encounter, sometimes unknowingly, one-off product configurations that require a different bolt torqueing or a slightly different sequence to allow an option to be installed. AR-guided process can ensure that this type of critical information is delivered when needed, thereby reducing errors, improving quality, and accelerating the assembly process.

AR tools can be as useful for the experienced line worker as for the novice. The AR system may not need to spell out the entire but provide a reminder about the unique aspects of the configuration being assembled. Manufacturing companies should evaluate areas where augmented reality technology can be implemented to support learning, collaboration and decision-making by utilizing the organization’s cumulative experience and best practices.

Want to learn more about AR in manufacturing? Join us in Boston on June 6-9, 2016, at LiveWorx.

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