Virtual factories of the future: Augmented and virtual reality systems in manufacturing
By Ian Fisher, CTO Architecture & Innovation, Digital Factory Division, Siemens PLM Software
As the physical and digital worlds converge, manufacturers are looking for new ways to view and understand their operations, how equipment can be serviced, and even how information is consumed. This blog will focus on how augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) systems can help achieve these objectives.
I will describe the state of augmented and virtual reality systems today and how they are evolving; how and where manufacturers are applying the technology; the benefits and challenges of adopting and using the technology effectively, and guidelines for implementation and adoption.
As designers, engineers, manufacturers and business leaders we have access to greater amounts of information than ever before, but we're not getting full value from it. The problem is we've come to accept that we must create and interact with data / information by working with a flat two-dimensional screen – by either sitting in front of a computer or holding a mobile device. And when we work this way, we're not always interacting with the information where and when we need it most and we're restricting the use of our hands. This limits productivity and competitiveness.
We need to break through the barrier and find better ways to use and interact with our digital information. Augmented Reality / Virtual Reality (AR/VR) gives us super powers to reimagine what is humanly possible and transform how we conduct business.
AR /VR offers big opportunities for business. These technologies do not change what you do, but they will change how you do things. According to the Gartner Hype Cycle, AR has the most potential to disrupt conventional processes but also has most open technical challenges to address and is being heavily driven by autonomous vehicle initiatives.
Gartner Hype CycleVR has matured relatively recently. It is being used in mainstream business operations is more mature that AR, and it is being heavily driven by the gaming industry.
Now is a good time to start looking into AR/VR because of cost and availability, CPU/GPU/RAM, Computervision technology, and data/analytics. Let me explain.
Cost & Availability
Competition in the gaming industry has driven down the cost and raised availability of the devices
HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, HoloLens, DAQRI, Tablets/phone with high quality cameras.
Imaging, motion sensing and geo-awareness of devices is almost universal
VR: $100,000 for CAVE + Real Estate versus $1,000 for Vive + cubicle
VR cost is dropping quickly
AR cost is higher as it is still being heavily invested in
Cost and size of compute (in device and cloud) improving – there is no such thing as a disconnected or compute challenged device
Power storage methods and low power compute are making mobile and wearable AR/VR a reality
Scanning and recognition algorithms rapidly improving – driven from automotive, consumer and industry
Cost and wealth of cloud-based analytics and network driving real-time data into operational activities
Where can augmented reality be used?
Augmented Reality is primarily used where virtual elements need to be integrated into an existing real world environment.
For training to increase speed to knowledge, efficiency, confidence, and error reduction
In scene guidance, no instructor required
Hands-free access to reference information
More intuitive learning
For guided and validated work instructions to increase productivity and quality
In scene guidance of assembly
Validation of completed tasks
For manufacturing plant and factory monitoring to produce effective monitoring and management
In-scene instrumentation and status
For guided field servicing as a knowledge multiplier
Remote servicing with hands-free in-scene guidance
Recording of issues and snags
Where can virtual reality be used?
VR is primarily used with a virtual product in a virtual environment. For example:
For design reviews and studies to improve productivity and accuracy
1:1 or any scale investigation of design
Complex 3D environment – packaging and routing
Ergonomic and serviceability studies
For training to increase effectiveness and safety
Scaled experience for process and procedures
For expensive (remote, unique, non-existent) and dangerous environments
For sales configurators to improve effectiveness, fit for purpose
Highlight customizable products, ETO types of situations
Configure and build up the virtual product – let users/customers experience the product for styling, fit for purpose, ergonomics
Best Practices for starting
General best practices that apply to both AR/VR:
Start with small pilots.
Target small/simple use cases with one or two simple KPIs
Don’t get too complicated too soon
Cheaper/smaller the better
Avoid large equipment outlays
Technology is changing rapidly, expect rapid change
Understand impact on infrastructure
Additional H/W costs
Understand impact on business process
What will need to change to best support an AR/VR approach
People training/tribal knowledge
Get people familiar with the technology in a pilot
Start laying the technical infrastructure groundwork
Consider the cost of VR –versus- Caves
Look at using now for design reviews / sales configurators (especially if you’re already using 3D modeling / viewing applications)
Put real data in the environment
Solve some real problems (however small)
Make it easy for people to try/experiment
Help people over the ‘it’s just a game’ perception
Companies put VR rooms on the way to the cafeteria to get the rest of the company familiar with the technology
Look at piloting for training
Look at piloting for servicing / work instructions (especially if you already have a strong digital system to connect to)
Improves productivity / traceability, especially when the production system is highly flexible
Can eliminate manual data entry, record issues / faults (voice activation is good, takes pictures, video)
Hands-free aspect in helpful on shop floor
Look at piloting for remote expert support / knowledge multiplier use case
One company in Think Tank now taking this into production
Statement: “Over the past 2 months, the progress has already paid for itself.”
Measures: avoiding travel cost and speed of response
User acceptance is critical
Central group saw immediate value
Remote site user acceptance was a challenge – needed to clearly understand the value and have skin in the game
Training is important (what it can do, what it can't)
Device selection is important for successful POC
Be mindful of device battery life
Be mindful of device weight (heavy items difficult to use for extended periods)
Where do I go from here? Here is a list of things to think about
Define your AR/VR strategy. Do you have a strategy to go paperless?
Do you have a strategy to connect a digital thread to the shop floor?
Do you have a strategy to put a force multiplier on our experts?
Start a pilot / proof of concept, keep it simply and start small.
Be mindful of culture, infrastructure, technology and people. Define value proposition.
Have clear performance indicators / measures in mind and focus on productivity.
Evaluate and decide on device and software.
Focus on getting the user experience correct (understand what the use is doing).
Work with a technology partner.
Invest cautiously in equipment. There’s a hardware and technical revolution going on.
Don’t wait to define your strategy and start your AR/VR pilot!
Check out this video to learn about the breakthrough strengths of a smart factory which include, among other things, augmented reality and virtual reality.
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