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What is Augmented Reality in the Manufacturing Industry?

What is Augmented Reality in the Manufacturing Industry

What is Augmented Reality in the Manufacturing Industry

As part of Solutions Review’s Contributed Content Seriesa collection of contributed articles written by our enterprise tech thought leader community—Wendy Mlynarek, the Strategic Business Development Director at DELMIA, provides a definition of augmented reality, outlines what makes it unique, and explains what role it can play in the manufacturing industry.

You’ve probably heard the term augmented reality, and while we understand what it means from an entertainment perspective, what is its role in a manufacturing work environment? Often assimilated as a strange term in science fiction movies, augmented reality is now closer to everyday life and gradually evolving into the industrial world. 

Augmented reality (AR) technology integrates virtual elements in 3D (in real-time) within a real environment. The principle is to combine the virtual and the real worlds digitally to provide perfect integration.

What is the Difference Between Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality? 

Before continuing, it is crucial to understand the difference between all the existing technologies: mixed, virtual, or augmented. 

What is Augmented Reality? 

While we have already covered this concept previously, it’s essential to keep it in mind as we highlight the difference with the term virtual reality (or VR). Here, we don’t just superimpose virtual information on an image but integrate synthetic details in the environment (we consider that an element can hide certain information, etc.).

What is Virtual Reality? 

Conversely, virtual reality (VR) immerses a user in reality entirely generated and assisted by a computer. Immersion is typically enabled by hardware devices such as VR goggles, virtual reality headsets, or walled rooms with video screens to fill the user’s entire field of view. VR brings an immersion in a 100 percent synthetic/digital environment.

Augmented Virtual Reality or Augmented Virtuality  

What’s behind this new term? It is nothing more or less than another way of characterizing virtual data. Here, digital data is not displayed in a real environment but the opposite. Information from the real world is imported and displayed in a digital environment. For example, when a user equipped with a virtual reality helmet sees his own hands appear while immersed in a digital world and interacts with it.

What About Mixed Reality? 

Mixed reality is a fusion between real and virtual worlds where digital and physical objects (e.g., mixed reality headsets) cohabit to create new environments. Mixed reality is differentiated by a particular interaction of digital content with physical space. Nevertheless, it remains a dimension that covers all forms of augmented reality, that is, all degrees of fusion between the real and virtual worlds. 

To summarize, augmented reality brings digital content directly into the real world, virtual reality displays physical information in a digital environment, and mixed reality is similar to augmented reality. 

How Does Augmented Reality Work? 

Augmented reality adds virtual information (texts, animations, images, 3D models, etc.) into the real world. To do this, augmented reality inlays this information into the user’s environment in different ways: 

  • Insertion of these elements into a video stream viewed on a screen or tablet. The latter then becomes a window into the world with virtual information embedded. 
  • Displays on lenses in the user’s vision (Hololens example).
  • Use of a projector to display information directly on the object. 

However, this information must be embedded in the right place, and knowing where it resides is necessary. For this purpose, we use one or more sensors to ensure the data location, such as: 

  • Color camera 
  • Depth sensor 
  • Inertial unit 
  • GPS 

Augmented reality solutions are therefore distinguished using restitution, the means of capture, and how they use the latter to localize themselves. The solution’s first category aims to locate itself in the global environment. For example, using cell phone sensors (GPS, inertial navigation system, cameras, etc.) allows one to find oneself outdoors (PokemonGo, GoogleMaps, or LiveView). It displays information that remains stable with the world. In the same way, other solutions allow us to locate ourselves indoors and to place elements that will remain anchored and stable in our environment. 

Introduction Guide to Augmented Reality in the Industry

Within the industry, augmented reality reshapes many aspects, such as the increased competence of operators and their way of interacting with a real working environment by importing digital data. Thus, augmented reality guides operators step by step with information in various forms: 

  • Digital and contextualized instruction sheets 
  • Images/videos 
  • 3D renderings 

This replaces the time-consuming, manual processes of the past and makes task execution much faster and simpler. In addition, AR brings multiple gains in the industrial environment, whether remote visualization, better information transmission, or field data feedback to the digital twin. 

  • The response to the main industrial challenges 
  • Considerable ROI potential 
  • Become more efficient with augmented reality 
  • Augmented reality helps you increase quality 
  • Get better traceability 

Using new technologies such as AR can support the operators in their operational tasks to improve the company’s performance and build the operator of tomorrow. Additionally, the data collected with augmented reality can promote the digital transformation of information, optimize industrial processes, and contribute to better traceability. 

The Right Hardware to Use Augmented Reality in Your Industry 

AR applications can be used via various hardware devices, including:

  • Multimedia systems like smartphones or tablets 
  • Fixed or mobile AR workstation with industrial-type cameras 
  • Projection system 
  • Augmented reality headsets and glasses (RealWear and HoloLens) 

These connected tools and augmented reality allow digital work instructions to be displayed and visualized regardless of the company’s environment. 

Augmented Reality: How to Choose the Right Use Case? 

To choose the correct use case, focus your efforts and research on operations that generate costly defects (non-conformances), extended or unscheduled downtime, plant safety problems, or high customer dissatisfaction. Before you get started, you should also ask yourself the right questions:

  • Which teams to include in the project? 
  • Which operations are the source of the most significant number of errors? 
  • Which ones generate the highest costs? 
  • Which tasks generate a more or less prolonged stop of production? 
  • Which ones cause safety problems? 

Once these questions are answered, you will be ready to determine the best use case for your plant and launch the project. Then all you have to do is find the solution and, above all, the right supplier! 

What Will Be The Future of Augmented Reality in Manufacturing? 

Today, everything deploys and evolves very quickly, and the same goes for these AR technologies that will continually develop and improve. So what we can say for the future of these solutions is that the new versions will be based on these different axes: 

  • The evolution of the ergonomics and performance of certain types of equipment (i.e., helmets and smart glasses), which today are not always adapted to industrial environments but are evolving and tending to become more democratic. 
  • The introduction of multi-modalities, such as voice recognition or gesture control. 
  • New devices and the multiplication of sensors increase the field of possibilities in terms of algorithms (tracking, for example) and optimize the performance of algorithms. 
  • The improvement of cloud-based tools and the arrival of 5G enable network communication performance compatible with cloud-based execution of AR algorithms. 
  • Longer system runtimes due to reduced battery consumption. 
  • A more compact and leaner development.

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