Where’s the Value? Smart, Connected Products and Augmented Reality

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Why organisations are adopting to the “Mixed reality” technology which is either augmented reality, virtual reality or both technology.

Why organisations are adopting to the “Mixed reality” technology which is either augmented reality, virtual reality or both technology.

In the world of smart, connected products it is “mixed reality” technology that is expected to have the greatest impact across the entire value chain over the next five years.  Mixed reality being either augmented reality, virtual reality or both.

The release of the Capgemini Research Institute report “Augmented and Virtual Reality in Operations” earlier this month made me think about my own experience in this space and dig a little deeper to understand where and why organisations are adopting this technology.

Augmented reality bridges the gap between digital and physical worlds.  In augmented reality, a digital layer is superimposed on the physical world, integrating the physical, real environment with virtual details to enhance or “augment” the real-world experience.

Research shows that augmented reality has greater adoption over virtual reality in the automotive, manufacturing and utilities industries.  It is the benefits of augmented reality in in engineering, manufacturing, repair, maintenance and overhaul that I find most interesting.  Augmented reality allows:

  • Increase in individual performance. The provision of context relevant information in a person’s field of view allows them to rapidly process that data, make better decisions and take more confident actions.  This is known as “eliminating the mental bridge”.
  • Collective intelligence to make a difference. Augmented reality can provide access to the combined skills and experience of a wide range of expertise both within and external to organisational boundaries, rapidly bringing geographically diverse insight and knowledge to a task or problem.

Increasing individual performance and corralling collective intelligence has major, positive impacts in manufacturing efficiency and productivity (engineering too) as well as the quality of the associated smart, connected product.  These benefits continue into repair, maintenance and overhaul.  Combined, this leads to lower cost of operations and increased customer satisfaction.

Looking at some use cases and benefits; In manufacturing operations, Boeing’s technicians consume instructions for airplane wiring schematics through augmented reality which allows them to be hands-free.  This reduces wiring production time by 25% and increases productivity by 40%.

In addition, by using augmented reality tools, Boeing trainees were able to assemble the 30 parts of a wing section over 50 steps 35% faster than those using “traditional” 2D printed schematics.

These are huge benefits.

Further, augmented reality allows rapid comparison of the “as-designed” and “as-built” of almost any physical product.  This has significant benefits in quality assurance processes.

Airbus is integrating digital mock-ups into production environments, giving assembly workers access to complete 3D models of the aircraft under production, reducing the time required to inspect from 3 weeks to 3 days.

Newport News Shipbuilding has reported similar benefits with similar technology, reduced inspection time from 36 hours to 90 minutes by overlaying digital blueprints on the physical ship to identify quality issues (i.e. variance from “as-designed” to “as-built”).

In utilities, field workers at Toms River Municipal Utilities Authority (TRUMA) use mixed reality glasses to see concealed utility lines under the street in real-time.  The interface supports voice commands and hand gestures which allows field workers to operate hands-free as they retrieve information about overhead and underground utilities.

(In an interesting tangent to the TRUMA case; Accuvein, a medical devices company, has created a “vein visualisation” solution which uses heat sensing technology to create an augmented reality which allows more accurate cannulation.  The technology triples the likelihood of right-first-time needle sticks and reduces the need to call for help by 45%.  More than 80% of nurses reported an improved ability to cannulate using the technology).

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) is using mixed reality with plant data to provide a quicker and safer way for workers to inspect equipment, lowering the risk of technicians getting hurt.

Finally, in field service, Xerox reports customer satisfaction increases to 95% when their workers use augmented reality technology to gain access to the collective intelligence of their organisation, increasing first time fix rates.

Augmented reality is a meaningful solution to the aging workforce and skilled workforce problems which are prevalent in many engineering, manufacturing and utility organisations.

The technology is reducing the time needed to train workers in mission critical activities, in some cases to almost zero.  This leads to a reduced need for training instructors and lower travel costs.  These benefits can be applied to cross-training existing staff as well as inducting and training new staff.

However, there are issues with augmented reality technology which are reducing the speed of deployment for early adopters and the adoption of the technology in ‘laggard’ type organisations.  These include complexity of the technology, availability of the right skills and perceived cyber-security and data privacy risks.

Many thanks to my friends across Capgemini and PTC for the inspiration and material for some of these words.

If you’ve got this far, you may also be interested in the Andy3D Immersive Remote Assistance Platform, see here.




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