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Better, Faster, Cheaper – How can manufacturing organisations utilise Extended Reality (XR) to achieve their ambitious goals?

21 Feb 2023

With external factors putting more pressure on manufacturers, it is imperative that they pivot towards more flexible and efficient ways of working to meet these challenges.

The world is not as secure as it used to be. That is self-evident. Disruptive macro-trends are increasing pressure on almost every industry. A host of destabilising factors is putting ever-increasing pressure on manufacturers. With many businesses still relying on paper processes to communicate complicated designs, they are struggling to keep up with these rapidly changing conditions. It is imperative that manufacturers pivot towards more flexible and efficient ways of working to meet these challenges.

A new generation of innovators are pushing the boundaries of what can be done in manufacturing. Through an eclectic mix of innovative technologies, they are tackling longstanding pain points to gain efficiencies in time and cost. At this cutting edge, you’ll find a landscape littered with terms such as digital twin, virtual prototyping, and virtual factories, with early adopters in the industry already experimenting with their implementation. Sitting across these innovations is the need to visualise information in an easily discernible format; this is where XR comes in. XR (Extended Reality) is an umbrella-term for immersive technology, which for the most part means augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR), but how does this technology actually help manufacturers meet the increased need for speed and cost reduction?

Enhancing the way we build

Capgemini has explored XR applications spanning the product lifecycle, from the very beginning to the very end. We’ve observed that R&D costs of complex manufacturing were rising unavoidably with the development of robust and complex designs. Physical prototypes were produced iteratively, with hundreds of hours of work and significant investment being committed to the process. VR offers a step-change in the approach for manufacturers, virtualising the process. Instead of an iterative series of models, VR, coupled with 3D model-based enterprise systems (MBEs), allows organisations to build virtual prototypes with detailed component data, creating interactive models. Businesses can push designs beyond their limit without the heavy cost limitations. Daring designs can be crafted and tested again and again under the toughest virtual conditions, all of which can be viewed from every angle by technicians fully immersed in a stream of visual data.

The need to build better, faster, and cheaper is pressing

Once these new designs have been realised, manufacturing speed and accuracy can be dramatically increased by AR-supported, skilled technicians. Virtual twins of live production assets can be examined by workers for faults in real-time, breaking down complex systems into easily accessible visual data. Technicians will be alerted to potential faults during visual inspections, dramatically decreasing build time. XR can help build bigger, better, more complex, and more sustainable products through XR prototyping, delivering them more quickly and efficiently.

What we build and the materials we use have developed rapidly over the past decade, but the way we build has not matched this pace.
We need to change that.

XR applications go beyond ideation, stretching right to the end of a product’s lifecycle. Maintenance consumes vast amounts of resources in time, travel expenses, and logistics to name a few. Capgemini has implemented AR maintenance processes for our clients, cutting resource use across the value chain. Instead of sending a specialised team hours to a remote site, a single remote operator could be guided in real-time by a centralised team, overlaying schematics, and repair guides directly onto the operator’s field of vision. This not only cuts down travel time, but dramatically increases the operational expertise available at any given moment. For aircraft manufacturers with stringent maintenance contracts or armed forces operating in remote locations, the benefits of accessible expertise and improved operational readiness are clear.

XR offers a spectrum of learning opportunities, from on-the-job maintenance to intensive multi-year assimilations of complex systems. VR excels at the latter, cutting down time to competency and markedly increasing user engagement levels. In an industry where new products or systems can take decades to build, the ability to train hundreds of users in an immersive virtual rendering of a submarine or a new aircraft configuration could, if implemented from day 0, cut down time to operation by years. Instead of a waterfall approach in which crews are restricted to training only when a system is complete, VR allows ‘in environment’ training and construction to take place simultaneously. This compresses both the time to train and, crucially, the overall time to reach operational readiness, empowering manufacturers to offer both faster and cheaper projects and potentially transform their bottom-lines.

Taking a Human Centric Approach

Increases in speed and efficiency are clear, valuable benefits that are tangible and easy to prove. However, what is missing from the industry is a human-centric approach, both in terms of the soft benefits (collaboration, creative inspiration, etc.) of the technology but also in the complexities of its implementation.

Starting with the benefits, XR can help revive the manufacturing industry as it struggles to attract and retain talent. Digital natives who are used to living in a hyper-connected world are being faced with paper schematics and kit trollies being pulled from station to station. The contrast in consumer-facing technologies and manufacturing processes is jarring at best and driving talent away from the sector at worst. XR offers not only hard benefits, but it also helps to spark interest in the next wave of talent, speaking to them through a technical lens they understand and are excited by.

At the other end of the workforce, work needs to be done to bring experienced technicians into the fold – experts who form the backbone of knowledge across the industry. If this knowledge is retained and applied through XR, progress can be turbocharged.

In terms of technology deployment, firms should implement reverse-mentoring systems in which young, tech-savvy hires spend time with and train these experienced professionals in XR technologies whilst gaining valuable sector knowledge from senior leaders. Pooling expertise and building champions for the technology from the bottom to the top of a company not only helps to attract new talent by giving new hires agency to implement their technological knowledge, but also addresses the challenge of convincing a generation of experts to change long-standing ways of working. If you want to understand more about VR’s training applications, dive into Capgemini’s work here.

XR can create better, faster and more cost-efficient systems, whilst simultaneously attracting much-needed new talent to firms.

To us, it seems a gap is emerging between early adopters and firms more resistant to change.
As such, we believe companies should consider which side of this gap they wish to be on.

Tom Holmes

Associate Consultant
Tom is an Associate Consultant within frog at Capgemini Invent. He specialises in bringing innovative technologies to new business applications. He recently gained a Marketing and Digital Communications distinction masters whilst working full-time as an Account Manager within a leading content and media firm.

Dan Watson

Associate Consultant
Dan spent five years at the University of Southampton working on systems and process improvement projects before completing an MSc in Information Management & Digital Business so he could pivot his career into consulting. He is a Business Technology Associate Consultant at Capgemini Invent and is passionate about how technology can help organisations and the people within them.

Abdullah Kayani

Associate Consultant
Abdullah is an Associate Consultant within Business Technology capability at Capgemini Invent. With prior experience in product management and process automation, Abdullah brings a unique perspective to his role. He holds a master’s degree in Chemical Engineering and is passionate about XR technologies utilisation to drive innovation in industry.