Futuristic technologies such as Augmented and Mixed Reality are often unable to showcase their full potential in their initial phase. Usually the earliest interesting possibilities for real life application are first developed and tested as industrial prototypes in secret corporate innovation labs before being rolled out into production, maintenance and other processes. In short, the broad industry did not know anything about Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR), nor anything about the new glasses currently on the market. These times are now over. What was once science fiction for companies has already come very close to everyday reality. AR and MR are already being used as useful tools in industry.
Much of Augmented and Mixed Reality’s current success stems from the success of Microsoft's Mixed Reality glasses: HoloLens. Until the HoloLens release, no other smart glasses managed to achieve such quick acceptance amongst enterprise, nor have there been any other glasses with as much agreement on the applicable possibilities. However, smart glasses such as the HoloLens are not the only responsible factor for AR and MR acceptance in the industry. Smartphones and tablets are now equipped with powerful processor power and precise sensor technology that enable augmented visualizations at a high level.
Every day, new opportunities for industrial Augmented and Mixed Reality usage are discovered and there seems to be no end in sight. Just recently, Apple released its ARKit, giving access to millions of developers to freely develop AR apps for the iPhone and iPad. New applications and concepts are being added on a daily rate. Our experience tells us that the technology that first emerges in the consumer market is usually then rapidly transferred to the industrial sector.
So far, three clear AR application fields of particular benefit have crystallized for the industry. In maintenance, operation and training, Augmented and Mixed Reality are on the right track to become an integral part of everyday work. Let’s take a detailed look at how Augmented and Mixed Reality optimize these areas and make companies fit for the digital age.
Maintenance made easy with real-time visualizations at the touch of a button
In most cases, a technician will be called when a machine needs to be serviced or repaired – simply because the technician is a gatekeeper for the specialised maintenance knowledge. This is an enormous cost factor and usually requires long wait times before the technician has even arrived. As a result the machines are at a standstill, resulting in further losses to sales or profits. The simplicity of Augmented Reality instructions or checklists allow maintenance work to be carried out immediately by anyone, even if they do not have any special expertise in the machinery.
Figure 1 shows a maintenance manual for a Leybold vacuum pump, an Atlas Group company. Using the HoloLens or IPad, employees are guided through step by step instructions for a filter exchange. Leybold offers this efficient service to its customers and has integrated Augmented and Mixed Reality into its own digitization strategy.
Comprehensible instructions facilitate the operation of complex systems and machines
For particularly complex machines, manuals are often needed for operations and processes. Since this complex machinery is usually accompanied by complex manuals, considerable time is often lost searching for the right information. With Augmented and Mixed Reality, targeted instructions or information is placed directly onto the machine ensuring that work can begin on the machine within seconds – without having to search for anything. With the latest smart technology, long searches for information is a thing of the past: all supported in AR / MR content creation platforms such as REFLEKT ONE.
Fig. 2: Manual of a SIG Combibloc machine with Augmented Reality
The unique aspect about this technology is that the manual, handbook or technical documentation content does not need to be re-created for Augmented and Mixed Reality applications. Existing instructions created in current editorial systems can be integrated with REFLEKT ONE so that no additional effort is needed. The same applies to the existing CAD and media formats as well as their systems. For example, in the above illustration of a Combibloc filling machine from SIG, you can see how 3D data and handbook material was adopted for an AR iPad application. The manual is displayed directly onto the machine, making it easier for the employee to find the right information quickly. Here too, companies profit from significant time-saving as employees no longer need to waste time looking for work steps in encyclopaedic manuals. Instead they are guided through the machine’s work steps with Augmented or Mixed Reality, reducing error rates and improving the quality of the products.
More training with less effort: interactive AR training on smart glasses
Proficient training for complex medical equipment is a common challenge in the healthcare sector where hospital and nursing personnel need to precisely carry out procedures in high stress emergency scenarios on complex devices. Training efforts are often hindered by unavailable doctors and nurses or interrupted by emergencies. Not to mention the high costs of the training itself. With the aid of Augmented and Mixed Reality, we are moving closer to the digital hospital.
Fig. 3: PulsioFlexAR training application for the medical device manufacturer Getinge Pulsion
The PulsioFlexAR virtual training application from device manufacturer Getinge utilises Augmented and Mixed Reality to train medical staff on various application scenarios for their medical devices. In this way, staff can autonomously train themselves on various medical equipment functions to know exactly what to used when. By visualizing the training content directly onto the PulsioFlex device, the learning process and day-to-day usage is improved.
Training with intuitive technology enables doctors and staff to adapt to complex medical equipment and safely use them in high stress daily environments.
Outlook for the future of Augmented Reality
Augmented and Mixed Reality are becoming an integral part of the industry for optimizing existing processes. Of course, it must also be said: This technology is still very fresh in the industry and is therefore far from mature. But functionality is constantly improving to open up more possibilities for the future. When looking at the hardware, the AR and MR glasses need to optimize their display quality so that content is crisper and battery life must correspond to required operating times. Considering these two factors alone, smartphones and tablets are currently the most feasible tools for industry as a simple and readily available alternative.
On top of the hardware, content creation is crucial. Augmented and Mixed Reality must be easy to produce. And it must be possible for companies to produce the content in-house, where the experts for the content can be found. A hundred years ago, the first cars were produced by hand, today this is simply inconceivable. This way of thinking will also transfer to AR and MR. Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are all investing into a future featuring AR and MR and just like many like-minded start-ups, they are all trying to fit the technology to industry. Just imagine how much this technology will assist and change your own day-to-day operations.
Originally posted in German on VDI Blog.
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