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Augmented Reality and the Digital Future of the Manual

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.

Maintenance with Augmented Reality Hololens Leybold

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.

 

SIG Background Image

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.

Mixed Reality Training 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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