How Augmented Reality is Solving the Manufacturing Skills Gap

How Augmented Reality is Solving the Manufacturing Skills Gap

Picture this scenario.

An important piece of machinery in your factory breaks down. Your one on-site expert who could resolve this issue and get things back up and running retired last week. You have a couple of available service technicians, but they’re not fully versed in how to address the problem. So, what do you do? There are many different approaches to solve this problem, but one effective option would be to connect your on-site technicians to remote expertise using augmented reality.  

The on-site technicians are savvy, technically-minded, and good at following complex instructions, but they lack specific professional experience. The machine is older and has quirks. You’re not sure if you need brand new parts or if it’s a quick fix. 

These types of scenarios are becoming all too common as the industry changes. There is an ever-growing challenge looming over the manufacturing industry: the skills gap. This article will address the encroaching challenges from a novel standpoint; augmented reality-driven remote work.

Consider the following details: 

  • Chart of manufacturing jobs with highest projected vacancies 2019 to 2029The manufacturing sector employs more than 29.9 million people in the EU (according to 2018 figures) and 12.25 million people in the USA.

  • As things stand, the manufacturing skills gap is expected to leave 2.1 million jobs empty in the USA alone by 2030, costing the economy around $1T.

  • Manufacturing is responsible for 14% of the EU’s value-added GDP (a figure that’s worth €950,714,285,714). 

  • While the European Commission states that “the reconfiguration of global supply chains and investment in new technologies offer a great opportunity”, they are also wary that “increasing skills shortages… will lead to bottlenecks”.

If the manufacturing skills gap is not addressed soon, the consequences will be dire: plummeting manufacturing productivity, mass job vacancies, and a sharp restructuring in GDP. Additionally, on-site workers will have to complete their tasks without sufficient resources and time. Understaffing will be a serious threat to team morale and productivity.

So, what’s the solution? This is a hard question to answer, but overall the consensus is simple: digital transformation is mandatory and not optional. With remote work emboldened through modern technology, some of the greatest problems presented by the skills gap can be stymied. 

The times, they are a-changin'

There’s no use trying to solve today's and tomorrow's challenges using yesterday’s solutions. Manufacturers can only address the maturing skills gap by embracing change.

Firms must implement the best, most innovative technology to get the most out of their employees due to the vacuum of available workers. Of course, this requires a significant mindset shift. Modern manufacturing leaders and managers must be increasingly comfortable operating outside of traditional silos and thinking outside the box.

Right, enough of the fluff. We know why you’re here: for tangible, actionable solutions. And that’s precisely what we’re going to give you. 

The new reality is augmented

Augmented reality (AR) has long been bandied around as a buzzphrase to wow investors or impress senior leadership. For years, it’s been the perennial ‘next big thing’, an almost mythical endpoint that was just out of reach.

Only, AR solutions in manufacturing are anything but a trend. They're already up and running—and they’re here to stay over the long run. 

AR allows you to completely sidestep any hurdles you might face as a result of your internal staffing shortages due to the retirement gap. It eliminates the barriers to accessing critical, much-needed digital expertise in any particular manufacturing field, enabling staff to instantly connect with any expertise or knowledge they may need.

Augmented reality as a remote work solution would be hard-pressed to address all aspects of the manufacturing skills gap (changes in societal interest in handiwork, the growing importance of technology, urban migration away from isolated factory locations, etc.), but it can clearly address several of the critical pain points presented to real people who are part of the manufacturing workforce. 

If you ever find yourself in a situation where you or your staff lack the know-how to solve a problem or set up a piece of new machinery, it’s easy to virtually connect with an expert that has all the answers. Better still, by combining video or chat-based communication with mixed reality experiences, key employees can literally see exactly what they need to do, to which part of the machine they’re dealing with.

Remote support in manufacturing with augmented reality

With REFLEKT Remote, on-site workers can connect with experts off-site and interact remotely to solve incidents in minutes, not days.

Okay—this would probably be easier to explain using an example. Imagine the scenario outlined at the beginning of this piece. 

Your technicians are scratching their heads trying to figure out what has gone wrong. Their usual levels of tech-savviness are obsolete when dealing with an older machine. Oh, but hang on. They remember the new AR technology their supervisor has introduced. They open the app directly on their phone or tablet, skim to the expert most suited for this issue, and send a message to connect. 

The expert confirms that he’s available, and they start a video call. The technicians show the machine in question with a live walkthrough, and the expert quickly isolates the problem—annotating on-screen the problem areas. 

From here, the expert highlights further specific details and walks them through the service process step-by-step. 

What would normally take hours or days is complete in a matter of minutes—the machine is now back up and running smoothly with minimal downtime. Further, the expert wasn't needed on-site, he could convey meaningful, useful information completely remotely. 

The right tools for the job 

While the scenario above was purely hypothetical, the tool the technicians used is anything but. 

With RE’FLEKT Remote, off-site experts can connect with on-site staff in a flash. They’ll be able to instantly see, identify, and pinpoint problem areas before offering clear solutions within seconds—all from hundreds of kilometers away. This reduces wasted time and effort spent scratching heads or traveling, resulting in 70% higher first-time fix rates, and boosts productivity by around 65%. On top of that, the lack of experienced on-site workers can be circumvented by simply reducing the barriers between technicians and experts. With remote support, augmented reality becomes a new form of communication, not just a buzzword. The future of manufacturing is an augmented workforce

But don’t just take our word for it.  

ABB uses RE’FLEKT Remote to provide field personnel with real-time remote assistance via augmented reality. This has significantly reduced downtime at remote locations, allowing their clients' workforce to instantly access virtual guidance from remote experts—rather than having to wait days for service engineers to arrive. Plus, it has also led to a shorter time to productivity for new workers, granting recent hires instant access to critical knowledge and expediting training. 

Check out the ABB video below detailing their solution with REFLEKT Remote (did we mention we white-label our solution?). 

 

The Emerging Technology for an Ever-increasing Problem

The manufacturing skills gap is widening—and it certainly won’t fix itself on its own. If left unaddressed, the manufacturing sector will face rising job vacancies, which could have a dire impact on productivity and the economy. This will affect more than the organizations as a whole, but the on-site workers, too. They will face more stressful working conditions from a lack of sufficient staffing and training. 

We built REFLEKT Remote with this in mind: a ready-made AR solution for remote support. AR-based technologies connect front-line workers with on-demand expertise, giving experts the chance to see the machine in question and communicate the problem (whether through visual annotations or by guiding the technicians with verbal/written instructions). 

They see everything the technicians see and can transfer their invaluable knowledge as easily as if they were right there in the same room. It eases the burden on a shrinking workforce, improves factory working conditions through cost-effective technology, and gives organizations the breathing room they need to address the larger problem as a whole: the manufacturing skills gap. 

If you’re facing this growing skills gap within your organization—or would simply like to harness remote expertise as and when needed—then consider signing up for a free trial of the REFLEKT Remote app. We offer all the tools you need to test AR in your workplace and discover just how impactful the solution can be for you.