Is Augmented Reality the Best Option for Technical Documentation?

Is Augmented Reality the Best Option for Technical Documentation?

Manufacturing has evolved considerably over the past few decades. Automation is now ever-present, manufacturers are increasingly focusing on using real-time data analytics, and there’s a renewed focus on insourcing versus offshoring. 

But do you know one area that is ripe for innovation? 

Technical documentation. 

Technical workers need to learn new skills more regularly and more quickly than ever before. Expectations of corporate trainers are increasing. But while the technology they use and processes they follow are evolving on an ongoing basis, the materials in which they communicate new skills aren’t always the best option. 

As the figures below demonstrate, passive learning—the type of learning that traditional technical documentation facilitates—leaves a lot to be desired.

  • Harvard research shows that active learners outperformed passive learners by just under half of a standard deviation on test scores, a “highly significant” difference.
  • Another study conducted at the University of Cape Town found that AR-based learning increased learners’ motivation by 31% compared to traditional alternatives. 
  • Taking a hands-on approach to learning (for instance, by using AR-based applications) increases activity in the sensory and motor-related parts of learners’ brains.

Text, video, and 2D technical documentation may not be fit in a fast-paced, upskill-oriented world. They’re too costly and time-consuming to update, and cannot efficiently transfer key knowledge at scale. Additionally, growing pressures on trainers means they need the best learning tools at their disposal. 

It’s time for a new alternative: industrial augmented reality (AR).

Why has technical documentation lagged behind other innovations?


Many manufacturing firms appear to be falling prey to the sunk cost fallacy. They’ve already spent countless hours and money producing technical documentation—so why change their approach?

Sunk Cost fallacy comic

Or, perhaps they’re facing the innovator’s dilemma. Leaders might recognize that AR-based innovation is rapidly evolving technical documentation. However, they don’t perceive it to be a core value driver within their organization. They’re therefore stuck in a dilemma: innovate now or wait until later? Inevitably, many simply put it off for the time being. Only, disruptive firms that do embrace these new innovations (such as AR-based alternative documentation) suddenly make massive productivity gains, which ends up threatening firms that are relative laggards in this area. 

line graph of the innovator's dilemma

Modern manufacturing leaders must be increasingly comfortable with embracing bold, disruptive technology. If they don’t, they’ll quickly fall behind the competition. 

So why do many firms appear hesitant to embrace augmented reality solutions?

AR is usually presented, and perceived, as the flashy technology of the future. Sure, it’s high-tech and innovative. But it still has very real, very useful functionalities and applications that can have a major impact right now—not just in 50 years. 

The AR return on investment (ROI)

Widespread AR implementation faces two major hurdles: time and money. After all, in business, everything boils down to the bottom line. 

But this viewpoint isn’t actually correct. In fact, our data clearly demonstrates that this upfront investment quickly pays off. 

RE’FLEKT ONE has been shown to:

Better still, these benefits don’t work in isolation. Accelerated training time, reduced downtime, and quicker knowledge transfer mean greater productivity. Higher customer satisfaction increases retention rates. Lower training costs mean more money in the bank to invest in new technology, new plants, or even new employees.

Resource expenditure isn’t the most important metric—ROI is. With AR, the product pays for itself, and then some. 

It’s a no-brainer. 

Why use AR instead of paper and video manuals?

Right, it’s time to put AR to the test. How does it compare against paper-based, 2D PDF documentation, mobile applications, and video-based alternatives?

Creating, updating, and recreating

Creating new text-based or video documentation is a time-consuming and tedious process. This is compounded when you have to create multiple versions for different languages or countries. It can easily become outdated whenever a new process or machine is introduced, meaning there’s a never-ending cycle of creating, updating, and recreating key technical documentation. 

On the other hand, you can easily amend, delete, or add steps in the AR workflow as and when necessary. Create reusable templates of your machinery and the key steps technicians must follow to service them. If you ever need to modify an asset going forward, you can simply clone and modify your existing templates as and where necessary.

Once you’ve made all necessary changes, RE’FLEKT ONE allows you to update all your assets or workflows within the software dynamically. Then, just update these changes to all your AR-enabled hardware with one click. 

It’s as simple as that. 

Feedback

Users can’t always add their feedback to videos or paper-based manuals. If they ever run into any issue—for instance, if something is not clearly explained—then they’re unable to relay this to whoever created the technical documentation in a scalable way. Sure there are survey and reviews of the materials, but real-time, candid feedback being captured in a scalable way is quite difficult without modern tech. 

With interactive, AR-based solutions (such as ONE and Remote), you can enable real-time user feedback. They can raise questions or queries, as well as signposting areas where the training documentation is possibly unclear and they need help.

Experience

Remember: learning is an experience. You want your on-site technicians to feel engaged in the content and empowered to learn what’s required of them—not to feel bored and confused. 

AR content is a different experience from video or paper-based manuals. Watching a video or reading a PDF are passive activities, but using AR content as you navigate the machine itself is an active experience. As a result, we’ve seen up to 70% faster knowledge transfer with our clients.

image of the knowledge retention pyramid

We've probably all seen some kind of chart like this. Of course, broad brushstrokes like this can't possibly be 100% correct, everyone learns differently. What we've learned is this: trainers and learning professionals who create immersive, engaging learning experiences see their efforts reap better business results over pure memorization.

AR allows you to train teams faster, helps them fix issues faster, and means they can learn faster by actively engaging with their training materials rather than regurgitating memorized materials. If you're curious to see other applications of AR, read our article on augmented reality examples.

The future of learning

Traditional technical documentation cannot keep up with the demands placed on modern manufacturing employees. Hard-to-learn skills become obsolete every 2-3 years. New technologies are introduced and replaced on an ongoing basis.

It’s time to rethink your approach. If you want to cut down the time, energy, and money spent on creating and updating key technical documentation, embrace AR. Provide workers with an experience they enjoy while reducing training time and downtime.  

So what are you waiting for? Book a consultation to discuss how ONE could help solve your organization’s needs.