From product design, to verification and testing, to maintenance, augmented reality has quickly become a pillar of manufacturing — 63% of Best-in-Class companies are already utilizing it, and 33% of Best-in-Class companies are currently evaluating its benefits and planning to incorporate it into their production processes. AR seamlessly blends technology with real life, and in the manufacturing industry, technological assistance with physical challenges results in immense time and money savings. Over the past two years, augmented reality has helped companies realize a 16% increase in average product ROI and operating margins and a 15% decrease in time-to-decision and manufacturing cycle time.
But there is more to AR than simply monetary results—it is revolutionizing manufacturing operations and business strategies. AR is changing the way employees go about their daily tasks by improving process capabilities as well as change capabilities — two key factors in running an efficient and agile production operation.
Process capabilities establish standards and methodologies for a smooth relationship between technicians and machines. Now, with the aid of augmented reality, those standards are rising. Companies using augmented reality are breaking away from the pack in a wide range of process capabilities (Figure 1). These capabilities, which AR is strongly associated with, are all related to unification. Normalizing metrics, data structures, and recording procedures can improve workflows across the company and increase efficiency and organization.
Standardized KPIs are extremely useful for reporting and tracking progress. With over a 20% margin between companies using AR and those not, companies with AR are ahead of the competition in their implementation of accurate, cohesive measurement and reporting operations. Having a unified data structure for plant data is another indicator of stable connections across the business. Common data structures allow teams to easily access and utilize different data sources in their calculations with minimal data cleaning, which can be difficult among disparate design, mechanical, assembly, and quality teams. These advanced process capabilities, albeit indirectly related to AR, show that manufacturers who invest in AR are sophisticated in many areas.
Visualizing processes with AR software in real time identifies potential areas for improvement and allows organizations to examine and solve internal mechanical issues before more damage can be done. Additional modelling and maintenance capabilities can improve speed and cost-effectiveness within production plants.
In addition to associations with advanced process capabilities, AR is associated with reliable change management capabilities. Having strong change management strategies proves that companies are prepared to support individuals and teams during development at the organizational level. Providing employees with the tools to welcome change in their everyday activities can lead to greater employee satisfaction, plant productivity, and overall success. According to Aberdeen’s latest manufacturing survey, augmented reality is impacting several key change management capabilities (Figure 2).
Industry is deploying AR in at least four ways. The first is training new workers or even guiding more experienced workers through various workflows, like performing routine maintenance on the gearbox. AR helps users to achieve faster upskilling and creates more confident workers by standardizing procedure execution and providing in-the-field training.
A third industrial use of augmented reality is knowledge transfer, particularly in the field. Demand for this kind of AR application has grown partly because of the travel restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic and partly because of the shortage of skilled experts. With AR technology, however, these experts can see exactly what local engineers and field technicians see and collaborate with them from afar.
This ability to assist in remote communications and streamline collaboration also shows promise for process design and equipment layout—the fourth way industry is deploying AR. Users can place virtual equipment in the real world to check whether it will fit in the allotted space before actually spending the money and time to install it in real life. Users can also immerse themselves in a proposed manufacturing cell to see how robots will interact with other machinery, the workers tending the cell, and the surroundings.