How to leverage virtual and augmented reality in Industry 4.0?

Virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) - at present prevalent in gaming, entertainment and education sectors - are relatively low hanging fruits in Industry 4.0. Used effectively, both AR and VR can help solve many issues faced with Industry 4.0, making the best talent even more productive, says Divy Shrivastava.
How to leverage virtual and augmented reality in Industry 4.0?
Virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) - at present prevalent in gaming, entertainment and education sectors - are relatively low hanging fruits in Industry 4.0. Used effectively, both AR and VR can help solve many issues faced with Industry 4.0, making the best talent even more productive, says Divy Shrivastava.
 
Virtual and augmented reality is quite mainstream technology in the gaming and entertainment domains. But now it can also be used to solve some critical cases in Industry 4.0. As we adopt Industry 4.0, there would be a high demand for a more specialised workforce and both Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) can help reduce costs, do more objective assessments, increase workplace safety and more. This is a use case that we should look at leveraging VR to skilling more youth, complement existing mechanism of training and support and increase overall productivity and safety of workplaces while minimise costs. 
 
What is VR & AR?
Virtual reality is a computer-generated simulation in three-dimensions that you can interact with using specialised equipment such as a VR headset. VR is very prevalent and established in the gaming, entertainment and education industry. All major technology companies have made substantial investment in virtual reality. The technology is also matured and has a well-established eco-system for support and development.
 
Augmented reality (AR) is superimposition of image on user’s view in the real world. Unlike VR that requires specific gear or equipment, you can experience AR on your mobile device. And as with VR you have a stable technology with good support and major backers that de-risks your investment. 
 
If you wish to experience AR you can download the famous Pokemon Go. For VR there are several VR Gaming Arcades (you can Google and try it). 
 
AR and VR technologies in manufacturing
There are several use cases for AR and VR technologies such as manpower maintenance and skill development, product design, workforce trainings and tutorials. Used effectively, both AR and VR can help solve many issues faced with Industry 4.0, making the best talent even more productive. 
 
Let us first talk about the AR use case as this affects almost all industries, the use case for providing remote support and assistance. With IoT you know the pulse of what is going on, but you still need to fix the issue and for that you need someone to be physically present. Now these use cases are very prevalent when you are dealing with transformers, boiler and other heavy machinery that requires physical presence. At present this is being met by having people on site and stationed, which is becoming difficult with more specialised equipment and a shortage of skilled staff. There are also use cases for the automotive industry when it comes to providing training and support to dealerships. Computer images, graphics and text information can be overlaid and displayed on mobile devices. They can then be used in trainings and providing support to the workforce through designed tutorials, improving everyday performance, increasing workplace safety and providing greater worker satisfaction. 
 
In some industries like the automotive sector, AR is also being used to improve production designs that till sometime back were being done using clay models. Instead, AR today allows product designers to superimpose digital features into a physical prototype of an automobile, drastically reducing costs and time associated with creating clay models. Some companies have already started using AR enabled headsets on their factory floors, empowering factory personnel with digital data from factory manuals and technical documents, aiding them in monitoring their manufacturing processes and troubleshooting.
 
Similarly, AR can be used to significantly improve or complement existing manufacturing systems, be it complex assembly of parts and quality assurance. In both cases workers need to follow a set of instructions. Using AR we can take those instructions and project them on to a screen within your field of view. That way the worker can stay stationary, keep their hands busy assembling without having to interrupt their work to get clarity on what needs to be done. 
 
AR powered application can help improve this one by providing the required information on screen and also the assistance can be more meaningful and faster. Using AR is far more effective than a call or a video chat.
 
The use case in VR is sort of related. VR can be a powerful tool for training and development, cutting across the board for general equipment training, safety, simulating emergencies, and assessment of training. VR enabled technology can act as a substitute for a real-life expert, guiding the workforce at every step, preventing them from making mistakes, and helping them finish manufacturing tasks more quickly and efficiently. Using VR we can simulate a real life production unit of a manufacturing plant by integrating computer generated images with the real world. Workers could then be provided with meaningful instructions in the simulated set-up leading to better overall productivity and performance. VR can be used to train employees and enable them to perfect certain specific skills like practising line changeovers or practising emergency drills. Used in this manner VR can potentially bring down unscheduled downtime, while cutting down risks of poor decision making.  
 
In some sectors like aerospace, where products need to be created, tested and retested before they are deployed, VR has helped in significantly cutting down expenses. Before making full-scale models, engineers have been able to put together every piece of equipment involved in the design of a product in the virtual world before constructing it in the real world, saving millions in the process.    
 
With VR the potential benefits an organisation can reap, is reduced investments in case of heavy machinery, have a more skilled workforce, reduce dependencies on trainers, and have more accurate assessments (like rating on speed accuracy, reading instructions etc.). Within manufacturing this can be leveraged not just by plants with heavy machinery, but also with assembly lines.
 
How to get started?
Fortunately, AR and VR are relatively low hanging fruits in Industry 4.0. What is the base for any AR and VR project is the availability of designs in three dimensional format. This is very prevalent in most areas. Also with a large animation outsourcing industry, AR and VR skill-set is readily available in India. The technology is quite matured and there is very little risk to the investment from a technology and execution stand-point. That said you should evaluate the business case well, to identify high impact areas. 
 
The companies that make the investments early in these technologies seek to gain more than just cost savings you can push the reliability of the equipment higher and hence influence a lot of purchase decisions. 
 
About the author:
Divy Shrivastava is the Co-founder & CEO of Nineleaps, which helps companies in accelerating digital transformation through product development. Nineleaps' expertise lies in mobile, web development, big data engineering, machine learning/artificial intelligence, automation and DevOps.
 
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