How Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality Can Help Keep Our Engineers Safe and Our Manufacturing Strong
Recall how difficult it was to put together complex LEGO creations when you were a child or helping a child. Now, picture assembling a fighter plane from a room full of parts. Even highly trained engineers can benefit from technology to help improve consistency and quality.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are making near-perfect assembly a possibility in the manufacturing space. By wearing AR glasses that use cameras, depth sensors and motion sensors to overlay images onto the real working environment, engineers and factory workers can visualize the exact bolts, parts, part numbers and instructions on how to assemble a particular component correctly. Lockheed Martin began using AR goggles and improved F-35 assembly time by 30 percent, in addition to increasing accuracy to 96 percent  .
In order to remain competitive, businesses should consider the ways VR and AR can improve efficiency and supply chain productivity. According to a recent BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research report  , AR platforms can provide companies up to 25 percent in cost savings on installation of equipment.
Here are four ways VR/AR is disrupting the mid-market manufacturing space:
Hands-free mobility – The manufacturing sector has long been a labor-intensive industry that requires extensive manpower. Reducing the need for hand-held devices would streamline work productivity. For example, the Microsoft HoloLens is essentially a holographic computer built into a headset that allows you to see, hear and work with holograms within an environment. It provides a completely hands-free experience with gestures, voice and holographic interaction, essentially offering real-time assistance for factory or field work.
Talking Parts – AR and Internet of Things (IoT) technology will allow systems to self-diagnose and report deficiencies to on-site workers. Instead of trying to guess why a particular part is malfunctioning, you can have the part show you whether it’s within tolerance levels and working correctly. The item will not only tell you what’s wrong, it will be able to show you what will happen if it goes unrepaired.
Safety – VR is able to simulate various production processes and factory configurations, allowing a user to identify potentially hazardous aspects and adjust prior to production. By using VR to help plan assembly lines, Ford Motor Company has successfully reduced employee injuries by 70 percent in 2015  .
User Experience – VR and AR can also help create better products for consumers. The technology allows engineers and designers to interact with their designs and test it before building the product. In fact, Ford has been using the Oculus Rift headsets to fine-tune automotive design  . The company simulated various road and weather conditions such as snow, rain and obstacles to test mechanics from the driver’s perspective. This virtual testing experience will make for a safer, well-rounded product.
Make way for manufacturing’s future. Together with other innovation accelerators, AR/VR will help drive efficiencies, increase productivity, change how products are created and delivered, transform established sectors and create new business opportunities. Mid-market manufacturers will thrive as this disruption is underway, thanks to these exciting developments in AR/VR, fueled by VC investment in relevant technologies and mass-market adoption of industry applications by consumers and business alike.
Written by : Raju Patel, Senior Vice President; Market Executive - Bank of America Merrill Lynch