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America’s Factory Floors Reimagined: Introduction to Virtual, Augmented Reality Technologies

Source: Advanced Manufacturing

As augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies come of age, manufacturers are finding easier ways to adopt these technologies on many fronts—from product development, to training, to maintenance and repair, to worker safety. And, in the wake of major investments in the technologies over the last couple of years, a new generation of VR and AR devices and software is becoming available. Combined VR/AR sales are forecast to hit $150 billion by 2020, with AR alone comprising about $120 billion.

VR and AR are advanced manufacturing technology tools—just like robotics, 3D printing, and the Internet of Things. And they’re being used by manufacturers in innovative ways, such as virtual assembly and improved process design. Manufacturers can create avatars—digital representations of factory-floor workers—to test what changes to a facility are needed to reduce strain on employees’ backs during assembly.

Manufacturers can create virtual prototypes of an engine or car interior that allows designers and engineers to walk around and experience—cutting the considerable time and expense required by physical models. Taken a step further, virtualizing products before even a physical prototype exists enables manufacturers to share the product in the testing phase with customers, creating a potentially better opportunity for feedback and collaboration.

In addition to helping to visualize and contextualize information, AR/VR also help smooth a critical issue facing manufacturing: the aging workforce and shortage of skilled manufacturing labor. It enables manufacturers to collect and preserve the information that “lives in the heads” of these highly skilled workers and digitally capture it in many ways.
Mechdyne, a broad-based technology provider, first began delivering virtual reality systems two decades ago. Their very first project focused on creating a virtual reality firefighting simulator for the US Navy. This system was conceived of as a better way to train cadets how to safely fight fires on-board, complete with a virtual hose and water. With a reduced or eliminated need for supervisors to perform training, employees can receive consistent, up-to-date, interactive training that results in improved situational awareness during day-to-day operations, special projects, or emergency procedures.

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