Augmentation Innovation
manufacturingtechnologyinsights

Augmentation Innovation

By Paul Ryznar, Founder & President, Light Guide Systems

Paul Ryznar, Founder & President, Light Guide Systems

Since Henry Ford’s first assembly line started rolling in December of 1913, the world of manufacturing has been consistently finding new ways to leverage that game-changing innovation by become more efficient and more productive.

“Augmented reality solutions address all the key variables: risk, complexity, customization and cost”

New tools and technologies have brought innovation and inspiration to the factory floor, exponentially improving the efficiency with which manufacturing processes are conducted while making it possible to manufacture highly complex products safely and with fewer errors. From robots to predictive analytics, technology has long played a role in helping to streamline and enhance manufacturing.

Today, the introduction of augmented reality technology promises to be one of the most important of those leaps forward. A truly disruptive and potentially transformative technology solution, augmented reality is far from science fiction: it is already in place, transforming the way cars—and hundreds of other products, ranging from powertrains and pacemakers to pizzas—are manufactured.

Augmented reality describes a suite of systems and technologies designed to provide customized hands-on guidance through dynamic, interactive and adaptive visual instruction and integrated audio and visual cues. The best and most effective augmented reality solutions provide manufacturing professionals with instruction, pacing and direction–all in real time–using specialized tools to project a digital operating “canvas” directly onto the work surface. That projection functions as a kind of virtual road map, helping ensure that the right tools are used, the right steps are completed in the right order, and that tasks are completed correctly and efficiently before moving on to the next step in the process. This “no faults forward” functionality is particularly valuable at a time when industry segments such as medical manufacturing continue to face new consistency, quality and customization challenges–along with worrying liabilities and exposures.

In the face of significant competitive pressures and sometimes daunting economic realities, augmented reality provides a tool that is not only effective, it is cost-effective. With that in mind, it is no surprise that augmented reality solutions have been successfully deployed in a range of different industries and applications. While the equipment–a combination of industrial strength projection technology and sophisticated software–may be high-tech, the concept behind augmented reality is remarkably simple and straightforward. That simplicity and ease of use likely has a lot to do with augmented reality’s rapid growth and adoption. Augmented reality solutions can be deployed in a wide range of applications: not just in manufacturing settings, but for any manual assembly process or procedure.

To illustrate just how much of a leap forward augmented reality represents, consider a familiar example of augmented reality that many people already use in their everyday lives: GPS-based smart-phone mapping applications. The extraordinary utility of GPS guidance is delivered not only through groundbreaking technology, but also through impressive ease of use. Users benefit from visual and sometimes verbal navigation guidance, as well as a continuing series of prompts that confirm they have made the right turns, and adapt to provide updated instructions if a wrong turn is made. GPS-based navigation apps provide the same basic set of information that a traditional handheld paper map provides. And, ultimately, you arrive at the same destination. But you do so with greater speed, efficiency and convenience. That is the promise of augmented reality.

Consider the following features and benefits that the best cutting-edge augmented reality solutions provide:

• Executing the right steps in the right order every time in effect eliminates most common production errors, which in turn makes slowdowns and avoidable bottlenecks a thing of the past.

• The integration of highly specialized tools (such as programmable machine vision cameras and torque guns) that allow users to achieve a level of precision suitable for parts and processes with extraordinarily tight tolerances.

• Diverse technology suitable not only for manufacturing and assembly, but also inspection, training and logistics.

• Track-and-trace monitoring uses detailed process data to create a digital “birth certificate” for every individual process or build cycle. Critical metrics can be retained and analyzed, using detailed tracking, feedback and reporting can be used to identify weak points or bottlenecks, resolve challenges, and facilitate procedural refinements and strategic improvements.

• Quality systems are fully programmable, making it easy to switch from one process or program with the push of a button or a scanned bar code.

• The same solutions that can have a dramatic positive effect on the manufacturing floor can also be utilized effectively as a tool for inspection, training and logistics support.

• Makes it possible to reduce or even eliminate funding and infrastructure for traditional quality control and inspections measures. Getting it right the first time around is significantly less expensive than monitoring and correcting mistakes on the back end.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of augmented reality solutions is the fact that they leverage technology to work with manufacturing professionals: they are a tool, not a replacement. That tool can be incredibly effective, however: one carmaker that adopted augmented reality tools almost immediately achieved an 80-90 percent reduction in errors, a near 50 percent reduction in cycle time, and a boost in throughput of approximately 95 percent.

Today, augmented reality is already making a significant impact on manufacturing and manual assembly processes in a wide range of manufacturing environments. Augmented reality solutions address all the key variables: risk, complexity, customization and cost.Manufacturing professionals are using these flexible, scalable and customizable tools to improve and streamline processes, increase productivity and boost their bottom line. Augmented reality may be a fairly recent innovation–but if recent history is any indication, augmented reality tools will be helping to minimize mistakes, maximize operational efficiencies and improve manufacturing and assembly outcomes for a very long time to come.

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