Yesterday, while watching "The Book of Boba Fett", I noticed an interesting scene that was reminiscent of a maintenance procedure that occurs in manufacturing today. Now I don’t wish to spoil anything for you, so I will remain as vague as I can. A guest character in Chapter 5 is rebuilding his spaceship. During his repair, he doesn’t know where to place a part, so he asks a droid where the part he’s holding fits in the ship. The droid scans the part, then the ship enables a hologram that will show the character exactly where that part belongs.
Back in the late 70s, this was sci-fi technology that seemed far into the future. Augmented Reality (AR)/Mixed Reality (MR) wasn’t here yet and was merely a technology of fiction. In retrospect, it is the first time I can remember that the concept of the hologram oriented to a maintenance procedure was envisioned.
More Than Just a “WOW” Factor
Seven years ago, I remember helping a customer from the glass industry in Mexico create a catalog of their products in AR. This project was a new way to show their offerings, so they no longer needed to carry their physical catalog wherever they traveled to show their products to increase sales. They recognized that AR is quickly changing the process by which people browse a catalog, and ultimately buy and interact after the sale.
LEGO has been using AR for more than a decade, not only in sales, but also in adding extra features to their block sets once out of the box. This Digital Box use case included in some LEGO Stores in the United Kingdom always generates a WOW reaction from customers in the store. I will never forget the first time I tried it myself at the Brighton LEGO Store. The WOW factor response that any AR experience generates is obviously from the realization that the future is here, now, today.
But using AR to impress users is not the only application the technology is designed for. It is now commonly used in maintenance and inspections in modern manufacturing facilities. In fact, I see many customers taking advantage of this technology that used to be science fiction.
AR for Industrial Workers
Though not a spacecraft of Boba Fett, today multiple Maintenance, Repair, and Operations (MRO) are using eXtended Reality (XR) technology, which is a combination of AR, MR, and virtual reality (VR), to ensure that aircraft are back in the air as soon as possible.
The more complex a product is, the bigger the cognitive load that is required to apply any procedure to it. This is why XR technology can help front line workers dedicate all their cognitive resources to assembling, inspecting or executing almost any task. But not only that, the big difference is being able to do it right (First Time Right (FTR)) and in a shorter period (faster). Companies agree that the greatest benefits for AR are:
1. Increased worker efficiency
2. Improved real-time collaboration
3. Improved knowledge transfer between expert and novice workers
(Source: IDC 2021 Commercial AR Survey)
AR is also effective when considering safety in a manufacturing environment. AR organizations like The AREA are generating valuable resources and insight to provide a great baseline to consider, like their latest Best Practice Safety Playbook when beginning to implement AR in a factory or industrial space.
In fact, AR has the potential to save lives. Industrial workers are often exposed to dangerous environments every day, so having the right technology to help them understand the risk is critical.