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Product development was forever changed when technologies like simulation and virtual prototyping grew to prominence. These new tools enabled companies to shed traditional, outdated processes in favor of complete product visibility before the first physical prototype is ever created. Today, Augmented Reality (AR) is emerging as a new disrupter, set to change the way ideas are visualized and products are designed.

Augmented Reality is a composite view that superimposes digital assets over a user’s view of the real world. AR allows video, images, animation, sound, text, and many other data types to surround a user in a responsive way. AR devices often include head tracking and even gloves with haptic feedback that pair with the head-mounted display.

You may have heard of Google Glass, Microsoft Hololens, or even AR smartphone apps, like Pokemon Go, that overlay digital elements within the mobile camera feed. And though these examples are primarily consumer-focused, smart manufacturers have taken notice of AR’s potential, and are leading the charge in implementing the technology.

Figure 1: Augmented Reality Implementation

Source: Aberdeen Group, April 2017

Though AR use is growing, it’s still in the early phases of awareness and adoption. But for early adopters, AR has helped drive operational efficiency by reducing production downtime, identifying problems quickly, and keeping processes moving.

So what’s powering AR devices? Increasingly, the “model-based digital twin.” The digital twin is a clone of the physical asset, providing a dynamic, self-teaching model used to optimize performance in conjunction with an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform. The digital twin improves design, operations, and servicing via feedback loops between the physical and digital versions. This combination of machine learning and physics-based modeling enables organizations to see how their products performed in the past while simultaneously predicting the future.

AR Use Cases Abound in Manufacturing

Through virtual prototyping, product design engineers can study and test complex physics at a level of detail that was impossible through physical testing. AR provides an operational visualization of the device under design, improving the efficiency and usefulness of virtual prototyping.

Device Design Improvement: We have everything we need today to change the physical world via AR, the model-based digital twin and IIoT. With these tools, product designers can match individual usage profiles with the actual device in the field. One example, observed by Aberdeen Group at the recent LiveWorx 2017 show, was a case study using an AR-based design tool to squeeze 30% more cooling capacity from a product.

Manufacturing Device Servicing via Mobile AR: Sophisticated yet easy-to-use AR authoring tools allow engineers to create entire “AR experiences” dedicated to showing technicians how to service various devices found on the factory floor. Using AR, a technician can quickly understand how to disassemble and proactively service or repair a faulty device in record time without prior experience with that particular device. This is a great example of how AR contributes to operational efficiency and uptime.

Another example from LiveWorx 2017 illustrating this user case, was an AR experience application running on a mobile tablet. The application projected the virtual holographic device next to the identical physical device situated on the factory floor. On the tablet screen, the AR application then proceeded to disassemble the virtual device on screen, providing clear instructions and understandable directions to the device technician.

AR-Enabled Building Information Model (BIM): Faced with a $60m wastewater plant redesign, Fairfax County, Virginia realized $4m in savings before the construction even began, and immersive AR played a key role.

First, the plant design team created a BIM based on a life-sized, 200-foot-by-100-foot 3D model of the future plant’s filter room. BIM is different from a 3D rendering in that it includes quantities: volume, area, square footage, and length. The team also developed a holographic model of the filter room.

Next, the team set up space for the 200-by-100-foot filter room inside a large public atrium and invited plant operators and engineers to conduct a walkthrough of the life-size, holographic, virtual AR model to evaluate the placement of pipes, pumps, valves, ductwork, and other components. In short order, walkthrough participants identified narrow walkways, inaccessible valves, and insufficient headroom. Based on their feedback, the filter room design was modified to meet their needs, which will save money on operations and maintenance.

Summary

Though we are still in the infancy of AR, it has great potential to become the next generic human-machine interface. In manufacturing, the potential of this technology is even greater. Powered by the model-based digital twin and data via an IIoT platform, manufacturing engineers dream of the day when AR will enable them to manipulate a design on-demand. However, even at this early stage, abundant use cases of AR in manufacturing prove that this technology is well-positioned to make its mark, improving manufacturing in many ways for years to come.

Related Research: Virtual Prototyping Versus Traditional Product Development Methods

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