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Written by Pierre Carpentier
on 30 Oct 2020

Companies the world over are accelerating efforts to maximize the value of their data, and digital technologies are enabling that. Even businesses with modest budgets are kick starting digital projects to establish a foundation, optimize resources, and fuel growth. For the manufacturing sector, artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) technologies are raising the bar for how manufacturing lines function, and how goods are produced and processed through the supply chain and delivered to customers.

The focus on digitalization is also accompanied by the shift toward Industry 4.0, smart manufacturing, and more robust performance. Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution, optimizes the computerization of Industry 3.0 to enable connected devices to communicate with each other and make decisions without human involvement. Combining digital and physical systems, the Internet of Things, and the Internet of Systems make Industry 4.0 possible and the smart factory a reality.

While factory automation and robotics are not novel concepts, smart digital tools that collect, integrate, analyze, and act on the machine and sensor data enable smarter decisions leading to better products and services.

Combining AI and AR in Manufacturing and What It Enables

With the right technologies as a foundation, a networked factory can use sensor and IoT data from production machines and quality control inputs to enable more integrated and intelligent operations. Analyzing both real-time and historical data can help identify trends, patterns, triggers, or anomalies and enables technicians to take proactive action at any stage of the production process. It also helps remote business leaders make data-driven strategic decisions.

Sensors can identify defective pieces on a manufacturing line, and that data can be fed to the cloud for verification using AI. As a result, the defective component gets immediately removed from the line, or a replacement gets ordered while adhering to just-in-time schedules.

Concurrently, with real-time data and information from analytics, augmented reality (AR) can provide a new interface to plant engineers to complete tasks in a more synchronized and informed way, whether on-site or at remote locations. Business leaders, suppliers, and customers can monitor remote operations from anywhere the world and gain confidence or make decisions with real-time visibility into their deliverables.

Preventative maintenance, asset management, and supply chain data can be integrated into a technician’s field of view through the AR headset or mobile application. The human-machine collaboration offers continually connected ways to increase productivity and avoid costly mistakes in manufacturing.

In yet another scenario, plant operators may be operating sophisticated equipment, trouble-shooting a repair, assembling a system, or performing safety tests, and AR and AI can improve their overall outcomes and experience. Together, these technologies boost workflows, bring in supplementary information and verification capabilities, reduce equipment downtime, and optimize production schedules. They also improve worker and plant safety.

 

VR Applications for Manufacturing

Virtual reality or VR is extensively used for training as it offers realistic scenarios that promote experience-based learning for better knowledge transfer and retention.

VR is being used across industries to create digital twins of products, equipment, and manufacturing lines. Immersive 3D models of virtual factories help R&D teams visualize assembly line movements, processes automation, and advanced tools. Simulating these in a virtual environment can help organizations plan for effective process change implementation, testing, and preventative maintenance critical to keep the manufacturing processes online, optimized, and highly productive.

VR headsets provide an interface to access the manufacturing site from anywhere. Collaborating with remote teams, partners, and customers in a shared virtual environment can improve communication and customer service. And, with the growing availability of economically priced VR and AR headsets as well as applications accessible from smartphones and tablets, the barriers to deployment are decreasing.

With growing competitive pressures, push to increase profitability, and desire to reduce risk, manufacturing industries recognize the need for smarter digital tools. AR, VR, and AI empower companies across all parts of their operations. By enhancing communication, collaboration, and efficiency, manufacturers can use these tools to increase productivity, optimize supply chains, and keep up with changing market demands.

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