Mixed reality technology is becoming more and more mainstream and the manufacturing industry can benefit from its use in a myriad of ways. Similar to augmented reality, mixed reality is an overlay of digital content onto the real world. However, what makes mixed reality even more exciting is the fact that content appears in the form of a hologram – that sits within the real world.

Using Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) such as Microsoft’s HoloLens for example, allows the user to manipulate digital content using voice control and hand gestures. They can enter a room, walk around, and explore, interacting with data that appears just like a real object. But what advantages can mixed reality bring to today’s manufacturers? And where does it fit in with Industry 4.0?

Reduce call out times for maintenance

Manufacturers that used to rely on engineers, working with heavy and often outdated manuals, are now using mixed reality to dramatically cut call out times. One such company is elevator manufacturer ThyssenKrupp. Engineers equipped with HMDs not only get the most up-to-date information, they also view this hands-free; greatly reducing the time needed to knowledge-check. And that’s not all – when engineers place a call to a support line, the remote expert has a ‘you see what I see’ view, allowing them to provide guidance as if they were physically present on the customer site. This adoption of HMDs has reduced the average length of ThyssenKrupp’s service calls by up to four times1.

Speed up the quality control process

Leveraging the use of overlaid information is also gaining supporters in Quality Control, using both HMDs and handheld IoT devices. Airline manufacturing is one such sector where Quality Assurance is of huge importance, but the time and costs of processes can be huge. Adding text, icons, images, 3D models, and animations to real-world production lines means faster assembly – with fewer mistakes. For example, since adopting mixed reality in their production environments, Airbus has reported a reduction in time required to inspect A380 fuselage brackets, from three weeks to just three days2.

Improve employee training

Whether class-based or following study guides in the form of books and online courses, training sessions can now be enhanced or even replaced using mixed reality. Users can be guided step-by-step through modules, with training information overlaid onto real-world parts and assemblies in front of them; reducing the time needed to improve worker’s skill sets. There may also be less need to remove staff from the production line, since training can take place on-the-job. BAE Systems have introduced this concept on one of their production lines, for electric propulsion systems. Not only have they witnessed a more efficient training output, they have cut time taken to create the training modules as well as cost; which is now a tenth of what it was3.  

Minimise the skilled labour shortage

It’s estimated that there will be almost 3.5 million manufacturing jobs available over the next decade as Baby Boomers exit the workforce4. Already dealing with pressure to fill current open positions, how can manufacturers use mixed reality to help with future resourcing? The speed at which new staff can be trained is one key factor. In addition, any valuable skills lost by retiring workers can be retained in a mixed reality-led environment by using remote support via HMDs. And when it comes to attracting the right talent, by integrating new technologies familiar to a younger demographic, manufacturers can experience a smoother on-boarding journey.

Stay competitive with mixed reality

Combining the benefits of mixed reality with the analytics-driven power of IoT can leverage significant improvements. The potential opportunities are huge; and with the industry predicted to grow to 108 billion dollars by 20215, new innovations will be emerging rapidly. Together, these technologies are set to contribute greatly towards the Industry 4.0 movement; capturing and contextualising data, and automating manufacturing processes to optimise efficiency and reduce waste. As the Industry 4.0 revolution gathers pace, make sure your business thrives by adopting the right technology, at the right time.

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1, 2 https://www.engineering.com/AdvancedManufacturing/ArticleID/14904/What-Can-Augmented-Reality-Do-for-Manufacturing.aspx

3 https://blogs.windows.com/windowsexperience/2018/04/23/mixed-reality-in-manufacturing-comes-to-life-at-hannover-messe/

4 https://www.weidert.com/whole_brain_marketing_blog/top-challenges-facing-manufacturers