18 Jul Worker productivity, augmented reality, and your business
Stéphane Poirier, Marketing director, Nubik
One of the principal challenges facing businesses is worker productivity, which is defined as the amount of output for a given period of time, typically one hour of work—particularly in manufacturing.
While North American manufacturing output has nearly rebounded in real terms from the depths of the recession of 10 years ago, employment in manufacturing is still below previous levels. While at first glance, this would suggest that productivity has increased as less workers manage to produce the same or greater quantity of goods, the productivity trend line is in fact not favorable at all, sitting at less than one quarter of its pre-recession rate.
With more and more employees retiring and new employees difficult to find, the solution is to make the employees you have more productive, something that is only really possible by applying information technology. While most office personnel have seen their roles transformed by technologies such as productivity suites and cloud-based customer relationship management and support solutions over the last 20 years, the same cannot be said for personnel on the production line or those providing installation or repair services in the field—with the exception of those manufacturing operations that are highly automated by robotics.
Enter augmented reality
Augmented reality (or mixed reality) refers to the use of photorealistic, three-dimensional virtual reality technologies powered by computers to enhance the presentation of the real world. Whereas virtual reality features lifelike 3D environments, augmented reality overlays the existing world with computer-driven projections, which can include 3D shapes as well as the written word, enabling the tagging or annotation of what the viewer sees.
One popular example of augmented reality is Pokémon Go, the mobile game for iOS and Android mobile devices. Pokémon Go enables players to project virtual characters overtop of their real-world surroundings and to interact with them.
This same approach to projecting the virtual world overtop the real world has also found its place in manufacturing as well as field services. Whereas Pokémon Go relies exclusively on smartphones, augmented reality can be used with dedicated headsets that wrap around the head and provide stereo sound, as well as eyeglasses. These dedicated headsets are made by the likes of Microsoft (HoloLens), Epson (Moverio), and Facebook (Oculus VR), whereas Google (Pixel) and Samsung (Galaxy) have also created hybrid solutions that mount a smartphone in a wraparound headset. The most popular eyeglass-based augmented reality solution is Google Glass.
Worn by employees on the production line, augmented reality headsets or smart eye glasses provide immediate access to production schematics for complex multi-stage manufacturing operations. Worn by field support personnel, they provide access to installation or repair manuals. In both cases, the hand-free nature of augmented reality leads to tremendous productivity gains.
(Note: Augmented reality’s potential as a productivity game changer is addressed in Nubik’s ebook on how businesses can meet the challenges of Industry 4.0.)
Specific use cases of augmented reality
Here are some examples of how augmented reality can be integrated into manufacturing operations and field service activities:
Assembly support: augmented reality can be used to project the placement of parts before their actual assembly. Animation can be used to demonstrate multi-step assemblies, including the order of parts as well as the steps to be taken (e.g., configuring, turning, tightening) and the settings to be respected (e.g., resistance or pressure levels). Augmented reality can even be used to animate the actual manipulation of tools required to do the work.
Product design: in this case, augmented reality can be used to fine-tune product designs while generating significant cost savings through the elimination of early prototyping. Product designs can be displayed in their real-world context, enabling team members to view, critique, and make changes to them in real-time. Augmented reality also supports collaborative product design with prospective customers who may be located on-site or online.
Installation support: here, augmented reality can be used to display a 3D virtual representation of the product to be installed in the context of an actual work site, displaying how the product fits in with existing equipment. This enables a field worker to not only validate the fit of the product before attempting to install, but it even allows the worker to validate the product’s placement with customers, driving improved customer satisfaction and eliminating costly rework.
Maintenance / servicing / repair support: in this case, augmented reality can be used to identify the product as it is installed on-site, with annotation of sub-components and the standardized steps required to interact with them. The current system status and any alarms/notifications that have been triggered can be displayed over top of the equipment. Augmented reality can also be used to tap into and display elements from the item’s support history as well as its product documentation or field service notices.
If you haven’t previously considered how augmented reality can be used to transform the activities of your production line or field service personnel, now is a great time to get started. As the simple use cases above demonstrate, there are some pretty intriguing opportunities at hand.
A cloud-based solution such as Salesforce Field Service Lightning provides remote access to online product documentation that is stored in the cloud, including product installation instructions or field service notes. It can easily be integrated with a deployment of augmented reality technology to provide field service personnel with immediate access to the data and instructions they need to do their jobs.
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 According to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, as of the third quarter of 2017, real output for the manufacturing sector had not yet achieved its highs from ten years earlier. The picture for Canada is likely to be similar. The article is from May 2016 but shows current data. (Link)