According to a January 2016 report by PwC and the Manufacturing Institute, more than one-third of U.S. manufacturers either already use virtual reality (VR) technology or plan to do so in the next three years. Adoption plans for augmented reality (AR) technology are roughly the same. While AR technology is still not a mainstay on the plant floor, use cases continue to show promise for manufacturers looking to increase efficiency, reduce downtime, and maintain high quality.
Here’s a great use case example: equipping plant workers with a ruggedized, smart helmet. On the outside the helmet looks like a high-tech hardhat with a safety shield. Inside the helmet a number of computerized and connected components allow the plant worker to interact with his or her physical environment without impeding mobility or jeopardizing safety. The helmet’s AR capabilities recognize the environment and superimpose graphics and images on top of the environment in real time. Plant workers can read a disconnected gauge, compare it to proper tolerance, and save that reading for historical purposes. These type of plant floor measurements provide top floor managers with an exact picture of what’s happening at any given time.
Think of all the places where you have to post or display work instructions and all the inefficiencies that result from that setup. If a plant floor filter needs preventative maintenance, for example, the worker can use a smart helmet to superimpose step-by-step instructions on top of the work environment without impeding the field of view. The helmet understands context and guides the user throughout the process, ensuring steps are executed in the correct order, valves are manipulated accurately, and major steps are verified as they are completed. This approach reduces training costs, improves accuracy, and enhances safety.
Wearable technology offers manufacturers new ways to drive efficiency, connectivity, and mobility—as well as new opportunities to compete in the U.S. and globally. This is definitely a technology to look into if you haven’t already.
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