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Will augmented reality address manufacturing skills deficit?

27 August 2019

Alex West says that augmented reality (AR) has a role to play in helping the factory of the future deal with the skills gap deficit.

Augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) technologies can help address the challenge of sharing knowledge within an organisation and is able to support an issue faced by many organisations, that of fewer available skilled workers, by providing on-the-job support, training and remote assistance.

The technology will allow an engineer fixing a piece of equipment to access user manuals and instructions through a heads-up display, allowing them to work uninterrupted and follow a step-by-step procedure hands-free. 

However, the process can be far more involved. In another use case, workers can be equipped with specialised glasses incorporating an audio link and a camera streaming what is being seen live. This can connect the worker to a remote ‘center of excellence’ where experienced engineers are based and supporting colleagues around the world in real time. 

Share expertise in real time
These experts can provide immediate on the job feedback and training to remote colleagues, walking them through the stages of a task with audio and visual directions on what should be done. This could include sharing images or even overlaying notes and markers onto the display the worker is seeing – for example, highlighting the part to be worked on. Such applications will become more important for companies dealing with the loss of in-house knowledge.
Other applications include providing workers with equipment readings across a plant, which can allow them to focus more on priority tasks and help them plan their routes to maximize efficiency.

Lockheed Martin AR use
For example, Lockheed Martin undertook a trial of AR technologies to produce its F-35 fighter plane. Engineers were equipped with educational software hosted on AR glasses. The glasses showed engineers where different parts should fit, along with part numbers, etc. Productivity improvements of 30% were achieved through engineers being able to work faster alongside more hands-on training. This helped ensure people with the minimum amount of training could complete jobs. 

Alex West is an analyst with IHS Markit. 


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