This article has been authored by Ashish Mital, AVP-Digital Platform, Digital Transformation Services, Sasken Technologies Ltd.
Less than a decade ago, being a digital company was often seen as making use of information technology to drive business. However, today, a digital company means a radical shift in the organizational mindset. A company that embraces unceasing innovation, analytical decision-making and a thorough integration of cutting edge technologies into business processes is digital in the true sense.
Furthermore, the fourth industrial revolution has raised the bar for companies around the globe to qualify and win the race to the future. The digital transformation it introduced has made digital competency practically mandatory in almost every sector. In order to ace the ‘connected’ battle with digital confidence, companies are already on their way to adopting technologies that directly resonate with their business.
Consequently, the innovative minds have embarked on filling the gap between their digital idea and its reality, leveraging technologies such as augmented and virtual reality, powered by the ubiquitous Internet of Things (IoT). If reports are to be believed, “The rising presence of connected machines in the industry will add as much as 15 trillion dollars to the global GDP over the next 20 years.” No wonder businesses are banking on Internet of Things to leverage upon from its benefits at the earliest.
With IoT, the objects around us are becoming more intelligent. This sensor driven technology is exponentially increasing our ability to interact with our physical environment in newer ways. From touch screens to real-life immersive experiences, the IoT-enabled AR and VR gesture towards a new way of working, communicating, and collaborating across the enterprise. Virtual reality grounds digital objects in the physical environment in such a manner that we are able to understand and interact with them in a more natural way. Whereas, augmented reality provides a composite view by superimposing digital content on the user’s physical view. Deploying IoT in industrial context includes implementing both augmented and virtual reality.
Augmented Reality (AR)
With AR, all the IoT generated data and information will be digitally attached to the physical world. The technology finds its applications in industrial manufacturing, repair, healthcare, military, entertainment, and education. It is rapidly making inroads into production lines and daily operations. The ability to superimpose contextual digital content onto the real world is a remarkably valuable source of real-time information. The examples of hardware players in AR are Microsoft HoloLens, Google Glass, and Magic Leap and now several companies are developing prototypes, trying to create a human interface with IoT.
AR is best suited for manufacturing employees performing complex jobs such as assembly, maintenance, and repair. AR solutions define real-time images of superimposed virtual instructions on physical objects to assist assembly line workers. They will be able to request live help to collaborate with remote experts for complex tasks and select training demos from online repositories for on-the-spot guidance. Quality assurance technicians will be able to monitor equipment health in real-time to enhance the operational efficiency of the connected machines, thereby eliminating the hassle and saving time. On that account, industrial processes guided by AR will improve quality, reduce errors, and increase the assembly process in manufacturing units at length.
For its aircraft assembly process, Boeing is venturing into pilot projects that might eventually leverage augmented reality as an integral part. Lockheed Martin in the aerospace industry is instructing engineers on how to build and repair F-35 fighter jets by conducting trials with AR smart glasses. These glasses act as real-time instruction manuals for the engineers working on and performing repairs for the fighter jets. According to ABI Research, enterprise being the primary focus for augmented reality, AR headsets will deliver $46 billion in revenue by 2021.
Virtual Reality (VR)
Virtual reality alters the physical reality of a user by placing him in a 360-degree imaginary world, by that means, making virtual a reality. The technology finds its market opportunities in fields such as gaming, event live streaming, medical and healthcare, entertainment and film, employee training, communications and simulation exercises. The major players in VR are Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Sony, HTC. However, Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus VR in 2014 was a strong signal that VR headsets were moving from the realm of science fiction into the mainstream. A major reason behind VR technology finding great opportunities in the enterprise market is that VR eliminates the need for a person to be physically present in environments that depend heavily on “hands-on” expertise, such as healthcare, manufacturing, and utilities.
The use of VR in manufacturing enables you to try before you buy. With the help of VR solutions, businesses can fail fast but fail virtually. The ability to test manufacturing scenarios before implementing them physically has been used by OEMs in their product and manufacturing engineering. As per ABI Research, VR will emerge as a consumer play and will generate $15 billion in revenue by 2021.
Considering the three core factors in manufacturing – cost, quality, and time, design visualization is an important mechanism for quick decision-making by improvising all the three factors. Nevertheless, the confidence to make these decisions doesn’t come as easily as it may sound. This is where the application of advanced visualization tools can really help designers, engineers, and managers to better understand and communicate ideas, concepts, and data.
The virtual ecosystem provides a safe immersive experience to the workers where they can familiarize themselves with the equipment in both normal and abnormal situations. Engineers can evaluate plant and asset performance and can compare them to the digital plant model to identify fragility and test alternatives proactively. Likewise, technicians can practice complex repairs before undertaking them. This will help optimize equipment health and performance and can potentially negate any fatal encounters on the plant.
Using virtual reality demos, The Ford Motor Company has streamlined its manufacturing process and made it safer – resulting in a 70% drop in worker injury rates and a 90% reduction in ergonomic issues. “We’re continuously looking for additional opportunities for using VR,” says Gene Coffman, technical leader for virtual manufacturing at Ford. “Our current focus is more around identifying gaps in our current virtual capabilities and developing solutions to fill those gaps.”
Goldman Sachs believes that the hardware and software market for AR/VR technologies will grow to US $80 billion by 2025. With great advantages and positive predictions, there’s no doubt AR and VR are powerful platforms that will give their early adopters an unprecedented advantage. For industries to transform enterprise reality and be IoT-ready creating necessary infrastructure and a supportive ecosystem with ensured access to relevant content will be indispensable. Another important growth aspect will be to identify and integrate technologies that resonate with their business areas and address their data privacy and security concerns while leveraging AR, VR or both.
The opportunities to completely unfold and harness the benefits of the virtual world are countless. However, it is a matter of time before the unveiling of how global teams with varied intent, perspective and expertise collaborate in a way to share in real-time, what is happening. The stage is almost set to witness a revolution in the industrial segment that is as impactful as the AR-enabled Pokemon Go. Nevertheless, it would undisputedly require the frontrunners to unlock the full potential of AR and VR technologies to innovate and create something over and beyond.