Augmented reality is pivotal to enhancing UK manufacturing

Posted on 24 Nov 2023 by The Manufacturer

The manufacturing industry continues to be an impressive sector in the UK. Results from the Office of National Statistics show that the industry grew by seven percent in 2022, with product sales reaching £429.8bn, a staggering increase of £28.4bn from 2021. Clearly, this is a crucial industry for the UK economy, but the sector is grappling with setbacks that need to be addressed to ensure it continues to thrive. Jan Junker, Executive Vice President, EMEA at TeamViewer, explains.

For example, as experienced workers approach retirement, it’s becoming increasingly important to find solutions to pass their valuable expertise on to the next generation. In addition, there’s a need to foster safer and more efficient operations for frontline workers. To address these challenges, and access additional benefits, UK manufacturers should look to newer technologies, like augmented reality (AR) as they have shown to be beneficial.

Over the last few years, industry specific AR solutions have made their way onto the shopfloors of this world. By harnessing the power of AR, UK manufacturers can unlock increased profitability, enhanced product quality, and improved production processes, fundamentally revolutionising how manufacturing businesses operate.

Ensuring safer and more efficient operations

Risk of injury remains a concern in manufacturing, despite significant strides in improving safety in the industry. AR technology can play a vital role in safeguarding workers by ensuring equipment is operated safely, safety-compliant procedures are followed, and the employees are well-trained on safety critical tasks.

AR enabled glasses – which effectively overlay digital information on the physical world – mean frontline workers can keep both of their hands-free while having all the insights they need to do their job. Opposed to using bulky handheld devices or stationary computers far away from the equipment they are operating on, for example. This enhanced focus greatly reduces the associated risk with using the machinery, creating a safer working environment. To further reduce the risk of injuries, smart glasses can also display warnings and step-by-step instructions, reminding workers of the specific protocols for the factory they’re working in or the machine they are working with, as well as about any temporarily restricted zones.

Improving production processes

Human involvement in the manufacturing process not only creates safety considerations but also raises the likelihood of errors that can diminish product quality while increasing costs, or in worst case scenarios lead to accidents. Digitising manufacturing processes can help avoid this.

For example, AR enabled smart glasses can be used to replace traditional paper lists or instruction manuals. This reduces error rates by delivering truly step-by-step guidance for frontline workers on the machine assembly line, as they can see the relevant information as they need it, while their hands remain free. Meanwhile, integrated cameras and connected sensors support in ensuring the maintenance of safety and quality standards.

Furthermore, when there are issues with machinery in the factory, smart glasses allow remote experts to give real-time guidance to on-site workers in troubleshooting and repairing faulty technology. This minimises production losses and the need for on-site service visits, reducing downtime in the factory. It also supports in the remote training of newer, and potentially younger employees, helping to tackle the skills shortage in the sector.

Epson SIG Linnich by Ian Wallman
AR enabled smart glasses can be used to replace traditional paper lists or instruction manuals

Levelling-up training

Due to the ongoing UK labour shortage in the manufacturing industry, organisations in the sector regularly take on staff with limited experience. As such training is essential for the continuation of productive and safe operations. By deploying smart glasses and industrial AR solutions, companies can enhance the onboarding processes and deliver practical, hands-on learning experiences. All while alleviating pressure on management teams who are likely stretched and may have limited alternative resources to deliver holistic training to new team members.

A well-trained workforce is inherently less prone to errors, and this reduction in mistakes serves as a robust booster for workplace health and safety. Augmented reality facilitates immersive and interactive training experiences, allowing employees to learn new procedures in a self-paced way or to engage with realistic scenarios that simulate their actual work environments. This hands-on approach not only accelerates the learning curve but also ingrains essential skills and protocols.

With industrial AR solutions and smart glasses, traditional, theoretical classroom sessions and training manuals can be enhanced or even eliminated in favour of more practical, on-the-job learning. New and existing employees can receive real-time, visual guidance – in the form of 3D models and annotations of their physical environment – delivered straight into their field of view. This means they’re carefully guided through new processes, such as inspections or repairs, and can cultivate new skills far more quickly.

Futureproofing the industry

In the Industrial Metaverse, AR solutions can deliver immense support for frontline factory workers across various UK manufacturing industries, from automotive and aerospace to food and beverage packaging. We are already seeing this play out, as manufacturers harness the technology to support repair and maintenance work, deliver quality control, and remotely onboard and upskill staff so they can operate productively and safely.

As both technology and the industry continue to rapidly evolve and advance, augmented reality solutions and smart glasses will play an even more crucial role in empowering manufacturing to meet wider business demands, drive efficiencies, and foster innovation. By deploying this technology now, manufacturers can safeguard the future of the industry and secure its vital role in driving the UK economy.

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