Augmented Reality tipped to be at the heart of new ‘working normal’

Posted on 20 May 2020 by Jonny Williamson

The way that workers have adapted to the benefits of Augmented Reality to continue to perform their roles during the Covid-19 pandemic is expected to pave the way for greater adoption.

While Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become the ‘new normal’ for office workers, physical specialists have embraced augmented reality (AR) to build ventilators, deliver crucial training to apprentices and solve production bottlenecks on automotive lines.

This has been achieved by allowing remote experts to see the physical world in video and annotate physical objects during the call, using a smart phone, tablet or wearable device such as Microsoft HoloLens.

Augmented Reality - Vuforia Expert Capture and Microsoft HoloLens Electronics (2) - image courtesy of PTC

It enables them to capture every step of the process, build or assembly and create an interactive step-by-step guide for other people to follow, whether in a factory on the other side of the world or in a partner company on the same business park.

Jim Heppelmann, CEO of industrial innovation technology specialist PTC, believes augmented reality will be at the heart of the new ‘working normal’ as businesses look to tap into significant cost savings and greater productivity.

Heppelmann explained: “Covid-19 has meant industry has been forced to adapt quicker than it probably would have done under normal economic circumstances, but now they’ve had a taste of the operational and financial benefits it can deliver, I can see a major rise in adoption.

“This will be through knowledge exchange and it can also be through knowledge retention when AR can leverage and store the experience and expertise of an ageing workforce so it can be passed down to the next generation.”

Augmented Reality - PTC’s Vuforia® Expert Capture AR technology and Microsoft’s HoloLens were used to capture assembly steps.

A good example of the power of augmented reality in work capture and exchange has been seen recently in the urgent production of ventilators for the NHS.

Smiths Medical, a medical device manufacturer participating in the VentilatorChallengeUK, needed to ramp up production and tapped into the capabilities of PTC’s Vuforia Expert Capture and Microsoft HoloLens to capture the assembly steps and processes involved in building one of its Rapidly Manufactured Ventilator Systems (RMVS).

This was uploaded and edited to create a virtual assembly guide and relayed, through wearable equipment or smart devices, to the factories of consortium partners unaccustomed to manufacturing ventilators.

Protecting all the workers involved in the project was of paramount importance to the consortium and this is where AR proved ideal for removing a lot of the dangers, by virtually placing a ventilator expert into a partner factory and reducing the risk of the virus spreading.

While augmented reality offers substantial benefits, it has to be implemented carefully and companies need to consider three main things, Heppelmann concluded.

  1. Prioritisation in how AR can be used across your business and where will you gain the most operational and financial benefits, such as  sales and marketing, on the shopfloor or in the field.
  2. Make sure the solution is designed with a device type in mind to optimise the user experience, including whether the device is head-mounted or hand-held. “Don’t be swayed into going with the latest technology, make sure you choose the right application.”
  3. AR is only as good as the quality of the content and the data that companies use.

*All images courtesy of PTC