Manufacturers are successfully using mixed reality today

Mixed reality, combined with and augmented by the power of Artificial Intelligence, will be one of the key technology shifts helping to transform the entire product lifecycle - from design and production, through to sales, operation and maintenance.

Microsoft HoloLens
Microsoft HoloLens gives manufacturers the opportunity to design products and train staff in a far quicker and cheaper way than traditional techniques – image courtesy of Microsoft.

Mixed reality brings people, places, and objects from your physical and digital worlds together.

This blended environment allows manufacturers to have a digital twin that incorporates any combination of sensors and data that can support objectives in saving money, time and in creating net new products, services and support.

With Microsoft HoloLens, the first self-contained, holographic computer, manufacturers are already seeing business benefits today – no matter whether their product is as big as a naval ship or as small as a nano-processor.

Here are a few examples of what Microsoft is seeing today:

  • Delivering highly personalised experiences that allows the customer to learn, envision and customise the product in 3D
  • Collaborating on 3D information visualised in context and at a scale supporting communication and decision making across disciplines and teams
  • Scaling expert experience to solve complex issues in real-time with innovative job aids such as real-time work instructions, or remote advisors to aid in assisted diagnosis and remote virtualisation capabilities to streamline operations and attain operational agility
  • Designing in real world context, seeing the concept in real-scale and 3D.   this is speeidn gup design processes, eliminating expensive and time-consuming prototypes, allowing companies to significantly reduce time to market and costs

To learn more about how mixed reality and HoloLens is transforming the way products are designed, made and maintained, The Manufacturer spoke with Leila Martine, director of new devices for Microsoft UK.

How is HoloLens being used today by manufacturers, and what benefit is it bringing to their organisation?

Leila Martine: Humans by nature are 3D beings and we learn and understand by seeing. However, most of the information we work with is not easily viewable – whether they be 2D models, blueprints or IoT data that is hard to visualise.

With HoloLens, we can unlock this valuable data by turning people, places or objects into holograms.  This gives manufacturers the ability to provide new tools to their workforce, enabling them to reduce time to market, reduce operational costs, provide new digitised offerings and more immersive buying experiences.

Manufacturing technologies will be accelerated, through digital advances, such as augmented reality [AR] and the Microsoft HoloLens – image courtesy of HVMC.
Microsoft HoloLens unlocks valuable data by turning people, places or objects into holograms – image courtesy of HVMC.
For example, Honeywell, the Fortune 100 diversified technology manufacturer, has launched a cloud-based simulation tool that leverages HoloLens and mixed reality to train industrial plant workers.

Trainees wear a HoloLens to experience various workplace situations, such as a cable or power supply failures, in immersive training modules.

According to Honeywell, this method has demonstrated up to a 100% improvement in outcomes versus traditional training methods, and reduces the time it takes to train a new employee by up to 66%.

Another innovative use case has seen Stryker, the global medical technology company, use HoloLens to improve the process for designing operating theatres.

Optimising the configuration of a workspace to provide easy access to the right equipment, tools, even lighting, is vital for any worker, but especially so when someone’s life is literally in your hands.

To successfully design an optimised surgical room, a critical meeting takes place between the heads of each surgical discipline and their staff. This is a time-consuming process where people and a complex array of technology and heavy, expensive equipment are physically shuffled around to determine what goes where, when and how. 

Using HoloLens and its new By Design software, Stryker can now modify and build different room scenarios with holograms, all in one room, at the same time, optimising the layout for every stakeholder.

Another great example is the work with Ford. Designers at Ford make thousands of decisions to design a vehicle. These decisions are made in close collaboration with their partners in engineering and management.

A lot of this work is done using clay models which are expensive and time-consuming to develop, and costly to change. While these models will continue to be an important part of the design process, the team needs to feel confident in their decisions early on before they are built at scale in clay.

With HoloLens, Ford designers are blending 3D holograms digitally with both clay models and physical production vehicles. This allows them to experiment and iterate much faster without having to physically build prototypes in clay.

In their early work in grille theme development, they proved that what used to take days with multiple physical models now takes only hours using a HoloLens and one physical model.

What examples can you give of MR solutions that are being built out by Microsoft’s partners, that will help manufacturers deploy HoloLens more quickly?   

Pharmaceutical machine operating to produce medicine
Healthcare businesses are subject to a great number of constraints regarding changes to processes.

UPSA is a pharmaceutical firm which has been producing medicines since 1935. Like any healthcare business, UPSA’s production chain is subject to a great number of constraints. Procedures must be constantly checked and any updates or changes to those procedures must be quickly passed on to all its employees.

That knowledge-transfer traditionally took place via paper-based documents, which tended to be complex and cumbersome, yet were mandatory in order for operators to understand the internal function of each machine.

Given that requirement, UPSA worked with HoloForge Interactive, a Microsoft Mixed Reality Partner – who has developed a number of manufacturing apps for HoloLens – to design and create a training programme which offered UPSA’s instructors more autonomy and mobility.

Now, it is possible to represent in full size the detailed functioning of each machine without having to be inside production areas. Instructors and operators can dive into the very heart of UPSA’s manufacturing process, zoom in to technical details, and ensure operators are aware of any critical issues they might encounter.

Testing by HoloForge has shown that a five-minute session using the HoloLens training programme conveys the same amount of information as reading a 50-page training manual – a remarkable time saving.

Another one of our partners is PTC, the international software and services company. PTC’s ThingWorx Studio is a powerful, easy-to-use tool that enables industrial businesses to rapidly create scalable mixed reality experiences.

For many organisations, creating content for MR can be time-consuming and resource intensive. By using ThingWorx Studio’s visual drag and drop system, combined with built-in support for gestures and voice commands, users can quickly create immersive HoloLens interactions without the need for skilled programmers or costly custom designers.

What are the future MR trends and/or developments that manufacturers should be aware of?

Mixed reality will be combined with and augmented by the power of artificial intelligence (AI). HoloLens already offers the ability to blend the physical and digital worlds, enabling us to build experiences where people, places and things are independent of their physical location.

AI will further drive those experiences. The compute power delivered by the cloud is one of the catalysts accelerating AI, and this is the year that the mixed reality cloud becomes real.

Additionally, the lines separating mixed reality, augmented reality and virtual reality will further blur, offering users the genuine choice as to which to use, when and why – eventually, simultaneously.

More like this

In this short video, Pavan Rauli, solution specialist at Microsoft, delves deeper into how businesses are incorporating mixed reality as a tool for real-time learning within the workplace. Watch the video here.

You can also discover more about HoloLens and how mixed reality is changing the face of manufacturing here.