Manufacturing reality set to be more virtual

Posted on 12 Jan 2023 by The Manufacturer

Digital transformation among manufacturers is proliferating. We’re seeing and hearing about firms of all shapes and sizes adopting technology to drive their businesses forward in the most efficient and effective way possible.

One technology that has shown incredible potential and is evidently being used more widely is virtual reality. Indeed, an IT/OT convergence report, authored by The Manufacturer earlier this year, showed 33% of manufacturers are utilising augmented reality or virtual reality in their manufacturing operations.

Stuart Clarke, Supervisor, Material Flow & Packaging Engineering at Ford Motor Company

Stuart Clarke, Supervisor, Material Flow & Packaging Engineering at Ford Motor Company, provided insights into how the automotive market is using virtual reality technology to its advantage.

You delivered a talk in the Smart Factory Expo Leadership & Strategy Solutions Theatre. Can you give us a brief overview of what you focused on?

We’re here with Virtalis, one of our suppliers that we work with very closely, whose virtualisation platform enables businesses to take advantage of virtual reality for collaboration. We talked the audience through how we have created our virtual manufacturing environment for material flow. We haven’t done that in the traditional way, which would usually focus on production line assemblies. We’ve gone down the back-office route, looking at how we get the parts to the point of fit; how we deal with parts in the warehouse; what the warehouse should look like and if we need secondary handling.

We have a working animated model, which has been very powerful in helping people visualise what we’ve achieved, rather than just using their imagination. By using the virtual environment, we can immediately see if a factory situation is safe. For example, the way tow motors move around a facility and their frequency. We’ve taken our existing CAD data and without doing any installations, we can quickly conduct analysis using our virtual environment.

How are these types of technologies evolving from the world of gaming into industrial tools?

One of the great things about being here at Smart Factory Expo has been talking with school students who are wandering around. For the first time in a long while, we are able to make virtual reality factories understandable and relatable to younger generations. Many of them play VR games at home and now here we are explaining how their gaming can potentially be turned into a job.

What sort of impact is VR having in manufacturing applications?

In our environment we’re really starting to see cost reductions, particularly those associated with working remotely. During the pandemic, we couldn’t travel to plants. Therefore, we’ve had to make sure that our virtual world represents what we’re looking at for the future and for the model costings that we’re doing. And that is really the tip of the iceberg. I think we’re going to see VR being used more and more in manufacturing, especially in areas like maintenance, planning and even for the creation of prototypes.

In 2023, Smart Factory Expo will become part of Manufacturing & Engineering Week, held at the NEC in Birmingham on 7-8 June. Manufacturing & Engineering Week brings the entire community together for a festival of innovation featuring a dynamic, interactive series of digital and live events to inspire, inform and entertain.

Discover what the immersive, tech-driven event will hold in 2023 and how this will be a memorable experience for all those involved.

Visit to find out more.