Manufacturing has been facing a rapidly shifting landscape—from innovations in technology to changes in global markets—over the past few decades. The “Amazon Effect”—the evolution and disruption to the retail market by the digital marketplace—has shifted the paradigm for manufacturers. In order to stay competitive, the industry has to meet the expectations of digitally-savvy consumers who desire to get products quickly from anywhere in the world.
Simultaneously, the manufacturing industry is facing a looming skills gap, with some analysts estimating upwards of 2.4 million positions going unfilled between 2018 and 2028. The complexity of modern-day factories—necessitating working with robotics and other advanced technologies—requires upskilling and more frequent training as processes change.
Augmented reality can play a pivotal role in helping recruit, train, and retain the next generation of workers to address the widening skills gap in an accelerating market. Let's take a look at how AR can address these challenges.
The manufacturing skills gap is well documented. Experienced workers are aging out of the workforce, often taking organizational knowledge with them. Education is moving away from vocational courses, and STEM subjects tend to be focused outside of manufacturing. Manufacturers are left with a dramatically reduced labor pool from which to hire. They often try to make do with fewer employees, relying on productivity improvements to achieve more with less. Or they hire unskilled workers and train them internally.
But with AR, manufacturers can bridge the knowledge gap. AR work instructions offer step-by-step, location-aware guidance on procedures. 3D overlays offer contextual demonstration. Relevant materials—such as video tutorials— can be called up for easy reference. Basic procedures can be performed perfectly, first time, by following such intuitive, rich visual work instructions. And employees have more than their memory to rely on for complex processes. Instruction time can be shortened, and mistakes become less common.
Increased product complexity—precipitated by a growing trend for product customization and on-demand production—and global competition have made efficiency a headline concern for manufacturers. By their nature, novice workers tend to be slower on the production line. They are more prone to mistakes—leading to waste, scrap, and rework. And their inexperience can present a safety issue. In addition, employee training is a drain on company resources—something leaner manufacturing margins can ill afford.
AR training materials—built on similar principles to the work instructions described above—offer a more immersive route to understanding. By following step-by-step instructions, trainees can often learn safely on the factory floor. Trained in this way, trainees can be productive—rather than a resource-drain—while gaining valuable hands-on experience. One manufacturer used a PTC AR solution to reduce training time by 40%. They also experienced a 25% reduction in scrap and rework, as employees made fewer mistakes.
Industrial workplaces make for challenging teaching environments. Classroom teaching solves the noise issue but keeps trainees away from the machinery they’re learning about. Safety concerns prevent hands-on instruction, at least of more than one trainee at a time. Artificially accelerating training can result in under-skilled workers—prone to mistakes, and a potential safety hazard. Elongated classroom learning simply extends sunk costs.
AR can be used for over-the-shoulder, real-time instruction alongside work instructions and training materials. Trainers can see what trainees see as they perform tasks, monitoring progress and talking through procedures. The shared display can be used to further annotate or supply relevant content. In this way, multiple employees can be safely trained by a remote instructor, without struggling to hear over loud machinery. Companies can also create pre-authored AR experiences for trainees to use in those same industrial environments. Certain AR headsets are purpose-built for these kinds of noisy, industrial environments.
Effective training is an essential part of remaining competitive in the global manufacturing marketplace—particularly in light of the growing skills gap. However, delivering that training internally, within the context of increasingly lean budgets, can be a significant challenge in itself. Implementing augmented reality industrial training should be a priority for manufacturers as AR can have a dramatic effect on the major challenges discussed here, with a substantial positive impact on the bottom line.