How Can Augmented Reality Improve Sustainability for Manufacturers?

Written by: Claire Cavanaugh

Read Time: 5 min

With the rise of social consciousness around sustainability and decarbonization commitments and laws such as the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive, sustainability isn’t just a benefit that manufacturers should strive for—it's a requirement for doing business. The majority of consumers agree; according to research by Accenture, 67% of consumers “[expected] companies to invest in longer-term, sustainable and fair solutions” after the COVID-19 pandemic.

The good news is that despite these challenges, when manufacturers empower their workforce with augmented reality solutions, they can accelerate training and comprehension, improve quality, and deliver more sustainable outcomes across the value chain.

Navigating knowledge transfer in manufacturing and service

If a lack of experts is causing inefficiencies, the answer should be clear: hire more experts. But the solution isn’t so simple. A well-known widening manufacturing skills gap has made it difficult to hire knowledgeable workers for specific tasks. It’s even more difficult when paper-based instructions are the only resources available to frontline workers as they navigate complex products. When the workforce lacks the appropriate training and tools to be productive and engaged, they’re more likely to make errors that lead to waste and rework

Without the right tools to capture and scale knowledge as experts age out of the manufacturing workforce, businesses risk losing that valuable expertise for good. Not only do these challenges impact workforce productivity, but they also lead to waste and compliance issues. The consequences of a lack of expertise are most apparent during assembly, repair, and inspections, where even minor human errors can result in inefficiencies, recalls, and costly waste.

Rather than overleveraging experts and relying on paper-based instructions, manufacturers must capture and scale institutional knowledge, share expertise across their workforce, familiarize employees with products and processes, and empower them to perform tasks efficiently.  

Implementing augmented reality work instructions for sustainability benefits

Leading manufacturers have found a highly efficient tool for knowledge sharing and remote support in augmented reality (AR). As a “digital mentor” for the workforce, AR guides employees through their tasks and improves their comprehension of instructions and guidance while on the job. By empowering frontline workers to be more efficient in their work, AR can help businesses improve sustainability by reducing waste, decreasing travel and CO2 emissions, and extending the expected lifetime of products. Capabilities like remote support, AR-guided assistance, and customer self-service all reduce the need for in-person support, decreasing truck rolls and the emissions associated with them. Enabling service technicians with AR tools helps them improve first-time fix rates while reducing repeat service visits to further minimize truck rolls.

Augmented reality also enables employees to perform quality inspections more accurately and efficiently. Companies can use AR inspections to catch defects before the product reaches the customer, helping them avoid recalls and scrap. By leveraging AI-enhanced quality checks, quality inspectors can reduce metal, plastic, and composite waste and ensure they complete the inspection accurately. Meanwhile, AR enables them to overlay 3D models on the physical environment, helping the inspector visualize the entire product and inspection process so they can work more efficiently. The real-time guidance that AR delivers helps to prevent errors throughout the inspection process, boosting accuracy and avoiding waste.

In general, AR provides a more sustainable alternative to traditional paper-based work instructions, which need to be printed and translated into different languages for use across different regions. When the time comes to make updates, the process of reprinting and redistributing paper-based instructions at a global scale is highly inefficient and wasteful. With augmented reality replacing 2D materials, companies can reduce their paper waste while streamlining the management of work instructions and documentation. And since AR instructions empower frontline workers to complete service procedures more accurately and efficiently, organizations using AR can optimize their service execution to extend the expected life of their products and improve on-the-job safety for frontline workers.

Real-world sustainability benefits of augmented reality

Investing in innovative technology that drives sustainability is an important commitment, and one that shouldn’t be made without clear proof points. By leveraging AR, the following organizations are realizing sustainability benefits by avoiding costly rework, enhancing availability and modularity, and improving quality inspections.

Avoiding rework at Harpak-ULMA

Leading OEM Harpak-ULMA was no stranger to challenges like the skills gap and increasing product complexity. Optimizing field service technician efficiency was only one of the use cases Harpak-ULMA identified to innovate with AR and IoT. With IoT sensor data enabling performance monitoring and condition-based monitoring, technicians at Harpak-ULMA can quickly identify where a machine needs to be repaired. From there, they can view AR instructions showing them how to complete the needed repair, while AI-enhanced AR adds a layer of quality assurance. Harpak-ULMA's technicians also leverage Vuforia Chalk for real-time collaboration when a repair can’t be completed in person. With this valuable combination of AR solutions, Harpak-ULMA's technicians are increasing service efficiency, improving first-time fix rates, and avoiding costly rework.

Boosting service efficiency at Volvo Group

Volvo Group employs a combination of PTC solutions, including AR and product lifecycle management (PLM) technology, to digitize its vehicle data and help employees visualize service information with real-world context. The combination of AR and PLM data enables Volvo to deliver configuration-specific service instructions that make it easier for frontline workers to understand different product variations and complete service procedures faster. 

Improving quality inspections at Magna International

Another success story of augmented reality for sustainability can be found at Nascote Industries, a division of leading automotive supplier Magna International. When Nascote Industries identified the opportunity to add an extra layer of quality assurance to the inspection process, a combination of AR and AI technology proved to be the ideal solution. Clear, in-context work instructions guide quality inspectors while AI-enhanced AR identifies defects to repair. As a result, Nascote Industries is providing quality products to its customers while dramatically reducing scrap and rework.

Realizing a sustainable future in manufacturing and service

Improving sustainability in the manufacturing industry is more important than ever before, and each business has a role to play. Reducing emissions and waste, extending the lifetime of products, and empowering the workforce are key focus areas for sustainable manufacturers with AR as the technology backbone. With capabilities like AI-enhanced quality checks, remote support, guided assistance, and customer self-service, PTC's Vuforia enterprise AR platform is empowering workforces to be more knowledgeable and efficient, increasing quality and safety, and boosting customer satisfaction. As leading manufacturers implement the technology, they show the proven value of Vuforia as a tool for closing the skills gap and driving sustainability.

Are you ready to explore solutions for an empowered workforce and a more sustainable future at your organization? Discover more Vuforia success stories and technology capabilities that enable the connected workforce in The Real-World Value of Vuforia for Workforce Efficiency eBook.

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Tags: Augmented Reality Digital Transformation Sustainability

About the Author

Claire Cavanaugh

Claire is a Content Marketing Manager on PTC's Commercial Marketing team. She creates content in support of PTC products and solutions.