As the augmented reality market continues to mature, new use cases are discovered and existing use cases are expanded and improved. A number of the most prominent use cases—remote expertise, step by step instruction, and digital visualization—are applicable to a number of applications and are not independent of each other. One such application houses all of these, and is seeing increasing interest among new and existing AR customers: training.
Training employees—whether novel hires or existing workers taking on new tasks—always presents an obstacle to worker efficiency. Sometimes this is natural and expected, with a new task proving very complex or requiring high accuracy; other times, the methods for training become the obstacles. Limiting worker efficiency while training, either through physical manual/workbook requirements or stop and go instruction, can reduce the efficacy of training and hamper worker efficiency and morale. Augmented reality training can alleviate most or all of these issues when compared to existing training methods. Real-time, on-the-job training is possible, eliminating the need for dedicated training equipment, locations, and scheduled sessions. Worker ramp-up is immediate, beneficial for any workforce, but especially noticeable with new, seasonal and temporary workers. This spans to remote guidance as well, with workers able to simulate a work environment away from the actual location, making training timing and resource allocation simpler.
The complexity and required amount of training varies by vertical and task, but industrial verticals often pose the most challenge for training. Manufacturing environments often present complex and difficult workflows for new employees, which can be eased through proper AR guidance. Complex machines and workflows are made simple through visual overlay, step-by-step instruction, and remote expertise when necessary. Additionally, an aging workforce with fewer and fewer subject matter experts poses another challenge; being able to record and replay their workflow, pass down their knowledge, or call on them in real time, is often required to get employees up to speed.
The multifaceted working environment for manufacturing and industry dictate an agile and well-trained workforce, which AR can provide. Remote expertise requires see-what-I-see capability in a device at a minimum. As a result, allowing trainees remote access to an expert can be quickly implemented, at a relatively low cost. Additional value can be added in the form of real time annotation and step by step instruction when needed.
To deliver this, a unifying platform is often leveraged. Content creation and optimization for AR, content hosting and distribution, workflow creation, and more can be provided. Part of this often includes leveraging existing CAD/3D models to reduce ramp up and implementation time while minimizing wasted resources. Many platform players look to add value to their offering in a few different ways; device sell-through, professional services, cloud compute/storage, etc.
There are a few notable players in the platform space currently. PTC cover a wide range of needs (in AR and throughout the enterprise ecosystem), with a class-leading AR SDK in Vuforia and an equally strong integrated IoT product portfolio. The closest competitor here is likely Upskill, who has seen strong funding and growth over the past year. Ubimax, Atheer, Daqri, and others offer similar products in varying degrees of scope and maturity.
AR devices are ubiquitously connected, so every action of the user serves as another metric in the IoT pipeline and can be leveraged as such. Inefficiencies in a training regimen and workflow are more easily recognized. Potential safety risks are noticed before an event occurs. Put simply, AR adds a human element to the IoT, and it is up to IoT and AR implementers to make use of these new human-centric data. This addition has immense benefits that few customers have realized. The growth of IoT and AR in tandem will unlock powerful applications of these devices and the metrics associated with them, training being one of them.
These facets culminate in a notable increase in knowledge transfer and training efficiency and effectiveness. This directly leads to an increase in worker efficiency, with a very tangible and quickly realized ROI of both the AR implementation and the training program or session. Retention rates are higher and engagement is stronger. Travel costs are reduced, and time is spent more effectively.
While the upfront and ongoing costs can be high for AR implementations, the ROI is tangible and significant. Case study conclusions vary only slightly from one to another, with consistent increases in efficiency and safety for workers using AR. Looking to higher level market trends also suggests reason to invest; those that invested early are beginning to scale their implementations from pilot phases to larger deployments. At the same time, new customer onboarding is increasing, with more of those new customers buying in at larger scale from the beginning.
At the least, training in AR presents a compelling small-scale test for anyone interested. In a best-case scenario, AR presents a revolutionary worker tool, increasing efficiency and safety across the board while maintaining a low time to ROI. With this in mind, anyone interested in AR should familiarize with the market and see what direct benefits would be, whether that is through a trial phase or something more substantial.
To learn more about how AR is transforming employee training and facilitating knowledge transfer between new hires and experienced employees, read the new white paper Improving Employee Training and Increasing Knowledge Transfer with Augmented Reality from ABI Research.