Leveraging CAD and PLM Product Data for Augmented Reality

Written by: Claire Cavanaugh

Read Time: 4 min

Traditional, paper-based work instructions are a mainstay of manufacturing frontlines and training curriculum, but have they overstayed their welcome? While they provide important guidance, they also introduce multiple roadblocks that can slow down fast-paced industrial enterprises. Paper-based work instructions lack the context of the physical environment they’re being used in. As a result, frontline workers spend valuable working hours sifting through documentation for the right information. For trainees, this can slow the development of core skills; meanwhile, high-performing SMEs may be pulled from their own work to assist these new hires.

Paper-based instructions are prized as durable documents of record. But how durable are they really? They can become quickly outdated, requiring time, effort, and resources to update and redistribute. They’re also difficult to scale and lack the ability to reuse data—each product variation requires its own instructions for service and inspection. In the long run, challenges with paper-based work instructions can impede production, extend service times, and hurt customer satisfaction.

Though paper-based instructions have long been the status quo, they can’t keep up with today’s pace of innovation. Accelerated design and production, complex supply chains, and increased customization and variation have pushed traditional instructions beyond their limit.

How is CAD data being used in AR experiences currently?

Leading manufacturers have tapped their existing computer-aided design (CAD) data to help accelerate the development of clear, contextualized augmented reality (AR) work instructions. PTC’s Vuforia enterprise AR platform draws on existing 3D CAD data to create AR experiences—like an accurate 3D version of your machine on the factory floor to view or track performance. Model targets use CAD data to recognize the precise shape of real-world objects (like cars on an assembly line or in a service bay). From there, digital visuals are overlaid on these physical objects.

The importance of connecting AR, CAD, PLM, and IoT

Augmented reality that leverages CAD with product lifecycle management (PLM) and Internet of Things (IoT) data provides even greater value. These combined solutions offer scalable, easily updated experiences without a lot of overhead. Each solution plays an important role in creating closed-loop product lifecycle management. Existing CAD data helps build AR configurations; existing product information from PLM helps build AR work instructions; and sensor data from the IoT enables real-time alerts. Manufacturers that leverage AR, CAD, PLM, and IoT together realize the following benefits:

Streamlined work instructions

Connecting AR, CAD, PLM, and IoT enables manufacturers to create work instructions quickly, update them when needed, and scale them for enterprise-wide accessibility.

Increased efficiency

The combination of solutions empowers frontline workers with the instructions they need to complete assembly, inspections, and service quickly and accurately.

Continuous quality improvement

Using data from connected platforms, different teams across the organization can easily collect and share valuable information and insights for improved quality over time.

How does AR transform work instructions?

With AR work instructions on their smartphones or tablets, frontline workers can quickly access step-by-step visual guidance in the context of the physical product, which saves time and accelerates comprehension. Instructions can easily be shared across the enterprise and updated at any time, so frontline workers know they’re always accessing the latest information. AR transforms work instructions for improved accuracy, efficiency, and customer satisfaction.

How does AR fit into the digital thread?

By connecting CAD, PLM, and IoT data with Vuforia, manufacturers create a digital thread of data to realize value across the product lifecycle. Digital threads are used to collect and share different insights across different parts of the business to improve efficiency, quality, and productivity.

As frontline workers use AR work instructions, Vuforia also gathers additional information and captures documentation, contributing back to the digital thread of data for deeper insights, improved workflows, and other business benefits.

leveraging cad and plm product data for augmented reality

What are the benefits of connecting AR into the digital thread?

The digital thread enables insights and efficiencies for manufacturing and service organizations, ultimately enhancing their customer experience. Aberdeen Strategy & Research states that combining PLM data with augmented reality and CAD data simplifies the setup and updates for work instructions, boosts workforce efficiency, and enables continuous improvement.

According to a 2023 survey by Aberdeen, organizations that connect AR with CAD and PLM data realize critical benefits above and beyond organizations that use AR without CAD and PLM, including 114% faster manufacturing cycle time and 193% faster service time. Additionally, 50% of survey respondents realize improved customer satisfaction.

Real-world results of AR and the digital thread

Leading global automotive manufacturer Volvo Group realized an opportunity to improve its methods for quality control and quality assurance, which included a five-week training process and paper-based instructions. To improve both quality control and overall operational efficiency, the manufacturer needed a way to establish a flow of data across multiple systems. Volvo chose PTC to create a digital thread of data across AR, IoT, CAD, and PLM solutions. By connecting data from multiple systems, Volvo realized its frontline workers could access a “single source of truth delivered through the lens of augmented reality.”

Volvo’s results include improved recruitment attractiveness and a 60% reduction in training time.

Peterbilt, another leading global automotive manufacturer, realized an opportunity to improve its complex schematics, which were difficult for employees to work with and interpret.

After using PTC’s Vuforia to help create ARTech, a tool that would save up to 24 hours of service time, Peterbilt connected PLM data from PTC’s Windchill with augmented reality to create a digital thread for even deeper insights and easier scalability of the solution.

Boost the impact of your AR solutions

Leading manufacturers are realizing added value by weaving AR into their digital thread strategy, with benefits for frontline workers and business leaders alike. But what do manufacturers have to say about their own success with these solutions? In Aberdeen’s infographic, “Increase Efficiency with Digital Thread Integration of AR with CAD & PLM,” manufacturers share how they are boosting the impact of AR solutions for transformed work instructions, a more efficient workforce, and continuous improvement of quality and costs. Download your copy for a deep dive into their survey results.

Download the Aberdeen Infographic

Explore Aberdeen's survey results about integrating AR with CAD and PLM. Download the Infographic
Tags: Augmented Reality CAD Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) Digital Transformation Digital Thread Automotive Industrial Internet of Things

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.