Augmented reality (AR) is one of the key technologies of Industry 4.0—alongside the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), big data, cloud computing and AR’s cousin, Virtual Reality (VR). Augmented reality glasses are rapidly becoming a regular feature on plant floors, but what exactly do they do?
Rooted in smart devices, AR uses a built-in camera and an array of sophisticated sensors that can pinpoint what the user is looking at. Most of the AR functionality used in industry can be accessed simply using a smartphone or tablet; however, a hands-free device like augmented reality glasses—designed to withstand unforgiving conditions—is usually more practical.
Augmented reality glasses present a blend of digital content and real-world surroundings with the following steps:
1. Using a smart device camera—or AR glasses equivalent—the AR software captures the surrounding environment.
2. Using GPS, lasers, markers, or similar sensors, the AR software identifies the point at which to overlay information onto the display.
3. Having identified the overlay position, the AR device requests the relevant content.
4. The additional information is displayed to the user in a combined image with their real-world surroundings.
The complexity of AR content can depend largely on how sophisticated the device is. Professional devices like augmented reality glasses often use more advanced location technology to actively scan the surroundings for relevant objects. This allows for more precise overlays and intelligent content recall.
There are two main challenges manufacturers currently face. The skills gap is widening as experienced workers age out of the workforce. The need for increased agility and flexibility grows as customers expect greater degrees of customization, ever-tightening upgrade cycles, and ever-shortening lead times. Augmented reality glasses can play a key role in overcoming both challenges.
Using augmented reality glasses, inexperienced workers can benefit from intuitive step-by-step instructions overlaid onto the machinery they’re using. Additional instruction can be delivered by remote teachers sharing the same view, adding notes or extra information to the display as appropriate. Using a PTC Vuforia solution to train in this way enabled leading semiconductor manufacturer GlobalFoundries to accelerate staff onboarding by 50%.
The reality of providing greater levels of customization with tighter lead times is a constant churn of SOPs. Even experienced workers will be slowed by such a slew of unfamiliar procedures—and can even make mistakes.
AR work instructions enable operatives to execute new procedures perfectly the first time; particularly when combined with real-time IIoT machine metrics. AR can show workers instructions as detailed as how to torque individual components—overlaid onto the relevant part—as well as a digital model of the finished product.
Unplanned downtime can be a tremendous obstacle to meeting tight deadlines common in today’s environment. Augmented reality glasses can be instrumental in getting machines back up and running much faster than previously possible. For example, AR empowers end users to make on-site repairs themselves—without having to wait for a technician.
As the market has matured, product offerings have become more specialized—especially in tackling the more difficult aspects of industry. Which device you choose depends on the complexity of your needs. For simple delivery of work instructions, you may be able to achieve your goals with just a smartphone. But for integration of AR into a full-scale digital transformation—running a seamless digital thread through your entire product lifecycle—you might need something more advanced.
Microsoft HoloLens 2 is ideally suited to industrial environments, able to be worn with safety equipment like helmets and goggles. Crucially, it can be controlled with voice commands for hands-free operation. The Vuzix M300 Smart Glasses also offer glanceable 2D information. At the simplest level, AR solutions can be accessed and integrated with standard tablets and smartphones—although handling is required, they can be useful for replacing paper work instructions.
There is a varied spectrum of devices available for augmented reality use. Deciding which one is best for you depends on identifying what you’re trying to achieve with the technology, balancing against cost—bearing in mind efficiency savings that AR may achieve—and selecting the most appropriate device.
To help you decide, we’ve produced an interactive guide to five of the most common augmented reality glasses for industry. In it, you’ll discover the capabilities and features of each device, and see real-life case studies for a more concrete grasp of how AR is used in industrial work spaces.