How to Effectively (and Easily) Use Augmented Reality for Product Development

Written by: Dave Martin

Augmented reality is becoming more prevalent in our day-to-day worlds, including social media apps like Instagram, shopping apps like Ikea, games like Pokémon Go, and product marketing like 19 Crimes wine bottle labels.

Yet as AR – the superposition of computer graphics onto the real world – evolves and becomes more popular, many product development organizations have not yet explored how AR can help them get better products to market faster.

One common reason engineers and managers have for not implemented AR is that they don’t understand the immense business value it can provide. But you might be surprised at how easy it is to use throughout your product lifecycle.


Design engineers create an AR experience from a 3D CAD model with just a few clicks in Creo Parametric

How Do Product Developers Use AR?

Opportunities for using AR can be found in the following areas of product development:

  • Design support and collaboration. During the design phase, use AR to promote collaboration.
  • Production, Operations, and Sales. Generate easy-to-follow production plans and work instructions.
  • User Experiences. Imagine your customers using AR to successfully assemble, install, troubleshoot, and maintain your products.

Design Support and Collaboration

AR can lower costs and increase productivity throughout a product’s life cycle. During the design phase, AR can provide immense benefits to promote collaboration. Take the area of design reviews. I participate in reviews that range from printing hardcopies of 2D drawings to viewing 3D models in Creo Parametric or Creo View – and these traditional methods have disadvantages. Reviewing paper drawings kills a lot of trees, and frankly feels like something out of the Mad Men era – outdated and backwards. Viewing 3D models is a vast improvement, but you don’t get a true sense of size and space in relation to the real world.

With AR, you can hold digital design reviews, in which people can view and interact with your product in 3D, and see its true size, in the actual environments in which it will be fabricated or operated. This higher sense of fidelity helps you make better decisions.

AR also solves problems with prototypes and digital mockups. I personally have had prototypes machined or 3D printed, only to experience a quasi-Stonehenge from “This Is Spinal Tap” moment: What I saw on my computer screen did not align with reality.

Similarly, I have heard assemblers and manufacturers blame engineers’ large monitors for designing assemblies and placing components that only children could put together, because the computer screen gives a false sense of size.

By seeing the products to scale against a real-world backdrop, you can prevent iterating costly and time-consuming physical prototypes, and identify potential manufacturing issues early.

Production, Operations, and Sales

Once you go into production, AR can be used to generate production plans and work instructions. An assembler or operator wearing a visual headset will work more efficiently; rather than shifting focus back and forth from work instructions to the product, the steps he or she needs to perform will appear, superimposed on the work object. This saves time and reduces errors.

After purchase, AR can be used to train new users, provide operating instructions, and support Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) operations. Later, when your product becomes obsolete, AR can be used to guide people through the disposal process to recover reusable elements and remove environmentally harmful components.

AR can also be an integral part of marketing and sales. Potential customers can see what their products would look like, especially in the customer’s intended environment. (Ikea has an app that uses AR to show you how their furniture would look in your home.)

AR becomes even more valuable for Configure to Order (CTO) sales processes. The customer can select between the available Options and Variants, and immediately see the end result in front of them.

 Creo Options Modeler screen shot

PTC’s Options and Variants module can be used to configure products to order, and AR can then display the result to the customer.

User Experience

Finally, you can make AR part of your product. If you incorporate AR into your products, as part of the User Interface (UI) and/or User Experience (UX), you can differentiate your offerings from those of your competitors and become a market leader.

Instead of interacting with your product through traditional interfaces such as buttons, dials, and keypads, AR can provide Virtual Control Panels and Heads Up Displays (HUDs) for a more engaging experience. AR also allows for the evolution of how people engage with your products.

Since many products are also IoT devices, internet connectivity in conjunction with AR allows your product to be accessible from an ever-expanding set of devices. IoT also extends the life and utility of your products by adding new AR capabilities and workflows via software updates. In other words, you can continually provide additional value to your products by allowing them to evolve with your customers’ use cases.

Think of your experiences with new products. Have you ever assembled home furniture, and deep into the process realized you mistook one part for another, and now have to disassemble what you built? Have you ever stared in confusion at written directions to install some new device, not sure what they’re talking about?

Imagine your customers being able to use AR to assemble, install, troubleshoot, and maintain your products. How much more satisfied would your customers be with a frustration-free experience? AR is changing the way that organizations approach product design. Instead of focusing on form, features, and functions, design with AR addresses the entire customer experience, including purchasing, installing, and using the product.

AR can benefit the entire engineering lifecycle of your product, but more importantly, it can fundamentally reshape your customers’ interaction and satisfaction with your product. This technology can help you design and manufacture better products, at lower costs, with fewer mistakes. The business value of AR is yours to seize.

What’s Your AR Strategy?

Ed. From product design strategies and well beyond, AR has already begun to change the face of how players in industries everywhere create value. And now it’s more secure than ever.

Learn more about the choices companies like yours are making to keep their competitive edge as AR becomes an increasingly central part of their product strategy. Download A Manager’s Guide to Augmented Reality, published recently in the Harvard Business Review.

Tags: Augmented Reality CAD

About the Author

Dave Martin

Dave Martin is a Creo, Windchill, and PTC Mathcad instructor and consultant. He is the author of the books “Top Down Design in Creo Parametric,” “Design Intent in Creo Parametric,” and “Configuring Creo Parametric,” all available at He can be reached at

Dave currently works as the configuration manager for Elroy Air, which develops autonomous aerial vehicles for middle-mile delivery. Previous employers include Blue Origin, Amazon Prime Air, Amazon Lab126, and PTC. He holds a degree in Mechanical Engineering from MIT and is a former armor officer in the United States Army Reserves.