Volkswagen is one of the world’s leading automobile manufacturers and the largest carmaker in Europe. They operate manufacturing plants around the globe and are the parent company to luxury brands, such as Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, and Lamborghini. Headquartered at the heart of Industrie 4.0 innovation in Germany, their focus on testing and incorporating new technologies into their operations and products is leading the way to the future of manufacturing excellence. Volkswagen views augmented reality (AR) as an essential extension of these Industrie 4.0 initiatives and is beginning to utilize this technology to improve quality and efficiency across product design and operations, as well as to enhance their automobiles and customers’ experience.
A critical portion of Volkswagen’s product development is the transition from digital design to physical prototype. Errors at this phase are costly, and an undetected flaw can result in major setbacks in product development timelines. Once constructed, the prototype undergoes a rigorous quality assurance assessment to verify it was built to the original spec. Historically, this meant a quality engineer would study the drawings of the design and then compare it to the physical prototype. With flexible components and hundreds of parts to inspect, this process has been challenging and time consuming.
Now enter AR and smart, connected products. This cumbersome process was transformed by superimposing the 3D CAD design into the quality engineer’s view of the physical prototype. Instead of having to refer to or remember the physical designs, the engineer can see all of it in the same place and context. This requires less effort and strain on the engineer, which in turn improves quality and reduces inspection time.
One challenge Volkswagen experienced when developing this use case was around the accuracy of current optical tracking systems in AR devices. The camera technology predominantly being used today can have difficulty tracking objects in changing light conditions with high levels of accuracy.
Volkswagen tackled this by incorporating data from existing sensor-connected measuring arms to help track, align, and measure the components within the engine compartment and other areas being inspected. By leveraging this existing source of highly accurate spatial data, Volkswagen was able to deploy AR more quickly, with lower costs and higher accuracy. Accepting the limitations of hardware used in AR experiences and using the data generated by smart, connected assets shortened Volkswagen’s time to value and enabled deployment of this valuable new technology ahead of the competition.
Quality is of the upmost importance, with errors in assembly often resulting in rework, recalls, or even compromised customer safety. Volkswagen does not cut corners when it comes to quality, earning them their reputation for reliability.
For example, during chassis construction and quality assurance (QA), 1.5 meter segments of steel can have 100 or more spot welds and require testing of a few specific welds to pass quality inspection. In the past, quality assurance workers needed to identify a part, pull up a drawing of the design, and locate the required spot welds according to the diagram to test their integrity. This process of finding the right schematic and identifying the welds to be tested took 5-10 minutes each. Using AR, Volkswagen has reduced this search time to less than 1 minute by enabling computer vision to identify the part and superimpose red dots highlighting the welds that require testing. This saves workers time and energy searching for the information they need and improves quality by ensuring the right welds are being tested.
Volkswagen’s Virtual Technology Lab is responsible for evaluating new technologies and identifying pain points within their operations that align with potential use cases. While it sounds simple, the search time required to identify part schematics and identify the welds was not only a time sink, but also a point of fatigue for their workforce. By listening to their workers and finding a simple business challenge to address, Volkswagen was able to start small and speed time to value.
Innovators at Volkswagen are constantly looking for opportunities to differentiate their automobiles and improve the customer’s experience. As their cars become more technologically advanced, Volkswagen customers enjoy increasingly feature-packed conveniences in their driving experience. But documentation has not evolved past paper-based manuals. This created a unique opportunity for UX enhancement.
In the past, paper-based manuals were distributed with new cars for customers to learn how to use the radio or refill the washer fluid, for example. This was a stark contrast to the customer’s experience with their new, technologically advanced car. Today, Audi distributes AR user manuals that provide a customer experience that matches the quality of the driving experience.
Using the Audi app, customers can point their smartphones at over 150 different features of their car to receive information and instructions about what a feature does or how to interact with it. This makes the interaction more intuitive and improves customer satisfaction. By focusing on each level of their user’s experience, Volkswagen was able to differentiate and improve on this important set of documentation.
Volkswagen has been testing and piloting AR use cases for some time and has learned some valuable best practices along the way. By employing these best practices they’ve been able to put into production several key AR use cases, yielding gains in quality, efficiency, and differentiation. But Volkswagen does not intend to stop there, and after realizing these benefits they are exploring additional use cases across functions. As this new technology continues to evolve, Volkswagen will continue to seek opportunities for transformation and innovation.
To learn more about the deployment considerations, strategic choices, and opportunity presented by AR, download “A Manager’s Guide to Augmented Reality.”Image: 2017 Copyright Volkswagen US Media Site
Jonathan Lang is Principal Analyst for PTC’s Thought Leadership group. He is an accomplished technology market analyst, providing advisory to the full ecosystem - investors, enterprises, and vendors - on the impact of emerging technologies and digital transformation. Jonathan enjoys the outdoors and spends his weekends backpacking, rock climbing, and gardening.