Augmented Reality to the Rescue: Addressing the Industrial Skills Gap

Written By: Brent Baker
  • 4/3/2020
  • Read Time : 2 min
AR in aerospace and defense

The workforce skills gap is a broad problem across the manufacturing sector - made infinitely more complex by the COVID-19 crisis - but especially for government and industry stakeholders in the Aerospace and Defense domain. According to a study conducted by Deloitte Digital, there is a skills gap in the manufacturing industry that may leave 2.4M positions unfilled by 2028. Similar studies in the national security space support these findings.

The shortages have been driven by a perfect storm of five key factors, each compounding the others.  Let’s look at them in more depth.

Workforce Exodus

A significant number of experienced manufacturing artisans are now leaving the workforce. The Society for Human Resource Management states, “A high percentage of workers are eligible to retire in manufacturing—58% in 1-2 years and 52% in 3-5 years.” There is little doubt these high numbers are contributing to the skills gap. To address the loss of knowledge, a new generation must be recruited and trained quickly.

Negative Perceptions

Aerospace manufacturing jobs are not viewed as positively as they once were, because those entering the workforce today do not necessarily aspire to work in a factory environment. According to a recent poll by the Fabrication and Manufacturing Association, 61% of teenagers perceived that a manufacturing career entailed a “dirty, dangerous place that requires little thinking or skill from its workers and offers a minimal opportunity for personal growth or career advancement.” We must find a way to overcome this perception.

Paper-Based Processes

Another situation - the aerospace manufacturing environment is rife with paper instructions. When given a paper manual, most newly minted employees will immediately ask if it has a corresponding video online. As we all know, paper instructions are often outdated and ineffective.

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Training Is a Low Priority

Additionally, training is expensive and is not always a top priority for an organization. Training quality is also poor and outdated in many cases. The industry often trains “broadly for just-in-case” versus “narrowly for just-in-time.”

Not Enough Shadowing

Finally, IndustryWeek determined that “75% of manufacturing leaders cite on the floor job shadowing as the most effective method, yet scheduling, lost productivity, measurement, and retention pose significant challenges.” As a result, the most effective method of training is often underutilized. Why is this?

Technology to the Rescue

While nothing can be done to slow the retirement rate of experienced workers, there are smart ways to address its effects.  Augmented reality (AR) technology can help to invert these headwinds into once-in-a- generation opportunities for efficiency gain and risk reduction.

For example, AR can capture the knowledge of retiring employees through dynamic, highly associative processes. It is now possible to have a manufacturing shop floor worker use a hands-free wearable device (HoloLens) to create a video recording of a complex manufacturing procedure. That content is then associated with CAD data to create a visual and auditory training experience for a new employee. Because it is using multi senses, it closely replicates the process of an in-person ‘shadowing’ experience, and to an infinite number of new entrants (vs a 1:1 ratio). In some ways, this training is even superior to an in-person session because a user can replay a problem spot for clarification repeatedly.

Another example; if a CAD file is updated to reflect a product design change, it can now be immediately updated in a training module for equipment manufacturing vs. reprinting dozens of outdated manuals. Many AR use cases have demonstrated a 50% reduction in training time and a 10X faster time for documentation of Standard Operating Procedures. By making it more relevant and cost-effective, AR instantly catapults training to a higher priority, strategic endeavor in the enterprise. It also helps to abate the perception problem by appealing to a younger and more technically savvy workforce, already comfortable in AR environments.

None of this was possible 10 years ago. But it’s here now. To learn more about AR for Aerospace and Defense, contact H. Brent Baker, Sr., VP Federal Aerospace and Defense at hbaker@ptc.com.

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About the Author

Brent Baker

H. Brent Baker, Sr., VP, Worldwide Federal Aerospace and Defense (FA&D), Maj Gen (USAF, Retired), functions as the key leader in PTC’s FA&D business in the Americas and globally. In this role, General Baker ensures PTC’s “Out of the Box” software solutions are provided to the customer thereby ensuring immediate and significant value. He establishes the tone and momentum to gain “first to market” solutions in the FA&D organization and spearheads strategic plans and new offerings based on expertise in industry and government. General Baker develops the operational plans that encompasse the FA&D sector for PTC, and establishes partnerships with key leaders in FA&D. He communicates PTC’s commitment to the industry externally to all parties in the “Congress to Warfighter” value chain, and ensures PTC’s sales team is equipped to fully demonstrate the technical solutions to customers and clients.

Prior to this role, General Baker was the Vice Commander, Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. He directed policy and procedures affecting AFMC aircraft maintenance, munitions, supply, logistics plans, transportation and packaging methods, and logistics data systems. As the staff lead for logistics and life cycle sustainment issues, General Baker planned and coordinated product support and acquisition logistics for fielded and emerging Air Force weapon systems.

Augmented Reality to the Rescue: Addressing the Industrial Skills Gap | PTC
While nothing can be done to slow the retirement rate of experienced workers in Aerospace & Defense, there are smart ways to address its effects. Read more about the impact of augmented reality.