The quickening pace of business can put new and unexpected pressures on a workforce, with managers searching for ways to alleviate this pressure. Technology often plays a critical role here, with mobile devices currently serving an important role in connecting employees with content and with each other. Potential improvements to mobile devices are obvious, though, with demand for hands-free content access and greater interaction capabilities. Augmented reality delivers these improvements, both on mobile devices with greater data visualization capabilities as well as smart glasses for hands-free experiences.
At a foundational level, Augmented Reality enhances worker efficiency through data visualization and interaction, higher connectivity, and real time guidance. This is universally applicable, but some use cases are being explored earlier than others. Design and prototyping is one of those applications, with some significant companies looking to AR to enhance and improve their design, review, and prototyping workflow. Ford is already using Microsoft’s HoloLens specifically for digital design and prototyping, expanding design capabilities, improving collaboration and removing the need for clay modeling.
The visualization and interaction capabilities found in AR devices ensure the greatest level of efficiency and capability when it comes to model visualization and content interaction. Digital prototyping for applicable products can significantly reduce the time required to design and iterate. The limitations of digital prototyping can be lessened with the deep interactivity and spatial registration of content provided by AR.
In the design phase of a product lifecycle, resources can get bogged down in inefficient collaboration between workers and groups. With augmented reality, collaboration can be instant, remote and tailored to the task or product. This can lead to significant savings on travel costs by having remote contributors participate through AR. Increases in efficiency also come into play with reduction in travel, not to mention the inherent collaborative potential of AR improving collaboration efforts passively.
When drilling down to individual user applications, guiding a worker through a task or complex workflow can increase efficiency and reduce error rate. Error reduction especially can impact the quality and timeframe for prototyping, review and demonstration. It can also help to catch design flaws before pushing a product to the next stage of production and causing delays.
These use cases lead to four primary advantages when leveraging AR: reduced travel costs, reduced shipping and product costs, faster sales cycles and higher customer engagement. Remote expertise and collaboration reduces travel costs; removing the need for physical prototyping reduces shipping costs for products, while being able to iterate digitally on existing products helps further reduce associated costs; these two factors lessen the sales cycle time, allowing a product to hit a showroom/hands on phase more quickly; and when that product is ready to show, unique user experiences can be created and presented to increase customer interest and increase the likelihood of a sale.
It is rare for one new technology to have a positive impact on the many facets of a workflow. Of course, these benefits are not acted on without a proper supporting platform. A key component of this is content optimization and creation, allowing existing digital content to be utilized in AR, as well as allow for new content creation tailored to AR usage. Without this, resources are wasted through unused assets, duplicate asset creation, etc. Considering the already high CapEx and OpEx associated with AR, adding this additional barrier can prove to be a deciding factor in not adopting AR. PTC’s ThingWorx and Vuforia platforms fit in well here, with the rest of PTC’s portfolio filling in gaps where applicable. Other platform players tend to have a more focused approach to AR, drilling down either to content creation and/or optimization, or specific user applications.
The value of implementing AR in a product design and demonstration workflow is clear. The advantages that AR presents—in this case, deep data visualization and interaction, real-time collaboration and workflow guidance—synergize with the needs of the users and the existing workflows at play. At a high level, efficiency increases and OpEx decreases are apparent and quick to come to fruition; individual and group efficiency increases through workflow guidance and real-time collaboration, and reduction in travel, shipping and general research costs saves on OpEx. Even factoring in the initial and ongoing costs of an AR implementation, return on investment is still strong. Thanks to the universal usage nature of augmented reality, even an implementation first created for design and prototyping can be leveraged in other areas; training, field service, workflow guidance and more can be had on the same hardware and platforms already in use, which makes scaling an easier investment decision.
To learn more about how AR is accelerating time to market across the industrial enterprise, read the new white paper Augmented Reality: Improving Efficiency Across the Value Chain with Digital Product Visualization from ABI Research.