Why Investing in AR Is a Must for Life Sciences Organizations

Written By: Billy Sisk
  • 9/10/2020
  • Read Time : 3 min
investing in augmented reality for life sciences organizations

For many organizations, COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation. Faced with new realities of social distancing, remote work, and sudden shifts in demand, they’re reconsidering the technology investments they’ll need to make both short-term and long-term to survive and thrive in this new normal. Augmented reality (AR) has emerged a technology that’s uniquely positioned to help organizations navigate the future of work and bring digital technology to the frontline, helping them to maintain business continuity and drive resiliency.

For Life Sciences manufacturers, these trends are an everyday reality. Sudden shifts in market demand and production constraints have demanded a re-evaluation of priorities, forcing Life Sciences manufacturers to consider whether to increase production of one essential good (such as critical medical devices or life-sustaining treatments) at the expense of non-essential items on an abbreviated timeline. While decisions like these would have previously involved extensive discussion, case-building, and months of research and study, they’re now an everyday norm of operating in the Life Sciences industry.

Making employee safety their number one priority, Life Sciences leaders implemented new measures to facilitate social distancing on the plant floor, enable remote operations, and improve communication and collaboration across their organizations. In this face of this uncertainty, many prioritized investments in AR technologies that could help them implement important safety and compliance measures and improve workforce productivity.

As you consider your own investments in augmented reality, it’s important to understand the areas of your organization that could benefit most from AR – as well as how you can leverage AR to drive tangible benefits.

A critical opportunity for augmented reality

Augmented reality is a powerful technology that accelerates onboarding, transforms learning and training practices, enables remote support and collaboration, and drives productivity improvements. In a new normal that’s increasingly virtual, augmented reality marries the physical world and the digital world, empowering frontline workers in the factory and in the field.

In the current climate, the value of AR to Life Sciences manufacturers has become more apparent, shifting from a nice-to-have on the technology adoption roadmap to a must-have technology that allows enterprises to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances.

Here are five reasons why now is the time for Life Sciences leaders to start thinking about their organization’s AR strategy.

1. AR supports business continuity

The COVID-19 pandemic put immense pressure on Life Sciences manufacturers to keep operations running, even in the face of social distancing measures. As the need to minimize direct interactions with others – employees and customer alike – became top-of-mind for Life Sciences manufacturers, many organizations realized that these measures would now prevent some of their most critical business functions from operating normally. On the shop floor, social distancing measures prevented even co-located employees from participating in job shadowing, mentoring, and knowledge transfer programs that were critical to traditional onboarding and training programs. In the field, remote experts now needed new ways to communicate and collaborate with employees and customers at local sites to help them operate, maintain, and repair machines of all kinds.

investing in augmented reality for life sciences organizations

To maintain business continuity and help their employees navigate these challenges, manufacturers are leveraging AR to provide new ways of capturing and transferring knowledge. In Pharma and Biotech facilities, AR enables tenured experts to document their best practices and capture enhanced procedural guidance, which can later be turned into a reusable training resource for onboarding, upskilling, and reskilling. For device and equipment manufacturers, AR enables organizations to transform their existing 3D CAD data into  immersive augmented work instructions, which can overlay detailed digital content on top of physical machines. Finally manufacturers can use the technology to provide remote support so that expert skills can be accessed on-demand.

AR allows for easy documentation and communication of complex procedures like resolving fault scenarios and facilitating medical equipment repair, and in the field, this information can be delivered to both service technicians and end customers alike. And, if these field technicians need help troubleshooting or understanding the issues in front of them, they can use AR remote assistance applications to connect and collaborate with remote experts who can walk them through the procedure via a shared live view of the environment. AR improves first-time fix rates and enables Life Sciences manufacturers to reduce unplanned customer downtime, keeping critical (and sometimes lifesaving) machines up and running.

As Life Sciences manufacturers look to maintain business continuity, AR is a critical technology that can help them continue to keep workforce productivity levels high even in the face of social distancing measures.

 

2. AR works with existing infrastructure

Digital transformation is a high priority for many leading manufacturers, but often integrating new technology and processes with their existing infrastructure and equipment can present a challenge. While augmented reality solutions overlay digital information on the physical world, these experiences are delivered through a separate technology layer, which does not need to be integrated with legacy operational technologies. Manufacturers can adopt AR capabilities without having to rip and replace their core infrastructure, leveraging AR-enabled devices to supplement the technology on the plant floor.

3. AR improves training and knowledge transfer

In an industry like Life Sciences, manufacturers’ most valuable asset isn’t their highly specialized production equipment – it’s the highly skilled people who direct, operate, and repair these machines. Many employees in the Life Sciences sector have spent decades building their knowledge and developing their expertise. Yet as these employees approach retirement, new employees enter the workforce, and new and necessary skills emerge, establishing effective training and knowledge transfer processes becomes critical to the ongoing success of the business.

As workforce dynamics evolve, many organizations have begun to rethink their approaches to onboarding, training, upskilling, and reskilling. They’ve also begun to look for more effective ways to deliver these programs that encourage employee engagement and information retention. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve begun to prioritize training approaches that keep employees safe – whether through social distancing or through remote work.

AR can help Life Sciences manufacturers revolutionize their onboarding and training programs, enabling the creation of better job aids, learning programs, and standard operating procedures (SOPs). In an industry where the average cost of training outpaces that of traditional manufacturing, and where the average company maintains more than 1000 SOPs, augmented reality can help streamline the creation of training materials, decrease training delivery time, improve training consistency and efficiency, and deliver substantial cost savings compared to traditional methods.

investing in augmented reality for life sciences organizations

 

4. AR enables manufacturing flexibility

AR can also help Life Sciences manufacturers extend their expertise to other industries. During the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid shifts in demand, paired with shortages of critical medical devices and supplies, left many manufacturers wondering how they could switch their production efforts to better address current global needs. Whether it was aerospace and automotive plants  making ventilators or distilleries making hand sanitizer, the broader manufacturing community undertook the complex task of changing over their production lines and retraining employees to now focus on new production efforts.

In situations like these, AR can help with both line changeover and ongoing manufacturing efforts. For example, during the pandemic, major manufacturers across the globe joined forces to rapidly scale up ventilator production for patients with coronavirus. The UK government partnered with a number of the leading technology and engineering firms to rapidly build existing, modified, or newly designed ventilators. 

They worked to improve the speed at which current UK ventilator manufacturers could produce their devices, with larger companies pivoting their existing operations to help provide the UK with the equipment and personnel it needed for this effort.

Leveraging PTC’s Vuforia Expert Capture AR technology and Microsoft’s HoloLens to capture and transfer the necessary process knowledge from the existing ventilator manufacturers allowed companies like Smiths Group to enable manufacturers in other industries, like GKN Aerospace, to quickly switch their lines to help produce the high number of ventilators needed. 

Augmented reality was a critical technology that made it possible to meet this unprecedented challenge of ramping up diverse industrial manufacturers to produce medical devices in their factories, allowing Life Sciences manufacturers to quickly scale their expertise to other industries in this time of need.

 

5. AR enhances broader digital transformation efforts

Digital transformation is a high priority for many leading manufacturers, but often integrating new technology and processes with their existing infrastructure and equipment can present a challenge. While augmented reality solutions overlay digital information on the physical world, these experiences are delivered through a separate technology layer, which does not need to be integrated with legacy operational technologies. Manufacturers can adopt AR capabilities without having to rip and replace their core infrastructure, leveraging AR-enabled devices to supplement the technology on the plant floor.

In a tightly-regulated environment like Life Sciences, change can be a long process. Manufacturers know that to stay competitive, they need to embrace digital transformation across their people, processes, and products. To improve efficiency in their production processes, they must digitalise their plant operations and leverage the power of technologies such as IoT, predictive analytics, machine learning, and AI.

With a focus on empowering employees, AR brings digital transformation to frontline workers, helping them unlock additional value from operational technologies like IoT. By helping employees visualize important information such as machine performance data, AR can help both on- and off-site employees further optimize operations for both Life Sciences manufacturers and their customers. 

Making change a reality

Rockwell Automation and PTC are working together to support executives in building the business case for augmented reality, especially in light of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Combining our expertise in AR and long history of working with Life Sciences customers, we’re able to help design and implement AR solutions that support worker safety and productivity in the new normal, while simultaneously focusing on longer-term digital transformation initiatives.

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About the Author

Billy Sisk

Billy has extensive work experience in both automation and IT, and is responsible for Rockwell Automation’s Life Sciences market strategy across EMEA. Billy and his team help pharmaceutical manufacturers bring innovative treatments to patients faster—while improving quality, yield, and product security.

Why Investing in AR Is a Must for Life Sciences Organizations
Investing in augmented reality (AR) has helped many Life Sciences organizations navigate their new normal. As you consider investment, here are 5 key things to consider.