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Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in Manufacturing

The industrial sector is embracing Industry 4.0, implementing innovative technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality in manufacturing facilities. Though not as prevalent as some other smart manufacturing technologies, manufacturers are finding various uses for extended reality technologies. They’re being incorporated into operational processes, training programs and product development.

By leveraging virtual and augmented reality, businesses can create visual simulations in manufacturing environments and of manufacturing processes. This has the potential to impact the future of manufacturing operations in ways that will transform the industry. Manufacturers are already seeing positive outcomes from extended reality technologies, which are expected to continue to grow within the industry.

There are several use cases for virtual reality and augmented reality in manufacturing. These technologies are helping to digitize the industrial sector.

Design, Prototyping and Production

With virtual reality (VR) manufacturers can rapidly prototype products in a virtual environment. This ability to create and change product designs can lead to time savings in the development process. And since this requires fewer physical prototypes, it’s also more cost-effective.

VR technology allows users to create a virtual environment where they can design and test new products as well as create virtual prototypes of new products. This also gives manufacturers more freedom to adjust current product designs, which provides increased opportunities for product improvement. All of this is possible without the extensive use of resources and materials because everything is virtual. Virtual reality in manufacturing helps to improve products and bring products to market quicker.

Another way to use VR is to create digital twins. A digital twin is a digital copy of a product or process. This copy is built using information from the real-world source, usually via smart sensors. The digital twin is more than just a visual copy, though. It can use the collected sensor data to function and interact the same as its real-world twin would.

Manufacturers can use digital twins to test out different production lines and processes. This allows manufacturers to optimize new production systems before the systems are physically developed. Since digital twins can mirror interactions, they’re also used to determine how a new product might respond to certain environments or scenarios. Then manufacturers can continuously update the product prototype as needed based on data collected from the digital twin.

Manufacturing Workforce Training

With VR and augmented reality (AR) in manufacturing, users can engage with virtual interactive environments or overlay virtual components within their physical environments. This has driven improvements and innovation in manufacturing training. Not only are VR- and AR-enabled training sessions often more effective, they’re also safer.

It’s important for new manufacturing personnel to have effective training on hazardous materials and heavy industrial equipment, but due to the nature of these objects, the training can be dangerous. Virtual training provides participants with a safer learning environment while still giving them a sense of hands-on training. Learning to handle or control industrial machinery in a virtual environment may not be quite the same as in a physical environment, but it will give workers confidence in and knowledge of the equipment. This mitigates safety concerns during training and within the facility in general.

Using AR and VR can also help train new manufacturing workers more effectively. Extended reality trainings can provide interactive visuals that give an accurate representation of the actual facility and machinery new hires will be using. This “hands-on” training is often more effective than reading manuals or packets. It helps new workers learn their jobs more quickly and better retain what they learn.

Inventory Management

With AR, manufacturers can incorporate virtual components into a physical manufacturing space. This technology is used in manufacturing storage and warehouse facilities to quickly locate inventory. With an AR-enabled tablet or virtual headset, warehouse workers can overlay virtual instructions onto their physical environment and find the exact location of the inventory they are seeking.

Not only does this lead to huge time savings, it is also an effective way to optimize a warehouse worker’s time. This is especially useful to help combat labor shortages within manufacturing warehouses. Instead of spending large chunks of time searching for inventory in a facility where every aisle looks the same, workers have precise knowledge and instructions to find the correct inventory.

Aside from just being used on an individual level, extended reality technologies can help with warehouse planning and improvements on current warehouse layouts. AR is an excellent tool for locating inventory, but it can also give an overview of an entire warehouse layout. Warehouse managers can utilize this to virtually test different layouts and optimize their warehouses, improving efficiency even more.

Workplace Safety

Since VR can simulate the manufacturing production environment, manufacturers can examine virtual operations to identify potential safety concerns. With VR, manufacturers can identify safety hazards on current production lines, as well as make the initial production layout safer during planning stages. Virtual layout planning allows manufacturers to plan equipment and workspaces with safety in mind while still ensuring production levels are maximized.

When VR and AR are incorporated into manufacturing facilities, these environments become safer and more efficient. Implementing extended reality technologies can lead to significant time and cost savings within production processes.

To learn more about virtual reality and augmented reality in manufacturing, attend Smart Manufacturing Experience.