Wearables and augmented reality on the manufacturing shop floor

Profile picture for user Jerry Foster By Jerry Foster December 19, 2017
Summary:
Real-world examples of wearables and augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) on the manufacturing shopfloor. Plex CTO Jerry Foster shares customer stories
Plex manufacturing customer Fisher Dynamics using Google Glass on shop floor
Wearables in use at Fisher Dynamics

When it comes to technology, manufacturers are looking to check one or all of three down-to-earth boxes – efficiency, quality, and safety. That being said, manufacturers have also led us through major technology revolutions that have forever changed the world around us. So it’s no surprise that manufacturing companies are actively exploring viable use cases for wearables and augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) technology on the shop floor.

We see this close up at Plex Systems as we collaborate with our customers in various industries to develop practical applications for these technologies. Here are three examples that show the progress being made.

Google Glass and other wearables

We have worked closely with Fisher Dynamics, a seating systems and mechanisms manufacturer, to build out support for Google Glass in production operations. We paired Glass with a wearable ring scanner to record materials, and added an iBeacon so Glass could use accurate location awareness inside the factory. Now that Google has launched the next-generation Glass 2.0, both Plex and Fisher Dynamics are excited about the potential of adding voice-activated capabilities for a truly hands-free work experience.

HoloLens for augmented reality

Another Plex customer, Polamer Precision, is using augmented reality to map out their plant layout with a 3D model to position workstations and tooling, ensuring forklifts and other equipment have room to operate safely and efficiently. Polamer is an aerospace manufacturer specializing in complex engine components, so the company also plans to test overlaying work instructions specific to a role or work center on HoloLens. This will simplify worker tasks and ensure more efficient on-the-job training. With HoloLens expected to decrease in price once it hits mass availability, Polamer sees the opportunity to use manufacturing data in a new way to manage production.

More AR/VR in manufacturing

A third example comes from Kamco Industries, an injection molding manufacturer for the automotive industry. This Plex customer is testing augmented reality to resolve problems on the shop floor. When an operator runs into an issue during production and wants to consult a supervisor who is busy or out of the office, the operator can use Skype with HoloLens to work through the issue with them remotely. Kamco has used this same concept for its engineering group. Since engineers often have to travel for the programs they are working on, this is not only a great time-saving use case, but it also saves the company on travel costs.

Another potential use for HoloLens at Kamco is for the company’s tooling group. When new tools get damaged and need repair, the team usually goes to blueprints or maps out the process as they disassemble tools. With HoloLens, they can actually ‘see’ inside the tool and how all the parts work prior to disassembly. This saves a lot of time on fixing the tools, which is especially valuable if they are needed to fill high priority orders.

Real value on the shop floor

From what our customers are doing, we see that wearables have the potential to provide real value on the shop floor, especially with the addition of voice-activated capabilities. Meanwhile, augmented reality and virtual reality use cases show HoloLens also being used to solve problems in innovative ways.

As more manufacturers digitize and automate their processes and operations to gain more accuracy and efficiency, the use of wearables and augmented reality will continue to gain momentum. We are at a point in the evolution of these technologies where the value is becoming clearer, and manufacturers are discovering how to bring them together intelligently.