3 ways augmented and virtual reality are transforming the factory floor

Reality technologies aren’t just for video games. Whether it's a machine operator using goggles for directions or an engineer seeing a plant before construction starts, manufacturers are eagerly adopting virtual tools to streamline how they create, craft and complete their production line.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) head-mount displays are making important headway into how factories are run and even designed, saving time and money. More than one in three manufacturers have already adopted the twin technologies or plan to in the next three years.1

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"I definitely see AR and VR technologies being applied more and more in manufacturing,” said Miro Adzan, a general manager at our company. “They can increase efficiency, cut costs and reduce injuries."

Here are three areas where AR and VR technologies can make a difference on the factory floor:

Futuristic instruction manuals

Factory workers assemble hundreds or thousands of components in a particular order as fast as possible. Imagine if they could wear glasses that give a quick, graphical hint about where to put a hand to pick the right component. Smart headsets and glasses – which blend virtual imagery, instrumentation and words into what people are really seeing – can put digital instructions about how to build a product or run a specific machine directly within an operator’s field of view, keeping hands free to handle machines on task rather than browsing through hundreds of printed pages.

“This supports the production process and reduces training time, allowing you to quickly move from one product to another,” Miro said. “You can also help prevent workers from doing something the wrong way by guiding them through the correct process.”

Better-maintained machinery

While walking the manufacturing line, engineers can easily see the status of each individual machine – including how long it’s been running, its current output and its number of failures. Image quality, brightness efficiency and high contrast, which are highlights of our company's DLP® Pico™ display products, create rich AR displays that help virtual information naturally blend into the real world.

By simply scanning the machine’s barcode, its server can upload status information or send maintenance instructions straight to the engineer’s glasses. If there’s a jam, for example, AR can give insight into how a machine’s subsystems work together and help workers visualize whether parts can be reached and repaired without dismantling the entire unit.

"You can dynamically change what you're looking for with the click of your fingers," Miro said.

Virtual build-outs

Factory workers aren't the only ones benefiting from virtual technologies during the manufacturing process. Engineers are adopting VR to see how factories may look before construction ever starts, said Jesse Richuso, a product marketing engineer at our company. They can create optimum arrangements for machinery, improving worker efficiency and lowering cost before the foundation is even laid.

“Advancements in depth sensors built in to headsets combined with light field or multi-focal plane displays, which help the brain think that a virtual object is located at the correct distance from the viewer, could improve virtual renderings so that designers, architects and manufacturers can more effectively engage with computer-generated 3D modeling,” Jesse said.

While AR and VR tools are already at play in factories, such technologies are quickly expanding – and in some cases becoming standard tools – building a more seamless experience for manufacturers from the foundation up.

“They’re touching everything you can imagine on the factory floor,” Miro said.

1According to research firm PwC