By Niko Eppolito, CPA, Senior Accounting and Assurance
The manufacturing industry is continually evolving as manufacturers strive for improvements both in efficiency and profitability while maintaining high precision requirements with increasingly complex processes to meet customer demands. One of the most promising technologies that has emerged in recent years is augmented reality (AR).
AR is an advanced form of automation that incorporates digital technology into the manufacturing process that can seamlessly blend the real world with digital elements, enhancing our perception and interaction. By utilizing devices like smartphones, tablets, or smart glasses, AR overlays computer-generated visuals, sounds, or other sensory inputs into our real-time view of the physical world. This technology allows users to see and interact with virtual objects or information as if they were part of their immediate surroundings. Whether it’s overlaying step-by-step directions on the assembly line, projecting and highlighting errors on a machine for repair, or giving real-time updates on inventory levels, AR expands the possibilities of our reality by merging the digital and physical realms into a single, immersive experience.
Implementing AR effectively requires expertise in both technology and business strategy. Below, we provide a practical example of this technology and then explore some of the benefits of utilizing AR and best practices for AR implementation as it relates to manufacturing.
BENEFITS OF AUGMENTED REALITY
AR provides new and experienced workers with interactive and immersive training experiences in a risk-free semi-virtual environment. As workers complete tasks in training simulations, they can receive instant feedback on any steps missed, incorrectly performed, or steps that have taken an excessive amount of time. Having instant feedback allows workers to re-run training simulations without the need for additional materials or help from co-workers, reducing downtime and keeping real production running. Since the training is virtual, the more experienced individuals uninvolved with training can continue their duties without interruption.
AR can also provide safety training utilizing an immersive environment that draws on the workers’ senses with various auditory and visual warnings. For example, in a controlled training room, the AR system can generate a spill on the floor with hazardous material that the worker can walk through in real time. This training allows workers to experience real scenarios in a risk-free environment so they are well prepared for difficult, real situations on the factory floor.
Assembly and Quality Assurance
AR is increasingly playing a crucial role in guiding assembly line workers in their daily processes. For example, assembly line workers can utilize lightweight wearable AR glasses to obtain visual assistance in assembling more complex products and access instructions without the need to flip through cumbersome manuals. Instructions can be overlayed as either a 3D model with animations or a step-by-step guide superimposed onto a workstation.
With a fully integrated AR system that has special equipment, workers can obtain real time data on the status of production lines, equipment, and inventory. This system continually obtains data from these manual processes and can alert workers when a piece is missing or a step was missed. This involvement of AR increases line efficiency and quality as potential errors are caught before shipment or packaging.
Maintenance and Repairs
AR can improve repair and maintenance downtime and efficiency by providing technicians or workers with real-time information and 3D models. As machinery continually evolves, more complex repairs and maintenance may be needed to keep lines running as efficiently as possible. Technicians can access instructions while they work to reduce trial and error. For example, if a steel manufacturer’s plate rolling machine breaks down, the technician can access a 3D model of the motor and disassemble it on a worktable by following the 3D model. They can rotate the 3D model of the machinery to look at various angles that would often be impossible due to the weight of the machine or logistics of the manufacturing floor. Therefore, AR can help speed up necessary repairs and maintenance, limiting downtime on the shop floor.
BEST PRACTICES FOR AR IMPLEMENTATION IN MANUFACTURING
It’s essential to start small when implementing AR in manufacturing as manufacturers need to develop and define specific case uses for this technology. Starting with too many functions at once, without the proper applications and processes established, the system may run into issues causing excessive downtime and errors. Starting small and implementing slowly will allow the manufacturer to test and refine their AR implementations before scaling up to larger projects.
Involve Workers in the Process
Workers need to be involved in the AR implementation process. Manufacturers should solicit feedback, provide training, and address any concerns timely. Providing hands-on training sessions or formalized instruction manuals with real scenarios will allow employees to effectively learn the technology.
Focus on User Experience
The user experience is critical when implementing AR in manufacturing. Manufacturers should focus on developing AR applications that are simple to use and implement. This process includes providing clear instructions, minimizing distractions, and ensuring that AR applications are compatible with work devices.
Manufacturers should measure the return on investment (ROI) of their AR implementations to ensure that they generate value. The calculation should include tracking cost savings, productivity gains, reductions in downtime, and improvements in quality. Measuring ROI can also help manufacturers identify additional areas for improvement and optimize AR implementation.
Augmented reality can potentially transform the manufacturing industry by enhancing training, collaboration, and efficiency. At MichaelSilver, our experienced team can play a critical role in helping companies leverage this technology by assisting in calculating ROI and maximizing tax benefits from implementation. Please contact your MichaelSilver professional at 847.982.0333 to find out more.
Niko Eppolito, CPA, is an Accounting and Assurance Senior with MichaelSilver. He concentrates on performing accounting and assurance services for companies within the private, middle market sector. Niko has been with MichaelSilver for over three years working with a wide range of industries including automobile dealerships, manufacturing, not-for-profit, and professional services. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Accountancy from the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. He is a member of the Illinois CPA Society.