Employees column

Virtually Improved

Augmented reality systems can transform training. By Paul Ryznar

For manufacturers and assemblers everywhere, efficiency, quality, speed and safety are the holy grails. Finding new ways to train employees and streamline existing processes in a way that makes progress toward those goals is a universal priority that extends across different manufacturing segments. With that in mind, it is unsurprising that new applications for augmented reality technology are gaining significant traction–specifically with respect to training.

As more manufacturers are realizing, practical augmented reality manufacturing systems can transform online and offline operator training programs, improve training and productivity by replacing paper or monitor-based work instructions, and engage operators in a dynamic, interactive and intuitive way. This new category of technology includes software and systems with the potential to retain jobs and ultimately revolutionize manufacturing outcomes. Potential benefits include:

• Elimination of training variation inherent across multiple trainers through the implementation of standardize AR-based training.

• The ability to project visual information about processes (timing, alerts, next steps, process tips and reminders);

• Paper or monitor-based work instructions that allow users to keep their eyes and attention on the task at hand;

• Freeing up high-level personnel for non-training tasks;

• Measuring and confirming the completion of complex or customized steps to ensure quality;

• Straightforward integration with existing systems and tools; and

• Collecting detailed process data for each part built, helping to reduce future errors and improve processes by identifying bottlenecks and other challenges.

Manufacturing professionals–particularly decision-makers–would be wise to familiarize themselves with augmented reality platforms, potential and implementation best practices in order to make a determination as to whether or not their own training protocols would benefit from an augmented reality solution.

Training: Augmented

While augmented reality solutions have been making an impact on the factory floor for some time now (used for everything from complex assembly tasks to inspection and logistics), more and more manufacturers are beginning to utilize them as an essential piece of the training puzzle. The adaptive, real-time guidance that the best augmented reality solutions provide is a good fit for training applications, where individual trainees can receive practical hands-on guidance and training experience in a way that is often not possible with traditional paper or monitor-based work instructions.

But to appreciate why that is the case, we first need to understand how augmented reality technology works in a manufacturing setting.

Virtual Guidance

The most effective augmented reality solutions rely on a mix of industrial strength projection technology and sophisticated software to create a digital operating “canvas” that can be projected directly onto a variety of different work surfaces. One of the advantages of such systems is that they are both flexible and scalable: able to be customized and utilized in a virtually unlimited range of applications. 

The best augmented reality systems integrate audio and visual cues to provide practical, real-time guidance, pacing and direction. The result is that users can focus on each step in the task instead of referring back to a checklist or outside resource, and, with no-faults-forward functionality, such systems ensure that the right parts and materials are used in the right order and are assembled correctly. In a training context, that ability to combine practical experience with assurance that tasks are completed in an efficient and error-free manner is enormously valuable.

Training Technology

As the value of augmented reality technology becomes clearer, newly modified and increasingly mobile solutions are making augmented reality tools available in a growing number of training applications. Offline and hybrid augmented reality training platforms have emerged that retain the real-time interactive nature of advanced manufacturing systems while making augmented reality available in a wide variety of different contexts. Trainees can be guided through three dimensional models that mimic the real world realities of the manufacturing floor, for example, with hyper-realistic details such as tool and parts positioning ensuring that the training they receive is as efficient and productive as possible.

Step-dependent sequential training creates a learning environment where the right processes and sequences are not just provided, they are woven into the fabric of the training experience itself. This is particularly valuable in terms of ensuring the standardization of parts and sequences, and instilling a bedrock training base that is the same throughout an organization.

Such systems also provide multi-level training capabilities through personalized guidance and instruction, while providing trainees with the autonomy to proceed at their own pace–all without the need for experienced personnel to oversee the process. Once a trainee feels that they have mastered a skill or sequence, they can then move on to a certification phase, where they complete the program on their own–without computer guidance. The result is a powerful and flexible training tool that allows trainees to engage in even the most complex and intricate manufacturing tasks and assembly sequences.

Tactical Advantages

Augmented reality training programs and protocols feature a wide range of potential advantages that includes:

* Saving time, man-hours and resources by allowing trainees to “self-train” on manual processes; (allowing experienced/senior personnel to engage in more complex/challenging tasks);

* Precision and accountability, with systems using a range of cameras and guidance systems to record hand position, sequencing, part selection and other operational details;

* Standardized training that eliminates the inefficiency of variation;

* Real-time analytics and detailed data collection that provides important insights into common mistakes and potential process improvements;

* Easy customization and mobility (for portable systems) that makes it possible for systems to be adapted for a number of different training applications; and

* Eliminates the need for written work instructions, which is particularly valuable in sterile lab or healthcare settings where sanitation and cleanliness are paramount–reducing or eliminating the potential transmission of infectious material and worries about potential contamination or health/hygiene issues.

The leap to augmented reality is like moving from a traditional paper map to a modern GPS system on your phone or mobile device. Both present the same information, but GPS apps do so in a way that provides real-time visual and audio guidance, adaptive navigation that takes emerging issues like traffic and wrong turns into account, and allows you to operate in a safe and hands-free manner.

As many manufacturers are discovering for themselves, the power and potential of augmented reality is primed to break similarly new ground as part of an innovative new approach to training and process refinement.

Paul Ryznar created Light Guide Systems and is the founder and predident of OPS Solutions



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