Augmented-reality technology promises to increase productivity in manufacturing and service sectors by delivering timely, useful information, such as wiring diagrams to operators’ eyes, enabling them to work without consulting technical manuals. AR smart glasses that
visually guide workers may improve safety and worker satisfaction.
It has been shown that improvements of 25-50% productivity in certain tasks can be achieved by augmenting human workers. In addition, AR may also plug a skills gap; less-skilled workers can match the productivity of experienced workers even the first time they attempt a task. This is being tested in a range of manufacturing industries, warehousing and field-service environments. Even NASA astronauts are getting in on the action, using augmented and virtual reality to train for mission in space!
Extending AR beyond the factory floor
But what if augmenting shop floor workers was not the only use for AR? What if managers and executives could walk a process in reality with augmented information? Or if they could walk in virtual reality around a digital twin, with performance metrics overlaid on a virtual representation of their business?
Businesses stand to gain at least as much, if not much more, from better decision making in re-structuring processes and investment decisions than in increasing productivity at the coal-face.
Many smart manufacturers use predictive simulation and predictive analytics to understand how their business may perform in a range of future scenarios, using them as virtual sandboxes in which to tinker, play and learn about the dynamics and reactions of processes. These decision-support tools are best anchored to the real world, when people can understand the (virtual) reality in play, and so visualization is an important component in the "believability" of a simulation.
Predictive simulation often becomes an embedded part of the way a business makes decisions; investors will insist on seeing the latest simulation of where their money will go, and companies mandate their suppliers to provide simulations of how they will be supplied. What better way to deliver that proof than in AR/VR world?
I believe we will see an increasing interplay between augmented reality for management and decision-support simulations. This will start from current metrics overlaid on a real business, moving on to proposed investments and reorganization, with future simulated realities. This will enable deeper understanding, rooted in the real-world, with evidenced-based proof to back up what can often be seen as ivory-tower process-improvement or investment decisions.
Steve Jones is a consultant with Lanner Group Limited.