Industrial V Michigan

AR for video games? Nope. This tech is thriving on factory, warehouse floors

  
AR not just for video games,ph01

It’s true, you don’t see anyone walking down the street wearing Google Glass, the augmented-reality glasses that Google unveiled to so much fanfare in 2013.

But if you were to walk the floor of a warehouse or manufacturing facility? It wouldn’t be unusual at all to see line workers wearing the newest version of this product, Glass Enterprise Edition, augmented reality-equipped glasses that are enjoying a boom of popularity in the manufacturing world.

These glasses, and other devices equipped with augmented reality, or AR, technology, are making it easier for workers to repair malfunctioning equipment, maintain that same equipment, fill orders and locate parts and boxes scattered about huge warehouses.

Experts in AR tech say that the real future of augmented reality isn’t in video games or entertainment, but on the floors of factories, warehouses and distribution centers.

AR for industry

Yiwen Rong, vice president of product development for uSens, a Silicon Valley-based company that specializes in gesture tracking for mobile AR and virtual reality applications, said that AR has already found a home on the manufacturing line and warehouse, environments in which AR-augmented glasses “reign supreme.”

“Unlike the consumer AR marketplace, where device bulkiness has prevented mass-adoption, the enterprise world has embraced wearables in all shapes and sizes for their enhancements in productivity,” Rong said.

Industrial users are relying on AR glasses to boost their facilities’ overall efficiency. For instance, line workers equipped with these glasses can instantly view a digital instruction manual as they look at a piece of equipment that is malfunctioning. Instead of having to look back and forth from a printed manual to the equipment, their AR glasses allow them view their repair instructions and the equipment on which they are working at the same time.

And that’s just when it comes to repairs. Warehouse employees can use AR glass that have scanning functions built into them to look at a box and receive instant information on what’s inside it, where the box or its contents need to go, where the box came from and when it’s due to ship.

Rong says that this is just the beginning of what AR can do for warehouse and industrial workers. He envisions a day in which arrows are displayed on employees’ glasses, taking them directly to a destination to either locate a part or pick up or drop off a box.

The time savings from what seems to be such a simple improvement can be immense. Recent research from GE proves this.

A GE case study, released in May, found that workers who were assembling wind turbines at a GRE Renewable Energy factory in Pensacola, Florida, became far more efficient when they wore AR-equipped glasses provided by wearable tech company Upskill.

The study found that before workers began wearing their AR glasses, they often had to stop in the middle of their jobs to check instruction manuals or contact an outside expert to make sure they were installing parts or making repairs correctly.

This changed once they began wearing smart glasses equipped with Upskill’s Skylight programming that provided digital instructions projected clearly in their line of sight. Workers armed with this tech saw a boost in their productivity of 34 percent the very first time they began using AR-equipped glasses.

This result isn’t overly surprising; the glasses can do plenty to make workers more efficient. For instance, the glasses provide workers with training videos that they can instantly call up when they need to repair or service a machine. Workers can also rely on voice commands to call experts for quick help. They can even stream what they are seeing through their glasses directly to an expert who is off-site. This pro can then guide them through the repairs they need to make to a piece of equipment.

GE is already convinced that AR-equipped glasses are key to running a lean and efficient business. The company is already using the Skylight operating system in nearly every company business unit. A good example is in Florence, South Carolina, in a warehouse that makes parts for MRI machines. Here, workers wearing AR glasses might receive an order directly from these devices. The Skylight operating system then leads these employees to the correct storage area or bin to find every part needed to complete the order.

How effective has this been? GE reported an order-completion improvement of 46 percent the first-time workers used Skylight for this task.

“Imagine how much productivity is usually lost just trying to figure out where these products are located,” said Brian Ballard, chief executive officer and founder of Upskill, in a written statement. “When you can digitize that information so that it’s available and dynamic in real-time, the opportunities for efficiency are quite meaningful.”

Creating more efficient workers

Rong said that AR technology is especially helpful in warehouse and manufacturing uses because the workers in such facilities rely so much on memory and training to complete their daily jobs.

“Mistakes are made often during an employee’s initial time on the job,” Rong said. “Augmented reality can alleviate these growing pains by having instructions and other critical task information in-line with an employee’s natural line of sight, meaning that the employee won’t have to look down at a manual and waste time on the job.”

Warehouse workers, too, must frequently scan and read tracking information. Having a headset that displays information in their natural line of vision should boost their efficiency, too.

The good news is that more manufacturers and warehouse owners are already investing in this technology. International Data Corporation reported that 20.5 million commercial AR headset units will be shipped in 2021. A good chunk of the 200,000 AR headsets sold in 2016 were to warehouse, industrial and manufacturing users.

AR doesn’t just come in the form of glasses, either. Daqri, an AR company based in Los Angeles, has created the AR-fueled Smart Helmet. Workers wearing this helmet simply have to look at, say, a stack of boxes against a wall to see what’s inside them, what the materials are needed for and where they need to be delivered.