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Manufacturers Shape Augmented Reality’s Future

Much of the industrial manufacturing industry is abuzz these days over reports that augmented reality (AR) capabilities will dramatically change how these companies develop, manufacture and service products.

To help move things along, UI LABS, an organization tasked with leveraging research and innovation platforms to transform industries, is teaming up with the Augmented Reality for Enterprise Alliance (AREA) to draft what it is billing as the first AR hardware and software functional requirements guidelines. Initiated by such big-name players as Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar and Procter & Gamble, the guidelines are being developed as part of a project through the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), a collaboration between UI Labs and the Department of Defense to create an innovation platform that supports the digitization of the supply chain.

The AR functional requirements documents are designed to help accelerate the development of compelling AR products for industrial use cases, according to alliance officials. AR can have a significant impact on improving the performance and efficiency of manufacturers in areas such as employee training and safety, factory floor and field services operations, machine assembly, inspection and repair, and manufacturing space and product design, among others.

“It’s important for any new global ecosystem to agree on a baseline set of requirements,” says Mark Sage, executive director of AREA. “They can act as a benchmark, help to create a shared understanding and language, and provide direction to the enterprise AR ecosystem. In short, AR functional requirements encourage interoperability, make RFPs easier to create, and provide a clear understanding of what is required.”

Sixty-five companies recently attended an AR workshop as part a push to develop hardware and software functional guidelines. Image Courtesy of UI LABS

In addition to the primary players, 65 organizations recently got together for a workshop to offer insight into their challenges, provide input necessary to further define the guidelines, and to discuss possible use cases for AR. The documents address features that include:

  • Hardware: Battery Life; Connectivity; Field of View; On-board Storage; On-board Operating System; Environmental; Inputs/Outputs and Safety.
  • Software: Authoring; AR Content; Creating 3D Content; Deployment of AR Content and Internet of Things.

The workshop and on-going collaboration between UILABS, AREA, DMDII, and the participating companies is critical to help advance the development of AR offerings and ensure they meet the needs and specifications of real-world manufacturing use cases, the officials say. “The ultimate goal of this collaborative effort is to ensure AR technology is developed in a way that meets real needs and can then be widely adopted on shop floors to help improve efficiency and competitiveness for manufacturers of all types and sizes,” notes Thomas McDermott, executive director, at DMDII.

The ability to display work instructions through AR-enabled glasses or project step-by-step directions onto an assembly line can save time and cut costs during training not to mention, capture an organization’s institutional knowledge, McDermott adds.

The AR functional requirements will be made publicly available on the AREA site and future efforts include reviews of current AR hardware and software solutions against the benchmark to create a gap analysis.

“Our overall objective is to get this technology out of R&D centers and onto shop floors where it can make an impact on the productivity and bottom lines of U.S. companies,” McDermott says.

Check out this video to see Caterpillar’s demonstration of an augmented reality app being developed to assist technicians performing maintenance checks.

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About Beth Stackpole

Beth Stackpole is a contributing editor to Digital Engineering. Send e-mail about this article to DE-Editors@digitaleng.news.

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