Mixed reality solutions have broken out of the sphere of concept and are now adding real value to businesses. This is especially true in industries like manufacturing, construction, engineering and architecture, where the technology is creating new opportunities.
“Whether you are creating a spacecraft for Nasa, manufacturing a microchip, or building a data centre, mixed reality is driving tangible impact,” says Rody Senner, North America mixed reality sales lead at Microsoft. “The size of the front-line workforce in this industry is significant – be they scientists, lab operators, technicians or engineers. This workforce needs to be ‘heads up and hands free’, with their digital content spatially placed in the flow of their operations. Working on complex molecular structure or operating a multimillion-dollar piece of machinery, a 3D representation can greatly accelerate design, training and collaboration.”
And innovations like Microsoft HoloLens are leading the way. Wearing a headset, users can see text, graphics or images overlaid onto their view of the real world.
Altoura, CraneMorley and Kognitiv Spark are among the partners that are building upon the technology to create tailored solutions that meet the needs of their customers. For example, mixed reality has been used to carry out repair and maintenance works remotely, conduct inspections and audits with regulatory agencies, suppliers and vendors, and deliver immersive customer experiences.
Semiconductor equipment manufacturer ASML, for example, deployed HoloLens 2 alongside Dynamics 365 Remote Assist to customise and configure complex products and conduct demonstrations, enabling customers to virtually interact with the products to understand how they work.
And mixed reality solutions can also be employed to speed up processes during the manufacture of goods.
“HoloLens provides complex task guidance for standard operating procedures by integrating step-by-step holographic guidance into the workflow,” says Senner. “This mitigates error during manufacturing or drug development, for example, and reduces the chance of non-compliance. Not only that, but by placing instructions right where the work happens, users can dramatically reduce time to completion.”
When used for training, mixed reality can improve organisational efficiency.
“Using a holographic model of the complex machine with guided instructions overlaid, means organisations do not need to take the machine out of production,” says Senner. “Not only does this reduce expenses, but it also gives businesses the ability to train their employees from anywhere. And compared to two-dimensional training manuals, users train faster and retain the knowledge better through an immersive experience like mixed reality.”
Knowledge sharing is an essential part of the modern workplace and, with the integration of communication and productivity tools such as Microsoft Teams, is getting easier than ever.
Building materials firm Saint-Gobain needed specific expertise to fix maintenance issues, which often required highly qualified individuals to travel to factories worldwide. As a result, these experts were experiencing travel fatigue and incurring considerable expense.
To address this, Saint-Gobain began working with mixed reality and internet of things expert innoteo to deploy Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, HoloLens and Teams. This provided its factory workers with virtual, on-demand help from experts and improved the speed, impact and sustainability of its maintenance and training processes.
“Most customers are using HoloLens to improve productivity by reducing the amount of travel, errors and hands-on production,” says Senner.
Saint-Gobain’s implementation story highlights another, particularly topical, benefit of using mixed reality solutions in manufacturing – sustainability. With its expert staff travelling hundreds of miles to address factory issues, their environmental impact was not insignificant. By enabling these employees to share their knowledge virtually, and guide on-premises staff to fix the solution themselves, Saint-Gobain has been able to realise some of its sustainability goals.
“When you add up the ways mixed reality drives sustainability, through reduced waste, operational efficiency, reduced travel, and sustainable buildings, there is no question that as more organisations adopt at scale, this will drive material environmental benefit,” says Senner. “And, with over 86 per cent of Fortune 500 companies publishing sustainability reports, we see firms like Mercedes-Benz USA and Saint-Gobain considering this as a core reason behind their mixed reality investment.
“So, while the pandemic accelerated roadmaps as a means of business continuity, for many companies leveraging remote collaboration and assistance for field service, audits and inspections, design collaboration and more, there is no going back. If you can reduce travel by 40 per cent while improving your employee and customer experience, why would you?”
Spatial collaboration saves lives
Thermo Fisher Scientific used Altoura spatial computing software to deploy digital twins, empower its workforce and battle Covid-19
Surepoint used the firm’s HoloLens-based technology to solve technical issues remotely
Bridging the impending skills gap
Mixed reality solutions such as Microsoft HoloLens and Dynamic 365 Guides could transform training for manufacturers worldwide. CraneMorley’s Thomas Pratt shares how
This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 issue of The Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.