5 impressive examples of Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality in manufacturing

Jul 20, 2023 by Mark Dingley

Packaging improvements help optimise supply chains – in every reality


Augmented reality and virtual reality are among the emerging digital tools turning manufacturing on its head.

Virtual reality (VR) puts real people into virtual spaces, while augmented reality (AR) puts digital objects in real spaces.

Then there’s mixed reality (MR), which includes virtual reality and augmented reality. In its various forms, MR took off during the pandemic years as a way to bridge the gap between the home and the workplace; people began using MR for everything from collaborative design sessions to equipment maintenance. (It’s also worth noting XR, or “eXtended Reality", which is is a “catch-all term for technologies that enhance or replace our view of the world” – i.e., AR, VR and MR.)

Now, companies are investing serious resources in MR.

Meta reports it has more than 10,000 people working in the space, while Apple has more than 2,000. The global AR industry was valued at US$17.67 billion in 2020, and industrial AR is estimated to reach a market value of US$70 billion by 2025.

However, research shows uptake in Australia is still slow. Some innovative Australian manufacturers are taking advantage of AR and VR technologies to produce better quality, highly customised, low-volume products, but there’s still a lot of potential to be explored.

So, how can VR and AR technologies transform manufacturing? In this article, we’ll explore how some global companies are leading the way.

1. Product design and development: Hyundai and Ford

Manufacturing companies are under more pressure than ever to deliver greater innovations, in faster and more affordable ways.

That’s where VR and AR can make a real difference.

PwC research reveals the use of VR and AR in product and service development could deliver a $360 billion GDP boost by 2030.

Hyundai has invested in VR technology to transform its design process. Using VR, the designers can test models in specific contexts that mimic real-world scenarios. Hyundai’s designers also use 3D technology to experiment with different proportions and build variations based on their ideas. This allows designers to test unlimited colour options and material applications, such as fabrics, ambient lighting and other types of materials.

Image source: Hyundai

Another benefit of the VR technology is that employees can also collaborate across the world in the virtual space, which speeds up development and enhances collaboration. VR headsets mean team members from the design centres in Europe, Korea, China, India, Japan and the United States can enter into a virtual conference in real-time and assess vehicle design quality together.

Another car manufacturer, Ford, is using VR and AR in design. In its Campbellfield factory on the outskirts of Melbourne, designers can experience what a vehicle will be like in the real world and “refine until it’s perfect”.

2. Maintenance and repair: Matthews Australasia

Augmented reality is a powerful tool for technicians. An AR interface can be used to overlay instructions and diagrams onto real-world equipment during repairs, allowing technicians and engineers to identify and fix issues in the field.

AR and VR help to diagnose problems faster, speed up maintenance and repair tasks, and standardise procedures, all while decreasing equipment downtime and reducing the needs for repair and maintenance teams to travel.

For example, Matthews’ field and install technical teams use HINDSITE, which are new smart glasses with interactive vision and audio. The glasses capture and send live video and audio from the technician to the Matthews’ central technical support team. The technician can also view files through the glasses, allowing them to be hands free to focus on the job.

For servicing of equipment, AR can guide technicians through what needs to be checked in the preferred sequence. For example, it might start with removing guards and then proceed to filter replacement for equipment. In this way, AR is a valuable tool for supporting predictive maintenance.

3. Use on assembly lines: Airbus and AGCO

Building an aircraft involves complex manufacturing processes, with thousands of moving parts. Speed and accuracy are critical, which is where AR/VR technology can be a game-changer.

Airbus uses the Microsoft HoloLens AR glasses to guide workers in assembly tasks, with easy access to visual data points. This simplifies complex assembly processes and makes things quicker, easier and more comfortable for operators with hands-free guidance.

Airbus also uses VR, AR and MR to prototype ideas at its Airbus Holographic Academies. Engineers use VR to see, interact with and adjust 3D digital models before the parts are actually made. Then on the digital shop floor, AR can project data, information and design details to help with construction and inspection processes.

Image source: AGCO

Another company using AR to improve assembly lines is AGCO. The worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment uses Glass, an assisted reality wearable headset, in its assembly and quality areas to improve productivity.

With easy and quick hands-free access to the instructions and checklists, factory employees have everything they need to assemble the tractors, and have reported being much happier doing their jobs too.

AGCO has reported over a 30% reduction in inspection times, 25% reduction in production time for low-volume, high-complexity assemblies, and the ability to train workers 300% faster. For example, AGCO no longer needs to use rugged tablets to inspect customised tractors. Instead, Glass enables workers to scan a machine’s serial number and instantly bring up a manual, photo, or video needed to build the tractor.

Factory workers can also use voice commands to take notes and leave them for the next worker, meaning information is seamlessly transferred to improve consistency and increase productivity.

4. Training: Australian Meat Processor Corporation

“Practice by doing” is a powerful way to learn, and AR/VR opens up a world of training for workers in manufacturing settings. MR simulations mean workers can train, test their skills and learn from mistakes in a safe and controlled environment.

The use of digital twins means technicians and assembly line workers can interact with visualisations that replicate local issues or products. For example, there is no need to disassemble the actual equipment to learn how to conduct a repair – instead they can use VR technology. The use of VR headsets in training substantially reduces costs and increases the safety of employee training, especially when replicating dangerous or expensive scenarios.

Image source: Virtually There, via AMPC

For example, the Australian Meat Processor Corporation’s (AMPC) investment into virtual reality training is helping to train employees to work in red meat processing plants in Australia.

Employees wear a headset which gives the real-life view of a carcase or packing line. They can then take different actions depending on the module ,such as taking a virtual saw and cutting what they see.

The training collects data to ensure that candidates develop the right skills before being recruited to work in Australian red meat processing plants. For example, it can ensure candidates from other countries recognise all the cuts and have performed the tasks virtually before travelling to Australia to work.

5. Asset management and logistics: DHL

Manufacturers can incorporate virtual components into a physical manufacturing space to improve asset management and logistics, while saving time and resources.

Using an AR-enabled tablet or virtual headset, warehouse workers can overlay virtual instructions onto their physical environment to find the exact location of inventory. This optimises a warehouse worker’s time, which can help save on overall labour costs.

AR can also give a view of an entire warehouse layout, allowing managers to virtually test different layouts and optimise warehouse efficiency.

Logistics company DHL was among the first to incorporate AR in inventory management in a pilot program for its client, Ricoh.

Image source: DHL

Using smart glasses and AR, the company implemented a “vision picking” pilot program in its warehousing operations. Workers were guided by graphics displayed on the smart glasses so they navigated the warehouse faster, speeding up the picking process.

The smart glasses also recorded necessary tracking data so the employee didn’t need to stop and enter data into a computer, which saved time and reduced human error.

The pilot program resulted in a 15% efficiency increase during the picking process and is now implemented in DHL warehouses around the world.

Final thoughts

With technology from Apple, Google and more, it’s easier than ever to create AR and VR experiences for learning, design, and more. The challenge for manufacturers is not to use eXtended Reality for XR’s sake, but to use the technology to reach business goals. And as the examples above show, there is huge potential for AR and VR to do exactly that.