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How AR & VR Can Solve the Critical Skill Challenge of Industry 4.0 Era

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Dr. C S S Bharathy, Founder, FusionVR

In this fast changing and competitive world, companies need to interconnect every function related to manufacturing as efficiency and quality deliver a major competitive advantage in the marketplace. Production losses arising from machine breakdowns and human errors hugely impact the profitability of a business and its reputation to serve its customers. As any COO would affirm, the efficiency of a manufacturing plant, not only depends on efficient processes and machines, but also hugely on people who operate their factories. While technology has vastly improved, manufacturing still remains a people intensive business that needs skilled technicians and engineers. Lack of such talent can prove costly for manufacturing organizations. Moreover, there is a real danger of jobs in advanced manufacturing units going unfulfilled due to that. A US based Manufacturing Institute says that manufacturers are set to spend $26.2 billion on internal and external training initiatives for new and existing employees in 2020 to combat the shortage of skilled workers. While novel manufacturing processes and improved operations management techniques have brought significant changes in the industry landscape, industry experts believe the answer lies in the 4th Industrial Revolution, or more widely known as Industry 4.0.

How Immersive Technologies Can Help
Industry 4.0 technologies hold a great deal of promise and potential in closing the skills gap. Let's understand how we can do that. Research has proved that most of us are practical learners, often acquiring 70 percent of their skills and knowledge from experiential learning. However, for most organizations, on-the-job training programs are expensive, time consuming, logistically difficult to execute and often involve certain risks. Virtual Reality (VR) technologies have smart solutions to help address this serious challenge.

VR can have a transformative effect and can significantly shorten the learning curve. A PwC study indicates that VR training is four times faster and more focused than typical classroom training. It’s also 3.75 times more emotionally connected with a 40 percent improvement in confidence.

Consider the example of a technician, who does not have experience of repairing a particular piece of machinery and may not get the opportunity since it’s always in operation at a factory. In such cases, VR Maintenance Training Simulators enable a virtual hands-on experience for the technician to know about its main parts, step-by-step assembly/disassembly, efficient troubleshooting and repair techniques aided by step-by-step instructions from Standard Maintenance Procedures (SMP). The application of such technologies reduces downtime and enables a guided and more efficient approach to restoring equipment back to service. Using head-mounted virtual reality devices and virtual hand controllers, manufacturers can simulate the operating environment or shop floor inside industrial classrooms and train employees without having to travel to the factory.

Another impactful change that Industry 4.0 brings is Augmented Reality simulation, which is another great way to train employees and improve productivity. Whenever required, a technician can just pull up AR powered wearables or tablets and see the status or details of a specific machine. With digital information superimposed on top of the machine, the technician is expertly guided using a step-by-step process using an Augmented Reality simulation solution. In case of any doubt, he can call up a master technician or engineer who then can guide him remotely and help in repairing the machine quickly and efficiently. This results in reduced downtime, improved productivity and a big improvement in the skills of the employees. This experience when combined with real time data on the health of the machines, can help experts based at a central location predict potential dangers or breakdowns that local technicians are not able to decipher.

Similarly, a technician could be remotely guided by a smart wearable or a smart glass to the precise location of a component in equipment. Associated inputs such as the performance history of the equipment and the associated component could also be pulled up from the cloud, and a detailed analysis can be performed instantly. This can be supplemented by a knowledge manual of known device problems and troubleshooting solutions, which too can be accessed immediately via normal touch screens or a voice call. Asset information about a legacy asset allows technicians to discover asset information quickly and helps in reducing the learning curve for new hires. Organizations can use these technologies to remotely accomplish, train and achieve certification goals of trainees. Employee performance can be evaluated through precise data collection, KPIs and dashboards developed with proven brain-science techniques and Artificial Intelligence-based analyses.

Begin Your Digital Transformation Journey
In summary, the expert combination of AR and VR technologies can help organizations deliver immersive, scenario-based, experiential learning. The benefits are huge --- from huge improvement in productivity due to reduced human errors, reduction in time to operator proficiency without involving tons of money, effort and risks, and a significant improvement in a technician or operator’s ability to respond appropriately to rarely occurring but critical emergency operations.

The 21st century manufacturing scene requires employees to quickly learn critical skill sets and help organizations achieve operational excellence by embracing Industry 4.0 technologies. It is imperative that COOs and CTOs reach out to Industry 4.0 and Immersive Technology experts to understand the strategies required to digitally transform organizations to greater competitiveness.

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