Virtual reality in manufacturing? You must be joking. There is hardly any industry that is more physical than manufacturing, and virtual reality is… well, virtual.
At the same time, joking aside, VR applications in the manufacturing industry are quite numerous, and it looks very likely that its adoption is going to increase.
The research by PwC shows that more than one-third of the US manufacturers are going to adopt the AR and VR technologies by the end of 2018. The same report also states that about the same share of manufacturers have no intention to embrace the AR or VR technology.
The report notes that such rejection may be due to the fact that the manufacturing companies have a lot of legacy hardware that they are not yet willing to replace with expensive virtual reality gadgets.
It may be possible that when budget VR viewers become more popular, the VR adoption will go faster.
Anyway, the manufacturing industry does benefit from the implementation of virtual reality applications, and in more than one way.
Manufacturing plants are usually extremely huge, complex conglomerates of various equipment that never stops. The flows and processes continue constantly, and even a one-second delay can matter a lot.
In such conditions, testing, training, and maintenance are hard to arrange, as they often mean, on the one hand, an interruption of the manufacturing process and, on the other hand, a hazard for the employees.
A lot of the manufacturing equipment is dangerous and requires special training to operate.
This is where virtual reality shows its real value. By moving some of the complex and hazardous processes to the VR, manufacturing companies can optimize their operations and sometimes even save costs.
How VR can be used in manufacturing
Let’s see the possible applications of virtual reality in manufacturing and find the areas where it can be used for the maximum effect.
While floor planning is done in many industries, not only in manufacturing, here it may be somewhat more complicated and difficult.
Planning the space for assembly lines or production workshops requires taking into account multiple factors – equipment dimensions, connections between different units, safety distances, power outlets, supply line inputs and many more.
It is so much easier to plan the factory floors in virtual reality. By recreating the actual areas in VR and placing the equipment models there, the manufacturers can verify that everything is placed and connected correctly.
They can see in VR if all equipment is properly accessible, all safety distances are kept, and the production sequence is built in the correct order.
By using virtual reality in manufacturing, companies can optimize their floor area before they start physically moving the equipment.
Thus, virtual reality can help to save the costs of the works and reduce the risk of equipment damage or worker injury.
Design and engineering
In manufacturing, the design process almost always includes the prototyping stage.
The new product prototype is prepared to be inspected, tested, tried and then evaluated as good for production or needs some revision.
When the product is a complex piece of equipment, the prototype may be rather costly to produce. Besides, when the prototype needs some additional refining, its costs may go even higher.
Why not move the prototyping to the virtual reality? Even with the cost of the virtual reality app development, the overall costs may still be lower than building a line of physical prototypes.
This is the strategy that Ford Motor Company chose to optimize their vehicle design process. The company’s FIVE (Ford Immersive Vehicle Environment) system is a VR-based tool that the Ford engineers use to inspect new car models.
FIVE turns CAD designs of cars that have been prepared beforehand into 3D life-size vehicle models. In virtual reality, you see a real car that you can inspect and even operate.
In the real world, FIVE is a half-empty room with a driver’s seat and a steering wheel. Nothing much, but wait till you put on the VR headset and special gloves.
You will be able to test-drive the virtual car, change gears, walk around, inspect every single item in the car design and even look underneath it in virtual reality.
Since the prototype exists only in the virtual reality, it is less expensive to produce than a real car and easier to modify if the inspection finds any flaws.
Besides, with Ford being a global company, virtual reality can become a “meeting room” for engineers from any part of the world.
No need to travel to inspect a new car model – just put on a VR headset wherever you are!
Using VR applications for training is a great application of virtual reality in manufacturing. VR training is being used in many industries, but manufacturing especially benefits from virtual reality development.
Training for a highly hazardous job has rather steep requirements as to the safety of the trainees.
Such training is often hard to organize, as, on the one hand, the trainees have no practical skills, which make them more exposed to danger.
On the other hand, the use of simulators has limited possibilities and ultimately can hardly give the feel of the actual work.
In this case, virtual reality again proves its outstanding ability to place the trainees in a realistic environment while reducing the risk of injury to zero.
Gabler Engineering, a German producer of various equipment, uses virtual reality in many areas of its operation. Particularly, the company extensively introduces VR training for operators of the machines that Gabler produces.
Among the benefits of virtual reality for training, Gabler mentions reproducible actions allowing for training the skill until the trainee is confident of their proficiency.
Besides, the company uses VR to test the ergonomics of the equipment they design. By operating a machine in VR, an engineer can tell whether it is safe and convenient to use.
Gabler estimated that virtual reality development helped them to achieve a 15% reduction of the machine development time.
Of course, there is a certain cost reduction, as well, as the company uses VR to hold virtual meetings.
General Electric also leverages the benefits of VR in training its employees.
The company estimated that training that usually takes a week and involves six people to assist the trainee. In virtual reality, it can be completed in 20 minutes. In addition, there is no need to assign additional personnel to the VR training, as no risk is involved.
Inspection and maintenance
If we consider the manufacturing equipment inspection, we will have to admit that virtual reality can literally reduce time and space to nothing.
Today, machines are becoming too complex to be inspected by the regular factory personnel.
Often, for any routine or emergency inspection, companies need to invite experts of the plant that produced the equipment.
Such inspection visits usually involve high costs and careful advance planning and scheduling.
Inspectors’ time is often booked out for weeks, and it may be difficult to invite them when a machine suddenly malfunctions. Also, the travel and accommodation costs are often to be borne by the inviting side.
With virtual reality, the factory does not need to bring the inspector to the machine. Instead, it can bring the machine to the inspector, and in no time, too.
By creating a VR video of the equipment, the factory can have it inspected remotely with no need of inviting the expert.
Imagine the savings both for the inspectors and for the manufacturers.
When the time and costs of travel are removed from the calculation, the inspections and remote maintenance can be done in virtual reality much faster reducing the interruptions in the production cycle to the minimum.
While this may seem not to belong to the topic of “virtual reality in manufacturing”, it is worth discussing here, too.
Producers of heavy machinery participating in various shows and exhibitions usually face the challenge of displaying their products at the event venue.
The task is complex and multi-faceted. The manufacturer needs to think of the transportation, connection, and operation of the machine at the exhibition.
A machine can take a lot of space and weigh several tons, which means additional costs for loading and unloading as well as for the exhibition space rental.
Another aspect that can be of concern for equipment manufacturers is where to get the item to show. Usually, heavy machinery is produced upon orders and is not standing around.
Virtual reality can solve all these problems. Build a VR app showcasing your machinery – and your exhibition space can be reduced to a regular stand or booth.
Of course, you will need to invest in the virtual reality development and VR headsets, but compared to the costs of transporting and placing an actual machine, that investment will be rather attractive.
Virtual reality can help you show machines and equipment of any size and complexity.
Moreover, by inviting the exhibition visitors to your VR space, you can show the machinery at work without exposing the visitors to any danger.
NASA used virtual reality at the South by Southwest conference to remind about its space shuttle program.
While the program was closed in 2011, the agency continues working in other areas. Its VR-enhanced stand at the exhibition displayed the space programs that NASA was developing.
VR opens new horizons for manufacturing companies
As you can see, the uses of virtual reality in manufacturing are quite diverse and bring multiple benefits.
For its flexibility and almost unlimited possibilities of creating virtual spaces, VR can become an additional testing ground, a workshop, a meeting room, an exhibition stand.
Virtual reality can make manufacturing safer, quicker, more efficient and precise, and less costly.
Besides, consider the environmental aspect, too. VR can save a lot of energy and materials required to produce models and prototypes and modify them as needed.
Today, the manufacturing industry is embracing virtual reality in many formats.
At the same time, the VR technology is also evolving making virtual reality applications more affordable and effective.
We believe that by implementing VR-based apps, manufacturing companies can gain a considerable competitive advantage and make their routine processes safer and more productive.
We will be happy to work with manufacturers to help them take their business to a new level by including virtual reality in their flows.
Browse our portfolio to see our VR projects and contact us for more details about virtual reality development.