Product manufacturers have embraced immersive technologies for many years. Manufacturers continue to find new ways to use XR, from engineers who use virtual reality to design cars to technicians who use augmented reality on the airplane factory floor.

Benefits of XR in Manufacturing

Manufacturers already use XR for inventory and warehousing, machine repairs and inspection, engineering tasks, and component assembly. XR brings many benefits for manufacturers and their employees.

By using XR, manufacturers can:

  • Reduce danger and harm.
  • Demonstrate various scenarios.
  • Avoid interruptions to working operations.

The promise of immersive technologies in manufacturing prompted the National Science Foundation in 2020 to partner with Purdue University to build “platform-agnostic” augmented and virtual reality programs for use in factories. Platform-agnostic means the technology can be used on any digital device, regardless of who built it. This effort can allow organizations without the technical ability to build their own augmented or virtual reality to generate workable immersive tools for their specific needs. The program is already piloting with manufacturing facilities in Indiana.

Addressing the Worker Shortage in High-Growth Manufacturing Jobs

As a result of COVID-19, the job market has seen an increase in demand for skilled employees in manufacturing. Manufacturing organizations report that they cannot find qualified applicants for technical jobs that do not necessarily require a college degree. According to a recent study from Deloitte, U.S. manufacturers estimate they will have nearly 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030 because of a need for skilled workers.

Many of those jobs could be filled by people with disabilities. After all, more than 9 percent of people with disabilities who are employed already work in manufacturing jobs, according to BLS. The Kessler Foundation in 2020 announced a grant program to encourage manufacturers in New England to hire people with disabilities at entry-level positions that offer “opportunities for career growth and economic sustainability.”

Immersive Applications in Manufacturing Require New Skills

The most in-demand jobs in manufacturing are machine tool programmers and operators or industrial mechanics. BLS estimates a 3 percent growth rate in these kinds of jobs over the next ten years.

There are a variety of augmented and virtual reality applications currently on the market to assist in all facets of the manufacturing process. For example, many factories use what are known as computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines, which machine tool programmers configure to ensure the product specifications are correct. Some XR programs simulate the tooling process to help the programmers ensure precision in the manufactured product.

Similarly, some manufacturers provide machinists and mechanics with immersive technologies to help troubleshoot production issues and diagnose repairs. One example is a mechanic who relies on augmented or mixed reality glasses while looking at a factory machine. The glasses overlay instructions and graphics to show how to operate the machine or how to make a needed repair. In recent years, aircraft manufacturers have started to use mixed reality glasses to assist their factory workers with completing complex wiring assembly on airplanes.

Inclusive XR Will Benefit Manufacturing

Immersive technologies can assist employees with or without disabilities. They can help them to visualize or remember the steps needed to complete complicated tasks and maintenance on the factory floor or in control rooms.

Inclusive XR can help all employees overcome situational limitations they experience while working. For example, factory floors can sometimes be loud environments. Using text or other visual descriptions of instructions in a factory can help all employees as well as assist employees who are deaf or hard of hearing.

In a similar vein, employees in assembly-line jobs often wear uniforms and accessories such as gloves. It is critical to offer these employees multiple ways to interact with immersive apps, such as using voice, eye gaze, or gestures.

Continue to Section 5: Spotlight on Inclusive XR in Healthcare