Innovation & Trends

Despite technoskepticism: Augmented Reality helps manufacturing companies

Augmented Reality (AR) is more than just Pokemon Go and IKEA catalogues. Magid Abraham and Marco Annunziata writes that Augmented Reality is already helping us improve our employee’s achievements.


Among large parts of the world's population there’s a fear that robots and technology will take away our jobs. But in Harvard Business Review, Abraham and Annunziata offer a different approach to the correlation between technology and employment. They actually see a movement heading in another direction.


Many companies experience problems recruiting the right type of employee. According to the two authors, a Deloitte study from 2015 shows that during the next decade there will be 3.5 million available manufacturing jobs in the US, but 2 million of them will remain vacant.


In other words, the gap between the qualification demand and the accessible workforce is growing.


According to the article, the problem is particularly big in the manufacturing industry. That’s because many manufacturing jobs today require a long education which is the opposite of previously where most manufacturing jobs where held by employees with a shorter education.


The complexity of current manufacturing methods means that a long education is necessary, but the amount of candidates with the right kind of education can’t keep up with the growing demand.


What is Augmented Reality?

Augmented Reality (AR) is still in its early development. Most people probably recognize the technology from the 2017 Pokemon Go-fever where cute little pocket monsters could be seen on our smartphone screens as a “layer upon reality”. However, AR contains many other possibilities.


Augmented means expanded, enhanced or supplemented, and this perfectly illustrates what AR is capable of: AR is an expansion or a supplement to our reality as opposed to being a rendition or a replacement of it. AR offers an extra ‘layer’ on top of our reality, so to speak.


The most common use of AR is in different apps on our phones. We download an app, for instance Pokemon Go, and then nothing else is required of us to bring AR into the city streets, our homes or into nature. All we have to do is to open the app, keep the phone in front of us and see our surroundings with a layer of data on top.


For instance, using this technology and our mobile phones, we can open IKEA’s app and see their furniture in our own living room, or we can download an app where we can point our smartphone camera to the night sky and find the name of “that particularly shiny star over there”.


How can AR help manufacturing companies?

As mentioned, AR has a huge potential in manufacturing companies. According to the Danish site, Vestas have developed an AR training simulator for their V164-8MW wind mill while GE have developed AR solutions for their technicians.


According to GE, their employees use smart glasses when they assemble wind mills. Previously, employees had to stop what they were doing in order to check their manuals or to contact experts. With AR glasses they no longer have to interrupt their work. Guidance and expertise is directly accessible in the glasses.


According to Abraham and Annunziata, to GE, this means almost 25 % faster completion of tasks.


Paradoxically, while the fear of robots taking over our jobs and technology making us obsolete enhances, technology can actually help us become more efficient and reduce the need for specialized workers simply because our current employees will be able to work more efficiently.