The 2018 Indiana Manufacturing Survey, published by accounting firm Katz, Sapper & Miller, found that 91 percent of Hoosier manufacturers expected to see increases in revenue in 2018. After years of uncertainty, the local manufacturing industry remains a competitive force in the state, in part because of the availability of smart, connected and often automated technology. Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are no exception, and the application of these technologies will become vital to the growth of the industry.

Virtual and augmented reality are making near-perfect assembly achievable. AR glasses that use cameras, depth sensors and motion sensors to overlay images onto the real working environment enable engineers and line workers to visualize everything from parts, part numbers and assembly instructions that can increase speed and efficiency. Lockheed Martin recently began using AR goggles, improving F-35 assembly time by 30 percent and increasing accuracy to 96 percent.

VR and AR not only improves efficiency and supply chain productivity, it creates a competitive advantage. According to a recent Bank of America Merrill Lynch research report, AR platforms can provide companies up to 25 percent in cost savings on installation of equipment. 

AR/VR is disrupting the mid-market manufacturing space, and Indiana manufacturers should take note.

Hands-free mobility: The manufacturing sector has long been a hands-on, labor-intensive industry, but reducing the need for hand-held devices would streamline work productivity. VR glasses powered by voice and gesture commands would allow users to see, hear and work with holograms within an environment, offering real-time assistance for factory or field work.

Talking Parts: AR and Internet of Things (IoT) technology will allow manufacturing systems to self-diagnose and report deficiencies. Instead of trying to guess why a particular part is malfunctioning, the part itself can be programmed to communicate whether it is operating correctly and even what could happen if it goes unrepaired.

Safety: VR can simulate various production processes and factory configurations, allowing users to identify potentially hazardous conditions and make pre-production adjustments. By using VR to help plan assembly lines, Ford Motor Company successfully reduced employee injuries by 70 percent in 2015.

User Experience: VR and AR can also help create better products for consumers. The technology allows engineers and designers to interact with and test their designs before moving to production, reducing the need for product recalls and resulting in safer, more desirable products. 

Together with other innovation accelerators, AR/VR will help drive efficiencies, promote safety, increase productivity and change how products are manufactured and delivered. This disruption is already underway, and it’s up to Hoosier manufacturers to tap into AR/VR technology to support the growth and sustainability of this key sector in our economy.

Andy Crask is Indianapolis market president for Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

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