Why is VR, AR and RM important in Industry 4.0

What is Industry 4.0?

Industry 4.0 and its synonym Fourth Industrial Revolution are two concepts that refer to a new digital transformation of industry marked by the emergence of new technologies.

These technologies are known as enabling technologies and among them are Advanced and Collaborative Robotics, Augmented, Virtual and Mixed Reality (XR), IoT (Internet of Things), Cloud Computing, Big Data or 3D Printing.

Industry 4.0 implies a digitalization of all production processes, which allows to increase productivity, safety at work, resource management efficiency, quality as a result of the control of automated processes and the competitiveness of industrial companies.

Extended Realities (XR) are essential to achieve the transition to Industry 4.0.

In this article, we are going to talk about the main industrial applications and use cases of VR, AR and MR. But what exactly are Extended Realities and immersive technologies?

What does immersive technologies mean?

Extended Reality (Extended-Realities or XR) is the concept used to bring together all immersive technologies (virtual, augmented and mixed reality) and they are so called because the point that these three technologies have in common is their ability to simulate the physical environment in a hyper-realistic way and add value to the known reality by adding digital elements to it. Where these technologies differ is in how and how much they add these new elements as well as the devices used with each of them.

On the one hand, augmented reality (AR) is the technology that superimposes digital layers (such as text, graphic elements or videos) over the real environment. Adding these augmented objects requires a smartphone or tablet.

Virtual reality (VR), on the other hand, is the technology that uses glasses to replace the real world with a virtual three-dimensional space. It is the most immersive and invasive for the user, since once the VR viewers are put on, they have the sensation of being physically in the recreated space. Being deprived of the real vision of what is around us, the user is totally immersed in the environment or situation that has been generated by a computer, with a sense of real presence. The user can also interact in this virtual space through VR controllers, with which he or she can pick up and move all kinds of objects.

Finally, mixed reality (MR) refers to the combination of virtual and augmented reality. This mix makes it possible to create new spaces in which the user interacts with both real and virtual objects. As with VR, mixed reality requires a viewer, such as Microsoft HoloLens 2, but this time so that the user can directly manipulate the holograms in the same way the user would in the real world.

“The introduction of immersive technologies in industrial plants is bringing a real revolution in the sector and its success is unstoppable. But what are the main applications of Extended Reality in Industry 4.0?”

Virtual reality in Industry 4.0

Let’s now review the most demanded uses of VR in the industrial sector.

#3D industrial prototyping

There are certain sectors, such as automotive, in which until relatively recently the prototyping of products involved a high investment, since the vehicle had to be physically manufactured to check its correct operation and design.

However, virtual reality offers a radical change in the process of design, manufacture and safety control of automobiles. For companies in the automotive sector, VR is a tool that speeds up the vehicle design phase. Engineers can visualize in real time and in an immersive way different versions of a car, finishes, materials, colors and operation from a virtual prototype, as if they were in front of the real product but without the need to physically manufacture it.

In addition, during the vehicle manufacturing process, VR makes it possible to test the safety of cars through simulations of specific situations, such as crashes. Thus, with this technology it is possible to detect design flaws in cars before the prototype is manufactured. Seat is one of the manufacturers that has been using virtual reality in its production line for some time and claims that with VR it manages to “reduce the production time of a prototype by 30%”.

To sum up, virtual reality is an ideal tool for the design team, suppliers and end customers to make modifications to the prototype in an agile way achieving the expected product having the opportunity to test some attributes (materials, colors, etc) and see its effect on the future vehicle.

#Employee training in virtual reality

Virtual reality brings new possibilities in training and occupational risk prevention.

VR training applications allow employees to familiarize themselves with and improve certain tasks and even emergency situations in the workplace, without exposing them to any risk.

VR technology makes it possible to hyper-realistically simulate environments that could occur in industrial processes (such as falls on slippery surfaces, cuts or fires). Thus, through virtual training, an operator can practice the protocol of action in case of emergency, living a completely immersive experience.

With the VR controls, the user is free to react quickly to any accident that may happen in the production plant, practicing the responses as many times as necessary. In this way, once the VR training is completed, the operator will know what to do and will act automatically in case he/she finds himself/herself in such a situation.

VR training is equally beneficial for employees to familiarize themselves with maintenance or repair tasks before performing them in their actual workplace.

The company Depuración de Aguas del Mediterráneo (DAM) used Innoarea Projects’ VR Training solution to train the employees of its EDAR plant in Alzira-Carcaixent (Valencia) in maintenance and repair tasks.

Augmented reality in Industry 4.0

#More efficiently and safely machinery maintenance

Augmented reality is another of the technologies that are having the greatest impact on the industrial sector.

This technology makes it possible to visualize in real time information related to machines, their operation and processes.

Until a few years ago, when there was an incident in a machine, it had to be turned off and, once the technician had detected the incident, he had to check the instruction manual to be able to solve it. The result was considerable downtime, resulting in production losses.

However, augmented reality optimizes this process and helps to make machine maintenance more efficient and safer for operators.

Innoarea Projects is developing AR solutions so that through a tablet or mobile device, the machine is identified and updated machine data is automatically displayed on the screen over the operator’s vision, so that he can access them at any time.

By doing that, we are trying to optimize maintenance and repair operations, reducing downtime in industrial companies.

Mixed reality in Industry 4.0

#Technical support or guided instructions for workers.

Mixed reality is a technology that represents a big step in Industry 4.0 in terms of the resolution of technical incidents in industrial machinery.

Through mixed reality (MR), the factory worker has the possibility to communicate directly with the technical service and be guided during the resolution process by that expert technician.

Assist AR is a tool that uses mixed reality software and devices to save waiting times caused by breakdowns and speed up the operator’s work when he has to solve an incident.

Assist AR system makes it possible for the operator to maintain a live and remote communication with the person responsible for the technical service, being able to complete this connection with images and extra content that will be displayed with augmented reality on the real vision of the operator facilitating the required tasks. The fact of seeing visual indications by the technician on his field of vision, improves not only his work but also his productivity and safety because the operator is guided step by step and knows exactly what he has to do to eliminate the incident and repair the machine.

Smart factories have arrived to stay

Thanks to extended reality and the other technologies linked to Industry 4.0, such as Advanced and Collaborative Robotics, the industrial sector is improving.

The road to the factory of the future is already underway and we are getting closer and closer, thanks to technology, to achieving more efficient, sustainable, innovative and, therefore, more competitive companies.

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