You've probably heard about augmented reality (AR) in the context of consumer entertainment: video gaming, virtual tours, or interactive displays. But AR for enterprise business is here. It's no longer an emerging technology, or a novelty; businesses are using AR to overhaul processes, drive efficiencies, reduce manufacturing errors, and improve their bottom line.

AR helps accelerate time-to-information when accuracy is essential. Technicians can access critical reference material, such as step by step instructions, that help them make the right decisions exactly when they need it. (Image credit: Scope AR)

Manufacturers of all types are using AR to bring critical information directly to their workforce across industries including industrial equipment and machinery, consumer packaged goods, and even aerospace and defense. Is AR mature enough for adoption in companies that are launching satellites and building new spacecraft? Absolutely. In fact, the technology is uniquely positioned to meet the highly specialized needs of the aerospace industry.

Accuracy Is Mission-Critical

While nearly no company likes to talk about it, the failure rate in manufacturing components or systems is an indisputable fact. Some industries, like consumer electronics, might tolerate a failure rate of 5 percent, or even higher, factoring in returns or repairs as an acceptable cost of doing business. But in an industry like aerospace and defense, the acceptable failure rate number needs to be zero, or as close to zero as realistically possible. Human error at the factory can lead to severe consequences that impact the outcome of an entire project. Downtime can be costly, especially when downstream processes get held up.

Augmented reality is the ultimate “measure twice, cut once” reference check. It brings precise, intuitive instruction into the real world. Augmented reality can help engineers see immediately if they're about to drill into the wrong spot or install a fastener upside down. Compare that to the decades-old standard for repair or assembly: printed manuals and reference guides. Digital versions are an upgrade, making references searchable and reducing time to find the needed manufacturing or repair info. AR brings the information engineers or technicians need as an overlay into the real world, in real time. As a result, technicians are better equipped to diagnose possible errors before they happen and more accurately complete manufacturing procedures. And bigger picture, it reduces downtime and improves efficiencies.

When done right, AR helps accelerate time-to-information when accuracy is essential. Technicians can access critical reference material that helps them make the right decisions exactly when they need it. Consider a complex assembly process with thousands of steps, like assembling a satellite. Without AR, technicians will spend a considerable amount of time examining diagrams, consulting manuals, or reviewing static guides and then doing mental mapping of these paper instructions onto the real world components of whatever they are building, which leaves a lot of room for error or misinterpretation.

A good example of this is Lockheed Martin. Since they began using AR in their Space Systems division to help manufacture spacecraft, including NASA's Orion Spacecraft, they have realized significant ROI including a 95% reduction in the time it takes technicians to interpret drawings and text instructions.

Create Experts, Share Expertise

In aerospace and defense, the workforce consists of highly specialized SMEs that live and breathe intellectual property – designs, processes, equipment – all of which is highly proprietary. Unlike, say, auto repair, there's no universal Chilton's manual for repairing one company's proprietary spacecraft. Companies invest considerable amounts of time and resources in training expert engineers and technicians on their specialized machines and tools.

Augmented reality is an ideal way to build and share expertise with the people who use and add to a company's unique intellectual property. The technology brings an inherent ability to more easily and quickly share expert knowledge, meaning you can use AR to maximize the investment in creating a company's SMEs. As mentioned above, Lockheed Martin's Space Systems division is using AR to ensure spacecraft are built with the highest precision and accuracy.

Beyond the reduction in time-to-information, the team has also experienced an 85 percent reduction in overall training required through the use of AR. Training your workforce on a process that used to take eight hours could now take 45 minutes through the use of augmented reality. An executive at Lockheed Martin said that with AR, engineers don't just see how things work, they can more fully understand a new process and can make better-informed decisions along the way. In fact, Lockheed Martin has seen a 42% improvement in overall productivity as a result of their use of AR instructions created with the use of AR software from Scope AR. AR platforms go beyond contextual overlays to deliver work instructions to technicians in-the-moment. Integrated platforms can also connect technicians with an SME to communicate real-time instructions or help trou-bleshoot an equipment error. If you can record AR-supported remote assistance, training, and troubleshooting sessions, they become valuable, reusable assets to help others gain expertise in a scalable way.

A Lockheed Martin technician using AR manufacturing instructions created with Scope AR's WorkLink platform. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin)

Security Is Everything

For any company working in the aerospace and defense sector, security needs to be unassailable. The safety of a nation's population might depend on it. Security also protects your most sensitive intellectual property, tradecraft, and proprietary design plans and equipment. If you're evaluating a new technology, it first needs to conform to your organization's specific, stringent security protocols. Don't let strict policies or deployment requirements deter you from leveraging AR to drive value to your organization. In fact, several companies in the aerospace and defense industry have some of the most compelling and advanced applications of AR today.

Partner with IT early to ensure the AR technology you're evaluating can integrate into your organization's existing infrastructure. It's also important to find an AR solution that works with the hardware devices that are already governed or approved for use within your closed systems - whether that's wearables, smart-phones or tablets. Despite some misconceptions, augmented reality is enterprise-ready and has reached a maturity stage to meet even the most rigorous security protocols and keep your data and proprietary content that AR often leverages, such as 3D or CAD models, as well as detailed manufacturing instructions, safe.

What Augmented Reality Does Best

We're starting to see more companies every day using AR to help solve problems for enterprise business. When you can simplify a process in one location – or on one team – you can often scale it to other areas of your business. As a matter of fact, due to the success of their Space Systems team's initial deployment, Lockheed Martin is now expanding their use of AR into all four business units of their organization across a variety of use cases.

If you're looking to get started with an AR project at your company, here's the best way to get started. Partner with leadership early and ensure your AR project fits within all existing information security protocols. Find a use case where AR can help your specialized workforce do their jobs more efficiently and effectively. Focus on a single process where you can use AR to speed up critical time-to-information or reduce downtime. Measure the value and evaluate ROI. If you see value, expand and repeat across other manufacturing applications or even extend to new business units that could benefit from the technology.

This article was written by Scott Montgomerie, CEO and Co-Founder, Scope AR (San Francisco, CA). For more information, visit here .

Aerospace Manufacturing and Machining Magazine

This article first appeared in the December, 2019 issue of Aerospace Manufacturing and Machining Magazine.

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