How HoloMeeting Can Influence the Manufacturing Industry

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As we all know, manufacturing has traditionally played an essential role in contributing to the growth of a country’s economy. The evolution of this value-add process intensely reflects the advancement of R&D, innovations and related technological transformations. Prior to the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, handmade finished goods largely dominated the market. With advancements in the 19th Century such as the development of the steam engine manufacturing made a huge leap forward. Since then and especially in the early part of the 20th century with mass production and Ford’s modernisation of the assembly line manufacturing entered a new area in which machines are an essential part in the manufacturing process.

Fast forward to today and automation plays an increasingly vital role in the manufacturing process. While this solution significantly reduces the number of employees needed to engage in every stage of the manufacturing process (when compared to previous centuries) there is also a fully modernised and extended ecosystem of manufacturers, suppliers, producers and logistics that make the manufacturing industry one of the largest, and largest employers, in the world.

Technology, across the entire ecosystem is taking the manufacturing process to new heights, allowing for new levels of efficiency, circular economies and greater fluidity and transparency throughout every vertical.

Immersive technology - a new paradigm for manufacturing

At every point in the pipeline, companies are constantly seeking better solutions to improve and accelerate the manufacturing process and ensure the continuous flow of production. Hence, the manufacturing industry has continued to be open to new innovations and opportunities as this so-called fourth industrial revolution really clicks into gear.

Manufacturers are fast embracing these new technologies which are helping to shape their business processes. For instance, recently digital manufacturing has become a common platform worldwide. New technologies such as robotics, connected machines and additive manufacturing have become standard conversion. The rapid advancement of technology cannot be ignored and, moreover, can be adopted to improve efficiency and processes.

Emerging technologies such as Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality, though still relatively young have the potential to disrupt manufacturing for the better.

It is undeniable that HoloLens Mixed Reality truly unboxes a new world of possibilities for the manufacturing industry. This advanced technology improves communication and collaboration by making interaction easier as it offers the ability to virtually transport people from different places as if they were standing in the same room. While on the other hand, Mixed Reality also enhances the fluidity of the manufacturing process through process efficiency. Only a year after HoloLens’ first release in 2015, several companies have been exploring Mixed Reality and experimenting its potential applications in becoming an additional facility of the manufacturing processes.

There are large players who have been trialling out Mixed Reality solutions to enhance their current processes, testament to the upward trajectory that immersive technologies are having in terms of their impact on manufacturing.

HoloLens in the automotive manufacturing industry

The automotive industry is at the cutting-edge of R&D and innovation and considered as one of the most productive in the global economy. With the fast changing pace of the world, today’s transport vehicles have been evolving to be more and more complex since they are made up of many more state of the art parts and electronics than ever before. It is therefore not surprising that many large car companies have been investing huge sums of money in innovation in order to meet customers’ demands and continue to thrive and stay ahead of competitors.

Yet, the automotive industry is often faced with certain challenges regarding two essential segments in its pipeline - manufacturing and design. Companies, for instance, have to control the amounts of inventory, reduce machine downtime and ensure quality control measures are in order whilst similarly ensuring that output is maximised.

The need for better solutions to deliver this flexible manufacturing capability was first introduced by the Ford Motor Company in 1913 with the first auto moving assembly line and mass production techniques. This revolutionary innovation has allowed for continuous workflow and eventually resulted in less waste and higher quality of the end product. Since then, and in an effort to stay on top of their game, automotive manufacturers have continued elaborating their production line for efficiency and productivity.

It is no surprise then that Ford is one of the pioneering companies to adopt Mixed Reality. Understanding how time-consuming and difficult the process of making cars is, Ford envisioned the future success of car manufacturing by putting the possibilities of Microsoft’s HoloLens Mixed Reality headset into practice. Ford has quickly replaced the conventional, low-tech clay modeling method of automotive design with Mixed Reality, thereby combining the physical and the virtual.

In this manner, the process of making the full-scale car models can be sped up exponentially. This helps engineers to visualise different materials and angles on an actual scale version without the need for physical builds. HoloLens also allows engineers to actively interact with the augmented models whilst freely collaborate and communicating to share and look at ideas together. What is more, Ford takes advantage of HoloLens as a training tool when workers can leave notes through voice recording during the manufacturing process which can be automatically saved and accessed at any time anywhere. In addition to helping improve manufacturing efficiency, HoloLens adds  significant value to the designing process. The advanced features of HoloLens have brought an effective solution for Ford by reducing the process of making and reviewing changes when it comes to design.

As explained by VR & Advanced Visualisation Technical Specialist, Elizabeth Baron in Ford’s promotional video: “What HoloLens gives us is the simple way of understanding extremely complex information that comes from multiple sources around the company.”

Similarly, Volvo Cars is another automotive company that has partnered with Microsoft in the development of HoloLens proof of concept applications. A small group of Volvo engineers now have the ability to see through holographic engines and interact with complex components by only using ‘air tap’ hand gestures. Offering the unique working environment to seamlessly interact with the holographic car components, HoloLens dramatically speeds up the car development process which, in turn, helps engineers meet their critical goal of reducing the process it takes to successfully create a new car model ‘to 20 months by 2020 from 30 months now.

Hence, this immersive experience has truly transformed the manufacturing process by enabling engineers to engage with digital content in order to further improve deep understandings and expedite the decision-making process with accuracy.

HoloLens in the aircraft manufacturing industry

Another important manufacturing industry segment is in the aviation industry. In order to build an aircraft, complex manufacturing processes consist of thousands of moving parts and stages. Speed, accuracy and safety therefore are critical to the success of the business which would also impacts on the bottom line. The manufacturing infrastructure and overall ecosystem should work fluidly in order to be successful. The aviation industry therefore is calling out for immersive innovation to be implemented throughout its manufacturing processes.

Essentially, the key goal for a business to become the market leader is to continuously strive towards higher levels of productivity.

Airbus, as one of the major airplane manufacturers, has attempted to leverage to the fullest of the benefits that industry 4.0 can potentially bring. The business is familiar with modern manufacturing processes, meaning that putting high volume of components in a precise sequence as quickly as possible by exploiting the benefits of additive manufacturing or implementing Internet of Things as devices to track tools in the factory.

Since the aviation industry is operated in a dynamic and relatively competitive environment, modern manufacturing process means that less time is required for the assembly. Well-trained engineers ultimately help the aircraft manufacturing process tackle the current challenges and so the importance of high quality training cannot be understated. With the aim not only to overcome the existing challenges but also to provide better solutions concerning manufacturing process, Airbus and Japan Airlines (JAL) jointly developed and launched the first HoloLens app with its primary purposes on training.

The training solution gives engineers the unique opportunity to access information from anywhere without being on the manufacturing floor with the physical aircraft. This has enabled Airbus to fundamentally transform the traditional training is conducted in “the way people interact with data and work process.” By adopting Mixed Reality into its processes at this key, and often understated, juncture Airbus has been able to reaffirm its competitiveness in the industry and show partners and clients how innovative and forward thinking it is.

How HoloMeeting can further improve the process

By looking closely at existing Mixed Reality applications that companies have been adopting into their business, we have been able to see how our HoloMeeting solution can become an integral part of the manufacturing ecosystem.

The manufacturing process is complex and filled with endless challenges. In the end, the core challenges most businesses have to deal with involve the timing, costs and process quality. HoloMeeting then is a collaborative tool that can provide visibility for everyone and ultimately enhance the manufacturing process from design to production.

HoloMeeting can act as much more than a video conferencing tool, for example being used during the manufacturing process to assist engineers with its remote assistance capabilities.

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