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How AR & VR are Transforming Maintenance in Manufacturing


Maintenance technology is a key area of innovation in manufacturing, today and for the foreseeable future. With efficiency, speed and reliability playing a more important role than ever in the success of manufacturing businesses, it is critical to remain current with advances in maintenance technology in order to keep pace with competitors and deliver the experience that customers expect.

Smart factories driven by Industry 4.0 technology are already becoming pervasive throughout the manufacturing landscape. The success and efficiency of these factories proves that advanced technology is necessary to remain viable and competitive in manufacturing today. The efficiencies that these technologies provide are improving not only maintenance challenges, but the entire productivity of the plant and enterprise.

Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) technology are among the most advanced and effective implementations of Industry 4.0 in use today. Read on to learn more about the benefits of AR, VR and MR in maintenance.

What is immersive technology in manufacturing?

Immersive reality technology in manufacturing includes augmented, virtual and mixed reality technology and the ways in which they enable more effective and efficient maintenance practices. These technologies offer ways to obtain more information at the right time, while also facilitating access to tools and scenarios that would not otherwise be possible.

Augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality are becoming increasingly common in maintenance applications as manufacturers gain a better understanding of the benefits that these technologies can deliver. Here, we will take a closer look at how each aspect works in relation to manufacturing.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality (AR) is technology that adds information to the existing real-world environment in which a technician is present. Augmented reality is enabled through tools such as connected goggles or glasses. In most cases, AR will overlay details about what the technician is viewing.

Augmented reality draws information from data sources in order to provide an effective “heads-up” view of the manufacturing environment, helping the technician to make fast, accurate decisions using the full scope of information at hand. In augmented reality, the technician can use hand gestures and other methods to interact with the information being presented.

The key differentiator of augmented reality is that it focuses exclusively on the environment in which the technician is located — including the machines, processes, products and people — and adds (or augments) information to facilitate more effective operations.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality presents a view of an environment different from that in which the technician or viewer is located — and can even present an environment that does not exist at all. Virtual reality is typically facilitated through a headset and enables full interaction with the “virtual” environment being presented.

Virtual reality is most frequently used to facilitate a close analogue of interaction with a real-world element such as a part, component or machine. The key differentiator of virtual reality is that it places the user in an environment completely separate from that in which they are currently located.

Mixed reality

Mixed reality combines elements of augmented reality and virtual reality to varying degrees. A mixed reality implementation will almost always lean further toward one type of technology or the other while incorporating elements of both. In mixed reality, the technician might see and interact with elements of the environment in which they are present, with augmented reality and virtual reality elements present as well.

Immersive technology benefits and uses in maintenance

Immersive technology — including augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality — offers a number of benefits in maintenance practices throughout the manufacturing field. In this section, we will explore the benefits and uses of each type of technology for maintenance technicians and other personnel.

Benefits & uses of augmented reality in maintenance

AR in maintenance offers a number of benefits, including:

  • Generally unobtrusive, hands-free technology such as goggles or glasses
  • A lower barrier to entry, since the tools overlay information on top of the existing work environment
  • Real-time, easy access to data, including machine health, troubleshooting, training and more
  • Quick access to historical maintenance data on the plant floor
  • Transmits institutional knowledge from experienced to new technicians
  • Real-time, interactive training and upskilling
  • More accessible maintenance tasks for technicians who may not be as familiar with certain types of equipment

Uses of AR include:

  • Real-time, at a glance performance data for equipment, presented through a heads-up display
  • Information about personnel on the floor, including availability, specialization, training and more
  • Step-by-step maintenance instructions
  • Facilitation of fast, effective decision making when maintenance needs are identified
  • Easy insight into potential failure conditions for equipment, enabling more proactive and predictive maintenance processes
  • More effective training processes, providing a more interactive environment for technicians
  • Facilitation of maintenance processes for personnel who may not be as familiar with equipment

Benefits & uses of virtual reality in maintenance

Benefits of VR in maintenance include:

  • Virtual access to parts, components, equipment and machinery from anywhere in the world, with full interaction capabilities
  • Reduced costs for travel and on-site visits
  • The ability to virtually represent parts, products and components that may not actually exist yet, based on technical drawings and data
  • More effective communication among manufacturers and customers, with the ability to discuss and look at components in a “real world” setting rather than a technical drawing or CAD model
  • Fully immersive training with risk-free, “hands-on” processes where neither the employee nor equipment is at risk of errors

Virtual reality can be used for a number of applications in manufacturing, including:

  • The vetting and inspection of processes from anywhere, without the need to be on-site
  • Interaction with parts that may be too large or heavy to efficiently transport
  • Interaction with parts that have not yet been built
  • Planning for floor footprint layouts and facility redesigns
  • Part and component design
  • Training of new hires and upskilling of technicians on staff, enabling more effective learning processes

Benefits & uses of mixed reality in maintenance

Mixed reality, in many ways, offers the best of both worlds from virtual reality and augmented reality. Mixed reality benefits include:

  • Full interactivity with on-site equipment, as well as virtual equipment representations
  • Access to a more geographically diverse workforce, without the need to seek technicians in the local area
  • Real-time communication among staff located anywhere in the world, where everyone is looking at the same thing
  • Error reduction
  • More efficient maintenance

Mixed reality uses include:

  • Building a technical workforce located nearly anywhere in the world, with the ability to communicate as if they were in the same room together
  • Step-by-step maintenance training and facilitation of maintenance processes
  • More effective and efficient work tracking
  • More efficient guidance in personnel and process management
  • Real-time communication among technicians, management and other stakeholders

ATS is focused on providing the latest maintenance technology and best practices for manufacturers through predictive maintenance, technician expertise, best-in-class standards and processes, to help you keep your factories running. We specialize in increasing uptime, improving asset reliability and reducing manufacturing costs.

To learn more about augmented reality in manufacturing and other technology — and how we can help you drive innovation in your operations — contact us today.

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