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Reality in the factory is no longer the same: The Applications of Virtual Reality

Digital Advisory

Reality in the factory is no longer the same: The Applications of Virtual Reality

Sara Cavinato | Jan 28, 2021

Virtual reality (VR) is one of the most popular digital technologies currently on the market, but it is often difficult to see the practical applications beyond the novelty. 

In this article, we have rounded up some of the practical applications of virtual reality for adding value and creating new services that would otherwise not exist.

 

Types of Reality: Virtual, Augmented and Mixed

One leading cause of this technology’s transformation from niche solution to solid opportunity for a whole range of market sectors is the fact that many “AR compatible” devices are being released onto the market, i.e. hardware with computational capacity, capable of collecting data using virtual reality technology. 

But what is meant by virtual reality? First, it is important to clarify that there are different kinds of reality technologies out there, each one with a unique approach to the real/digital worlds and with well-defined features that make it more suitable for particular fields of application than others.

 

Augmented, Mixed and Virtual Reality

 

Virtual Reality (VR)

Virtual reality is an entirely digital environment that simulates and recreates actual reality in an intangible way. In this type of reality, users experience a fully digital environment and aren’t aware of what happens in the physical environment surrounding them. Virtual reality is typically made immersive thanks to the use of audio, visual, motion, and tactile devices - like 3D helmets, gloves and sensors - which isolate the subject’s perceptive channels and completely immerse them in the virtual experience. 

There are also less extreme types of virtual reality, like semi-immersive and non-immersive VR, where subjects aren’t completely isolated from actual reality.

Augmented Reality (AR)

Augmented reality is an altered representation of reality in which virtual and artificial sensory information is superimposed over the normal reality perceived by our senses, in order to enhance the user’s perception of that reality. 

Mixed Reality (MR)

Mixed reality is a mix of augmented reality and virtual reality. In this type of reality, the typical artificial elements of augmented reality are not only superimposed over physical reality, but also become part of it and can be manipulated by users.

 

Fields of application

In the industrial field, the potential applications of VR, AR, and MR are endless. The examples listed below are just a few of the more significant ways they can be put to work for you.

 

Safety and training

Those of you who have had access to a production site will remember having to do video courses on safety and being subjected to a multiple choice test, probably printed in black and white on a sheet of A4 paper. 

But when it comes down to it, how much does this way of transmitting information help users deal with real-life alerts? If the test is done in an immersive VR environment where sounds, noise and smells are an accurate representation of real-life situations, will the user be more readily able to spot danger? And above all: If we found ourselves in such a situation, would we even be able to put everything we learned in the course into practice?

Every company that has asked itself these questions and decided to use VR technology instead of traditional teaching methods has found that users not only learned faster, but also retained more information after training.

Virtual reality works on the principal of learning by doing, which has been shown to increase attention span. After the taught theoretical course, participants are immersed in a specific, virtually simulated situation, and are given an opportunity to put what they have learned into practice.

The content is strongly visual and multi-sensory: It not only involves sight and sound, but also movement, which increases the potential for memory retention. Participants are subjected to emotionally involving experiences that leave a lasting impression.

Virtual reality training can even take the form of video games: Video games have far-reaching potential as an educational resource and are extremely effective at engaging users and increasing their attention span during a training course.

We tried out an immersive VR room for ourselves, and were deeply impressed by the scenario we experienced: Even though we had successfully finished the on-paper questionnaire just minutes earlier, being immersed in a stressful situation caused us to make mistakes, and led us to reflect on the role of emotion in dangerous situations. Suffice it to say that if we ever find ourselves in a similar situation in real life, we’d be very unlikely to repeat the same mistakes.

 

Remote maintenance

One important application for AR is in the field of maintenance, especially remote maintenance.

Using AR here provides maintenance experts with predictive and analytical data generated by the machinery and gives them a real-time visual guide for making repairs. It also simplifies support work for machinery and equipment providers, expanding the scope of their ability to provide remote assistance by exchanging information with someone on site.

Businesses that have implemented augmented reality for their technical support services find that:

  • Overall service costs are reduced 
  • Problems can be resolved faster
  • Machine operational efficiency increases

As a result, these benefits also have a positive impact on customer satisfaction. 

 

Contextualizing legacy data

A second application for augmented reality is in putting legacy system data into context on technical support hardware devices. 

A typical scenario might involve an operator accessing a production environment with an AR device, e.g. a turbine hall, and the information relevant to the machinery appears automatically, which effectively augments the reality. The information contextualized could be linked to maintenance, nameplate data, supplier contact information, measurements available in real time, and more. 

 

3D models

One field of application for mixed reality is in 3D models. Applying this here makes it possible to insert any virtual 3D model into a real environment and be able to evaluate obstacles, location and positioning relative to its surroundings. When applied here it becomes particularly useful across the entire construction industry, from on-road construction sites to internal design. What’s more, 3D plant models are revolutionizing the way we work, whether used for planning phases (evaluating obstacles, planning directly in 3D, etc.), or for planning and carrying out maintenance work (simulating operations, integrating 3D models in the legacy system data, for example feeler gauge measurements used for evaluating piping maintenance work).

 

Considerations for the future

The fields of application discussed here are only those where virtual reality technology has reached a progressive maturity, and those that we believe are ready to show unleash their potential on the field of industry. These areas are where virtual reality could make a fundamental contribution to improving existing solutions, a unique and crucial contribution with no equal or alternative.

 

Developing one of the solutions discussed here for your own business? Or evaluating the potential benefits of virtual reality for another field? Make use of our skills: contact us!

 


Other articles of this series on Digital Advisory:

 

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