Virtual reality thus far has been limited. Not by the technology itself, but by what we thought the technology could be used for. It has been limited mostly to gaming, with some military and other training applications. In the last decade, however, it has branched out into different industries. It's found space in education, healthcare, and construction. Manufacturing has also taken up the technology and is using virtual reality to streamline the manufacturing process. Those who have adapted virtual reality for manufacturing have found that it makes production faster, safer, and more efficient than traditional processes.
The more business owners in manufacturing that learn about the benefits of virtual reality and implementing the technology into their production processes the more efficient it will become. Virtual reality is streamlining manufacturing by offering enhanced training opportunities for new and veteran workers, creating a more efficient work flow, eliminating costly mistakes within the production process, and creating a positive workspace atmosphere.
How Does Virtual Reality Manufacturing Work?
Virtual reality is a technology that uses head mounted displays to show the user a digital environment. Using these displays, the person can interact with the environment, manipulating the space around them to make it appear different. Manufacturers use the tech to draft initial product designs using 3D imaging, train employees with new VR training programs, and create more strategic factory layouts. Because of its ability to mimic the real world, like lighting, sound, physics, and chemical reactions, virtual reality is an incredibly important and powerful tool in the manufacturing process.
Benefits of Virtual Reality
Virtual reality has generated a lot of interest in the education and training industry as a way to learn information faster. It has three levels of immersion, non-immersive (like television), Semi-immersive (like PC gaming with a VR headset, that doesn't remove outside stimuli), and fully immersive (by using a headset with auditory and sensory capabilities that do remove outside stimuli).
Because of this, virtual reality can be adapted to the needs of the user. For simulation training, the user can have fully immersive interactions to give them a realistic expectation of job requirements. In installation and repairs, the user can use semi-immersive VR to know where to touch the physical object while still having the benefit of virtually represented information.
Because of its immersive capabilities and how it cuts out outside stimuli, virtual reality helps with user information retention and recall. It also helps keep the user focused on the task at hand when the rest of the world would cause a greater distraction.
Another benefit of virtual reality is that it keeps the brain active. There are many days in which the monotony of repetitive process can drone on, blurring from one step to the next. This can easily result in mistakes made on the production line. But using VR to help keep the brain stimulated and fully aware keeps those mistakes low.
Virtual Reality Manufacturing Applications
Virtual reality manufacturing uses the technology to ensure a more streamlined process of production in many areas of development. It takes standard steps in the process and either makes them better, faster, or eliminates the need for them entirely.
Product Development- Using VR to develop products eliminates the need for multiple steps of trial and error on expensive equipment and materials. Because of the realistic way in which virtual reality displays information, product designers can get an accurate representation of what the prototype would be like. By designing in 3D, the designer can create the product virtually, test it out, get feedback on the design, and when its approved, create the design using real materials. Prototyping is cheaper, easier, and less time consuming. At this step, there may still be adjustments to the final design, but the VR component allows manufacturers to produce multiple iterations of a product without wasting more material than is necessary, reducing the overall cost of the product.
New Employee Training- Training employees takes time. There are generally three parts to training: information consumption via handbooks or videos, on the job training where they're demonstrated how to work equipment, and finally gaining the actual experience of working by doing it themselves with an overseer. While each step is necessary to ensure a well-trained employee, it is time consuming. Virtual reality eliminates the extra time spent in demonstrations. In house information is transferred and the employee learns, not only industry standards, but company SOP as well. Using simulated environments, the employee is given both information and experience in handling heavy equipment, machine parts, and product creation simultaneously. There's no need to spend more time on training than necessary. The employee can then demonstrate their knowledge of proper procedure and be turned out to become a producing member of the work environment.
Product Marketing- Marketing has always adapted swiftly to the newest tactics to reaching their intended audience. Not every audience is using VR, but the likelihood that a person has used virtual reality technology at some point in recent years is increasing every day. Virtual reality is just another avenue that marketing teams are taking to show their products and generate revenue. Virtual reality has a benefit that television and paper marketing don't have, that of product demonstration and use (without inviting a traveling salesman into their home). Their audience can use the product in the simulated environment and if they can use it, they're more likely to buy it.
Collaboration- Collaboration between team members is easier and faster with VR technology. Instead of working through email, design boards, physical displays, and distance, team members can work on a project in real time, discussing changes to be made (and actively changing the graphic model to match the imagined item), even from miles away. Virtual reality collaboration enables products to be imagined, designed, changed, and fully realized without ever leaving the virtual world. In the ever-increasing remote workspace, this feature in becoming much more desirable.
Installation and Repairs- Broken items, or faulty machinery are just standard operating procedure in large factories, and when something goes wrong it can make the process come to a complete halt. With virtual reality, many of the standard workers can be trained to fix the minor issues that arise. If its not a standard issue, waiting on a field technician to arrive on site to fix the problem costs valuable production time. But using virtual reality, the technician could locate the issue and walk the workers through the fix and have the factory back in production faster than previously capable.
Construction- Similar to product design, constructing a workable factory layout usually takes completing the project to learn that the layout isn't as efficient as it could be. Using virtual reality, owners and operators can design, evaluate by walking around a 3D simulated environment, redesign, and create efficient layouts without ever having to spend a dime on material. This is where a semi-immersive CR environment would come in very useful. Having the ability to walk around a warehouse with a headset on, maneuvering through different layouts to see which one is more efficient would cut down on construction time and cost significantly.
Using virtual reality, manufacturers are able to streamline the process of production, training, design, and much more.
Manufacturing is a part of every day life, whether we realize it or not. From designing the clothes we wear and the houses we live in, to creating them, to buying them. It's all part of the manufacturing process. Virtual reality is a benefit to that process and is increasing the development of items we consume all the time; some items that we depend on for our very survival. Using VR to streamline the manufacturing process aids in the overall quality of life as we know it.