In February 2016, Good Morning America brought virtual reality experiences to the masses as everyone went with “GMA on Safari,” reports Fortune magazine (video below). This safari took viewers with smartphones and a cardboard cutout into a 360-degree experience, representing the startling shift towards virtual reality applications in everyday life. However, virtual reality hasn’t always been as accessible, and actual virtual reality is slightly different than GMA’s experience. For manufacturers, virtual reality represents a major breakthrough in how products are created. Let’s take an in-depth look into the world of virtual reality, what’s holding it back, and why manufacturers are looking to virtual reality in manufacturing.
What Is Virtual Reality?
Virtual reality in manufacturing is referred to as “digital design, simulation, and integration. Virtual reality is comparable to a monitor on steroids, and users can interact with the digital simulation. Essentially, this eliminates the need to build complex prototypes to review designs, hastening the design-to-finished product time frame.
Virtual reality, according to Computer Weekly, is achieved through four different, integrated devices, which include the following:
- Content – This refers to the 3D images within virtual reality. These images must consider how a 3D appears and adjust lighting and angles appropriately.
- Delivery Mechanism – The delivery mechanism is what projects the 3D image. Since a tangible, physical object has three dimensions (width, length, and depth), the delivery mechanism must be made up of at least three projectors. However, virtual reality may include up to six projectors to enhance the experience.
- Driving Software – This is the software that powers the projectors. Projectors must change product displays as the users interact with models.
- Interface – The interface is how users interact with the simulation. This may be as simple as turning to one side, similar to the GMA Safari, or as complex as wearing computer-tracked gloves. The type of interface varies heavily from application to manufacturer, and the opportunities for improvement and advancement are “virtually limitless.”
What Are the Hindrances to Use of Virtual Reality in Manufacturing?
Ford has already taken steps to use virtual reality in manufacturing, reports Forbes magazine. Meanwhile, Facebook and Google are clamoring to create virtual reality platforms for deployment across a variety of industries. Historically, virtual reality was seen as an impractical application and venture in manufacturing for two primary reasons.
In the 1980s, virtual reality required 486 space-consuming computers, bulky gloves and headsets, and the creation of extremely detailed software for every virtual reality application. As a result, manufacturers could not justify the cost of using virtual reality. Yet, newer technologies, such as predictive analytics models, advanced data storage, and increased processing power from the cloud, are helping manufacturers save money across an enterprise, opening the door to virtual reality. Additionally, the cost of creating a virtual environment has grown cheaper as technologies and electronics have become less expensive.
Another major deterrent in the path towards virtual reality in manufacturing was integration. Even today’s virtual reality systems cannot be easily integrated with manufacturers’ existing design systems. However, modern manufacturing is ready to create these integration tools, and many manufacturers have already taken steps to do so. Furthermore, manufacturers are realizing some of the major benefits from the implementation of virtual reality programs as well.
How Does Virtual Reality Benefit Manufacturers?
Research and Design
Design processes start by reviewing a project’s goals, plans, and materials. Once these factors have been determined, traditional manufacturing design teams would build a prototype, which was then reviewed for defects, errors, or other issues. Unfortunately, this represented a major cost to production, but virtual reality is allowing manufacturers to reach the review process without incurring any costs in creating the product.
Review of Workflows and Benchmarking
As predictive analytics have become crucial to success, virtual reality is being used to review workflows and improve benchmarking processes. Manufacturers can see what’s going on, review how workers’ responsibilities could be changed, and determine if the changes would save the manufacturer money, a key point in a 2001 publication on virtual reality.
Maintaining compliance and visibility through training protocols are another way virtual reality is improving manufacturing. Workers can be trained in a digital environment, allowing for proactive training of what-if scenarios, which will reduce incidents, injuries, and delays in production.
Quality Assurance and Risk Management
Products may not always be correctly manufactured, and risks will always be present. However, virtual reality in manufacturing is being used to conduct a more comprehensive QA checks and manage risk by keeping all parties accountable. For example, QA applications of virtual reality may include periodic review of products as they’re being created.
Control of Robotics
Virtual reality in manufacturing could also be used to eliminate the need for advanced control panels when robots are used. This could help enhance the precision guidance of robotics, enabling more cautious and detailed actions without actually putting stress on the employee.
As manufacturers move towards a more efficient supply chain, the use of virtual reality will increase. Virtual is reducing cost and helping manufacturers visualize products faster than ever before. For manufacturers like Ford, the applications of virtual reality in manufacturing are key towards growth in the 21st century, and all manufacturers should be actively working to embrace virtual reality today.