Industrial Augmented Reality: Has It Really Arrived?

Industrial Augmented Reality: Has It Really Arrived?
By Tom Augeri

In the world of publishing, Augmented Reality (AR) applications started making waves two years ago, specifically via the introduction of QR codes and directly in some advertisements. For the average football fan, we see first down lines appearing amongst other more subtle functionality on our TV screens that are enhancing the viewer’s experience. In the medical field, concepts are in the tryout phase. The car industry is currently applying intelligent welding guns which have been applied fully into production. These changes are starting to make their way into our daily lives, yet how deep will these changes be seen in our industrial and manufacturing workplaces?


AR has been around since the early 1990s. Taking a real-life environment and overlaying schematics, programmers are able to produce enhanced graphics that are seen through various devices including cell phones, tablet devices and head mounted displays (HMD). Recently AR has received more attention due to companies like Google and Microsoft introducing AR enabled glasses. Companies like Coca-Cola and Siemens are using AR technologies as a selling tool to better display their products. Industry experts suggest that AR applications will grow ten-fold over the next five years1.

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Improvements in AR 3D technology have led to applications in architecture and urban planning through computer aided design (CAD). CAD has allowed AR to interface with the real world to create and modify the layouts of objects like buildings and trees. AR development is leading to improvements in auto and plane design. For instance, in car development, the goal has been to reduce the number of clay prototypes while later incorporating into physical prototypes. With airplanes, designers are able to track air flow in the cabin while also improving the function and ergonomy of the cockpit.

Factory set-up and design has been positively affected by AR. When new products are being developed, plants need to verify that they can handle the production of the product. METAIO introduced methods to plan an upgrade of a factory, not only in a virtual reality world, but in an actual plant. Their work focused on accurate alignment of CAD with a precise augmentation for plant designers. Their system offered comprehensive documentation by saving AR screen shots of the plant images helping in the future design of the plant2. AR is being used to support manufacturing of power plants as well. Using AR, they are able to see an X-ray visual of hidden structures like pipes that need to be protected. It has been proposed that AR systems can set property lines, helping construction workers perform their tasks remotely in hazardous sites.

Maintenance Augmented Reality

AR can also replace paper manuals, delivering information as changes are being worked on, and it can help support unskilled workers and also highly trained workers such welding projects that have been developed. Manual welding has been replaced by robots in the car industry except for the most complex tasks. By improving seam quality and decreasing the rejection rate, costs are being reduced. In the future, we will see AR used to train welders. An AR simulation can be used to safely train in complex operations that could be harmful.

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The scope of industrial AR is wide and potentially game changing, yet we have not seen massive AR changes permeate into day-to-day operations for most companies and the question is: Will it? It appears that we are on the cusp of breakthroughs, but until AR gets integrated and tested positively with scalable cost benefits being derived by the companies exploring this technology, is it more hype than our future reality? Clearly, companies like Google and Microsoft are investing into this technology, so perhaps we are just a few short years away from the next industrial evolution.

We would like to invite readers to start a dialog about what you are seeing in your workplaces. Is AR being introduced into your industries and at what stage is your company in the vetting process? The goal of this story is not just to inform, but to continue the flow of information to our readers and hopefully to enhance the imagination of future possibilities.

  1. 1) Industry and Augment News; , August 18, 2015
  2. 2) Pierre Fite-Gorgel, Is there a Reality in Industrial Augmented Reality?

Tom Augeri is a writer and Director of Marketing at The Social Media Monthly.