Engineering software specialist Theorem Solutions explains how the adoption of so-called mixed reality technology is helping manufacturers close the gap between the digital and real world
The hype around Augmented (AR), Mixed (MR) and Virtual Reality (VR) has been steadily building over the last 12-18 months and shows no sign of fading in 2019. It seems like the tech companies are constantly rolling out new devices with better graphical performance.
Most new devices and apps have been made with gaming and social media audiences in mind, however recent trends towards the digitising of manufacturing with the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 has caused industry to consider AR, MR and VR for industrial use.
The use of AR, MR or VR (collectively known as XR) in engineering and manufacturing is still in its infancy, but while integrating more modern, innovative technology into existing workflows involves investment and is time consuming to begin with, in the long run it will save manufacturers money and cut lead times by improving processes. In the current climate of constant technological advancement and economic uncertainty, organisations may need to find new ways of getting the job done quicker, but cheaper.
So, as a relatively new way to interact with your engineering data, where will AR, MR and VR take us in 2019?
It’s important to recognise that, and realise that this is a dynamic market. Given the scale of the companies involved – Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook etc. competition is fierce and as history would suggest, any device from these tech giants is bound to be a success. But there are other, smaller AR, MR and VR specific companies who could be worth watching in 2019.
Currently, there are a vast number of headsets and devices available (over 100 across AR, MR and VR), and users are spoilt for choice, which doesn’t necessarily make it easier when trying to decide which device, and technology, works best for you.
The devices that hold dominance over the current enterprise market are:
VR– Oculus Rift (Facebook), Vive (HTC), Gear (Samsung)
AR– Apps for AR will work on most smartphones and tablets. Other devices include the DAQRI headset and Google Glass, which is making a comeback with Google Glass 2, and offerings from Epson, Vuzix and ODG.
MR-Microsoft lead the market on MR devices at the moment with the HoloLens headset. HoloLens 2 is rumoured to be released in 2019, but they also face competition from the much hyped Magic Leap, who have recently released their first headset, which has the potential to be big in 2019.
The new trend of using holograms in MR is also known as spatial computing. What spatial computing does in essence is it enables users to see 3D CAD data at full scale and in context. Traditionally with 3D CAD, although it is 3D data, you’re looking at it through a conventional 2D screen, whether it’s a tablet or a large display, you’re still looking at it through a 2D medium.
In regards to products designed in CAD on a 2D screen, attempting to consider and visualise the impact of changes in the context of a full size product, in the real world, can be challenging. With spatial computing it’s at full scale and in context. As a result, the understanding of the product is enhanced substantially when the content is displayed in a familiar environment, rather than a totally digital environment.
Closing the gap between the digital and physical world presents an opportunity to exploit the power of digital product development and digital manufacturing as a competitive advantage.
Another area using these technologies with 3D CAD assets is for elements of the digital twin.
Until recently, the only way to gain detailed information about the status of products and industrial equipment was to be in physical proximity and have the ability to inspect it. Today, AR and MR are making it possible to virtualise this task by creating and maintaining a digital representation-the digital twin-of any piece of real equipment, product or industrial plant.
Digital twin spans a number of technologies- one is sensors in products, equipment or machinery, the other is computing to collate and collect data and then analyse and filter that data out. Where these devices come into play is when you want to visualise the digital representation of your machine tool or product, and see it overlaid on top of your physical asset- your actual car, machine tool etc- and add to that, data which has been collected by the sensors, so you can see on the machine where there might be problems.
The ultimate vision for the digital twin is to create, test, build, operate and service products and industrial equipment in a virtual environment, so that only when it gets to where it performs to requirements, is it physically manufactured.
Next Steps in 2019
One of the definite trends in 2019 will be companies wanting to move from learning and understanding these technologies, to actually defining and undertaking specific use cases-figuring out how AR, MR and VR can be used as part of a design process, production build or training activity, or use it in a production layout activity. And you’re going to see applications come onto the market to address those requirements.
Companies need to implement a use case where they can run it on many different devices, and they need to be device and data agnostic i.e. whatever data they create for a particular use case, they need to create it so that they can use it on the next generation of devices. That’s a trend people are beginning to grasp, rather than tie themselves to one particular type of technology, or device. In 2019 companies will start to use different devices, multiple devices and technologies, so that they can protect themselves in the longer term and future-proof their investment. As new hardware comes out, users will be able to carry on their use case in production and continue to get benefits as the device market changes and evolves.
Although investing in new technologies like this can seem like a risk to begin with-especially if you’re not sure how they will fit in to your workplace-using AR, MR and VR in engineering and manufacturing workflows is already being used by leading edge companies, and is changing the way people are working for the future- will you get left behind?
Virtual Reality (VR): the most familiar and understood. VR has been around for a long time, used commercially by large aerospace and automotive organisations in CAVE’s and Powerwalls for over 30 years. It’s becoming more accessible through new headsets on the market (think HTC Vive and Oculus Rift). VR is a 100%, fully immersive experience, everything you see in the environment is completely digital- you cannot see the real world at all.
Augmented Reality (AR): Made mainstream by the popularity of Pokémon Go and Snapchat, AR is the most accessible of the technologies and can be used on most smartphones and tablets, but there are also smartglasses and headsets that enable hands free interaction. Digital content is overlaid onto the real world, so you can view and interact with the content in the environment you’re already in.
Mixed Reality (MR): MR can sometimes get banded in with AR, and whilst there are some similarities- interacting with digital content in your real world environment- the main difference is that MR displays your content in 3D holographic form. You can walk around and interact with your data at full scale, as if it were actually in the room in front of you.
Founded in 1991, Theorem’s products and solutions enable engineering and manufacturing companies to leverage their CAD and PLM assets in other parts of their business, primarily via data sharing with downstream processes and suppliers.
Theorem provides products for engineering and manufacturing companies to improve their design, engineering and manufacturing processes by utilising their CAD and PLM assets in innovative Augmented, Mixed and Virtual Reality experiences.
For more information visit www.digitalrealities.com
To download our white paper XR: The Cognitive Gap click here- https://www.digitalrealities.com/xr-the-cognitive-gap
This article was supplied by Theorem and originally published in The Engineer’s 2019 Tech Trends Supplement