An employee on the factory line approaches a machine they’ve never in their life operated. Staring at the mass of unfamiliar iron and circuitry, they stand dumbfounded for a moment before a set of instructions materializes in front of them dictating where the controls are located.

Happy to have found a jumping off point, the employee approaches the controls and as he does, labels for all of the different buttons and apparatuses blink into view. Without even having to commit to operating these apparatuses, the employee is relieved to see, in simulated space, exactly how the machine operates in response to any action they take on the control panel. Suddenly, after only a few short minutes, this unfamiliar hunk of iron doesn’t seem so unfamiliar.

While this may sound like an excerpt out of a science fiction novel, truth is, these are all capabilities manufacturers have access to in the here and now. What we just illustrated is one of many benefits of mixed reality in manufacturing!

What is Mixed Reality?

Mixed Reality is the blending of real objects and virtual ones. These simulations and virtual objects, menus, and more are often produced by a headset, such as Microsoft’s HoloLens, worn by the user. Mixed reality also allows for these virtual objects and menus to be interacted with by the user, providing a more engaging, intuitive use than other forms of virtual reality.

What’s the Difference Between Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality in Manufacturing?

Those a little more versed in virtual reality may already realize that mixed reality’s definition sounds pretty similar to Augmented Reality’s. The key difference between augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) is that AR will simply overlay virtual objects over the real world while MR sets virtual objects into the real world, allowing for interaction between real and virtual elements. 

Think of it like this, if AR would allow you to look at a piece of furniture in your room to see how it fits with the rest of your décor, MR would allow you to interact with the furniture – move its cushions, rearrange it’s positioning, open up compartments in the furniture, see what the interior looks like, etc.

This key discrepancy in intractability can be used in a myriad of innovative ways to benefit manufacturing efficiency across several industries. All it takes is a few IoT sensors, the right industrial grade computers, and a quality-based approach. 

Mixed Reality Examples and Use Cases

The manufacturing sector is a several-headed beast. For every product or material being manufactured, there are different best practices, common procedures, and common methods of optimizing said practices and procedures. Thankfully, despite the variance in manufacturing practices, the industry is riddled with mixed reality examples and use cases. Truthfully, the benefits of mixed reality in manufacturing are just as varied and myriad as methods of manufacturing themselves! 

Remote Troubleshooting

If current events have shown us anything it’s that remote work capabilities are the future for more than just office jobs and healthcare. Of course, remote work can be difficult for manufacturers and those in the industrial space when so much of their work is tied to physical machinery that needs to be maintained and inspected regularly. Enter Mixed Reality.

Repair specialists at companies like Delta ModTech have found amazing success in being able to interact with machine operators miles and miles away through their mixed reality headsets. Using these solutions, troubleshooters and repair specialists can receive a direct feed of what operators see on-site and aid them in fixing any breakdowns or issues. They can guide operators through visual cues or even throw up video and text-based instructions into their line of sight for an easy-to-follow, step-by-step fix.

Product Design

Product design becomes invariably more efficient as we begin to see mixed reality in manufacturing enter the mainstream. 

Using simulation software such as Digital Twin tech, product designers can load up virtual versions of product prototypes and interact with them in the real world. Here they can observe individual components, open up the product to gain a deeper understanding of its functions, and begin to answer some of the logistical questions that will determine whether this prototype is fit to be produced and tested further. What’s even more promising is the fact that these virtual products can be shared with other employees on the floor. Any of them with the requisite headset can then gain the exact same insight into a product.

Airbus is one such manufacturer that has experienced some of the amazing benefits of mixed reality after implementing it into their product design process. Executives even commented that the inclusion of mixed reality in manufacturing processes sped up their design timeline by 80%

Reskilling and Training

The situation we illustrated in the beginning of this blog post is one of many amazing mixed reality examples of reskilling and employee training. Manufacturing has experienced the perfect storm of a lack of skilled labor and an ever-increasing level of experience needed to break into even entry level machine operation. And whether you’ve decided to reskill your workforce or bring in new talent that may require more training, mixed reality in manufacturing has something to offer. 

Mixed Reality allows for new hires and those learning new posts to load up menus, instructional videos, and manuals right next to them as they work with machinery. Those still not able to be hands-on with dangerous equipment can even create virtual simulations of these devices and interact with them. Not only does this save on downtime for a machine that could otherwise be used to create profit, it diminishes possibilities of injury, breakdowns, and more that could be caused by a pair of inexperienced hands operating dangerous hardware. 

What’s Needed to Build a Mixed Reality in Manufacturing Program

Mixed reality, like several other industry 4.0 solutions, is an IoT enabled Bluetooth technology. It draws in data from sensors and machines using its own sensors and uses that data to create the virtual realities employees can use to augment their work. That said, IoT machines and sensors capable of tracking performance and KPI are prerequisites for a mixed reality program. 

Furthermore, computers and workstations designed to house this data need to be built to last in the industrial spaces they’re expected to be deployed in. Industrial panel PCs and HMI stations that will need to be used near heavy machinery need to be able to protect against a certain degree of ingress. Industrial tablets and computers that will be used within the factory will need IP65 secured bezels capable of keeping out harmful debris and moisture that’s pretty common when in near proximity to these pieces of heavy machinery. 

Additionally, a lot of manufacturing hardware and software is old and outdated. And while that may be the case, several plant owners rely on legacy hardware and software and require data be pulled in from these devices as well. Naturally, this means ensuring deployed workstations and sensors support these legacy solutions. Custom mini PCs, fortunately, are a solution that can be customized to include ports and connections for your legacy hardware that can also house important data with which to create mixed reality in manufacturing.  

Mixed Reality in Manufacturing and its Benefits are Available Now

All of these mixed reality examples we’ve discussed can be deployed today. Don’t fall into the same trap as many others who feel starting a mixed reality in manufacturing program requires a complete upheaval of your entire mode of operation. Start small with a few sensors, hardware, and maybe one or two headsets to see where MR can be deployed most effectively in your factory. For more information on how a proper, industrial grade computer or tablet can help you reap the benefits of mixed reality in manufacturing program off the ground, contact an expert from Cybernet today.