Best Practices and Examples for Using Hololens in Manufacturing
The Microsoft Hololens is a mixed-reality product that allows true interaction with 3D models integrated into the physical world. The Hololens has real potential in manufacturing. As the AR/VR market is expected to be worth approximately $4.7 billion by 2025 with estimated users approximating 3.2 million, Hololens has the potential to establish itself as a key component in the future of manufacturing.
The four key areas where businesses have seen benefits by leveraging Hololens technology are integrating design and manufacturing, training manufacturing workers, complex assembly, and servicing/maintenance of equipment. Benefits realized by implementing these best practices have included increased efficiency, reduced costs and a more integrated manufacturing process. Below we have expanded on these key areas by providing best practices for use, as well as examples of companies currently using Hololens.
Integrating design and manufacturing
The design process is inextricably linked to manufacturing, and good use of the Hololens allows designers and manufacturers to collaborate to produce better products and streamline the manufacturing process on complex projects. A best practice in this instance involves creating 3D models of the products that can be altered and changed, so that mistakes and manufacturing issues can be detected before building begins.
For example, ThyssenKrupp is an elevator manufacturing company that is using the Hololens to assist in the design and construction of their stair lifts. The Hololens allows easy measurement of a customer's staircase. The AI-based software then designs a staircase to suit and integrates with the manufacturing plant to start the build process. The stair lift can also be modeled in real time and shown to the customer. ThyssenKrupp state that the use of the Hololens will enable them to design and build a stair lift up to four times faster.
Boeing is also using the Hololens in the manufacture of its Starliner transport module for the International Space Station. The Hololens lets them see if there is the clearance and space to get into the areas that might need fixing — a difficult task in the necessarily small environment of a space shuttle.
Two companies that are using the Hololens to create better products and enhance collaboration between designers, engineers and manufacturers are Stryker and Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). While not strictly pure manufacturing companies, they have been included here as they offer a great insight into how manufacturers can use the Hololens. Stryker designs and builds surgery rooms, and the Hololens allows all stakeholders to collaborate and visualize the room before manufacturing in order to ensure that it will meet the necessary specifications and ultimately deliver better patient care. In addition to modeling the surface of Mars, NASA's JPL is planning to use the Hololens to create holograms of the new Mars rover. This will mean that possible manufacturing issues can be addressed, the build process can be laid out step by step, and engineers will have an easy means to view and manipulate a model of the rover.
The Hololens can, therefore, be seen as integral to the future of integrating design and manufacturing, as it enables designers to spot issues before they arise after production — offering the potential to reduce costs and improve functionality.
Training manufacturing workers
One of the perfect use cases for the Hololens is training staff in the often convoluted processes involved in manufacturing and servicing complex equipment. Instead of lengthy classroom demonstrations using video or 2D images, trainees will be able to visualize the components from every angle, manipulate them and add/remove components in real time. Having better-trained staff will ultimately result in improved products and more efficient processes when dealing with complex manufacturing projects.
Boeing has been using the Hololens for this purpose and has integrated text guidance for the individual learning tasks, as well as a voice-over to guide the engineers through the process. Using the Hololens in this way, Boeing predicts that it will cut the training time down by 75% for each person.
Japan Airlines is also using the Hololens to train their staff and has demoed a scalable 3D model of a jet engine that can be taken apart by trainees to access and study different parts of the engine. The Hololens software also enables them to scale the model to life-size and approach it from different angles to get a full view of how it operates. Japan Airlines is hoping this will help them reduce training costs for its engineers.
Assembly can be a lengthy and complex process, with multiple parts that have to go together in a specific order for the finished product to function as it should. In traditional assembly, manuals must be consulted which results in inefficiencies. Using the Hololens would allow manufacturers to have each step overlaid on the task at hand, enabling assembly workers to know exactly which step of the process to do, and how to do it.
Volvo is one company that is experimenting with Hololens technology on the assembly line using the processes outlined above, in addition to using it to display key vehicle features to its customers. While elements of augmented reality have been present in manufacturing in the past (e.g. Boeing have used a tablet-based AR tool), the Hololens allows a much faster and more accurate representation of the steps involved.
Lockheed Martin has also been exploring the potential of the Hololens to improve the speed and quality of the manufacturing process. They see the ability to have all the possible information regarding assembly, as well as guided instruction, to be extremely advantageous.
Servicing and Maintenance of equipment
Servicing and maintenance is often carried out by manufacturing companies, particularly for products which are complex or have proprietary tools and equipment needed for their repair, and the Hololens allows engineers to do this in a much more accurate and time efficient manner. Best practices for using the Hololens for maintenance include the ability to triage requests ahead of the visit and enable hands-free remote guidance on site. Augmented reality enables 3D modeling of how to fix or replace parts in a step by step manner. Since the Hololens also has Skype integration, subject matter experts can be contacted quickly and easily for additional support and will be able to directly see the task at hand.
Thyssen Krupp is using the Hololens in their service department, and the ability to use the tools outlined above has reduced the average length of a service call by 4x. This is further assisted by the integration with cloud-based sensors in all of their elevators which allow engineers to have easy on-hand technical information to help them with servicing and maintenance. The platform will be rolled out to over 24,000 ThyssenKrupp engineers. Since manufacturing contracts often include a service agreement, being able to provide faster, better quality servicing may help improve the interaction between the manufacturing company and the customer.
In conclusion, there are four key practices in which the Microsoft Hololens is currently being used in manufacturing, namely integrating the design and manufacturing process, training manufacturing workers, complex assembly and servicing and maintenance. Benefits of using the Hololens technology include increased efficiency, lower costs, better products, and more meaningful interactions between the customer and the manufacturer.