On assembly lines, on construction sites, before delivering luxury products, augmented reality (AR) helps operators detect manufacturing and finishing defects. Across the whole supply chain, it saves considerable time and reinforces quality assurance, an increasingly critical issue for manufacturers.

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The most dominant element of AR is reality, which is one of its main assets for technical operations. For AR is based on a real environment upon which complementary digital information is superimposed (text, video, user interface, 3D object), displayed in real time. This data varies depending on the orientation of the device (smartphone, tablet, glasses or headset) and thus the user’s field of view.

Connected glasses: a hands-free asset for quality control

Launched in 2013, tested in several sectors until early 2016, and somewhat left aside since then, the Google Glass project is not dead for everybody. Based on its concept and on a custom app, Bosch’s technology division has developed a new tool: SmartEyes, to improve quality control and tracking on production lines for construction machine joysticks.

The principle is simple, the tool is easy to understand. The operator compares the finished product to the image displayed in his glasses. Thanks to the built-in audio walkthrough, the operator follows each required step and approves the product (or not), via a voice command. In the event of a defect, SmartEyes takes a picture which is automatically transferred to the central system. It only takes five minutes to learn how to use the device, according to the person in charge of this project, which reduces control time by 80% and almost annihilates the risk of error.

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Higher quality for a lower production time

Airbus has built a model factory of the future, obviously loaded with digital technologies to optimise aircraft production. AR plays its part, through connected glasses and tablet apps. With the glasses, the operators check if parts are correctly placed on the assembly line. The tablets are used to check the fixing parts on the inner fuselage wall one by one, which amount to several hundred per aeroplane. Thanks to the implementation of AR, this operation which used to take several weeks, now only takes a few days.

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As for Porsche, at the assembly plant in Leipzig, Germany, AR is a pilot project for the final quality controls before delivering cars to customers. The quality of assembled components and various parts, including parts from third-party suppliers, are closely examined. The parts are scanned and saved on a cloud database, and operators can check their placement directly on the assembly line, through a laser projection on the vehicle, thus ensuring that the vehicle meets the required standards.

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The building sector is also experiencing a similar revolution. By superimposing 3D projections included in the BIM model of a construction project, technicians can compare, several times per day or per week, the detailed plans to the work in progress and automatically report on progress and any mistakes. This data allows the supervisors to assess progress, corrections, needs and costs, and manage the whole project more effectively.

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Augmented reality: aiming for widespread adoption by 2020

In addition to quality control in manufacturing and construction, AR is already used for driving assistance in smart cars, in retail to try on clothes without actually wearing them, and even to choose furniture by virtually placing them in a room.

AR has also been tested to make the user’s manual of certain Audi car models more attractive, facilitate maintenance operations, make some professional training sessions more concrete, improve school textbooks, and secure and optimise firemen’s operations.

And we’re only just discovering the possible uses for AR. Within five to ten years, the technology will have reached its productivity plateau, according to Gartner’s Hype Cycle, who estimates that 100 million consumers will use AR for shopping in 2020. Alongside virtual reality and mixed reality which combines AR and VR, AR is one of the technologies that will speed up the digital transformation of organisations and will be commonly used over the next three years, according to IDC.

Sources: Forbes, Volvo Cars, Gartner, Upload, Slash Gear