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The Microsoft HoloLens 2, a pair of mixed reality smartglasses. Picture: SUPPLIED/MICROSOFT SA
The Microsoft HoloLens 2, a pair of mixed reality smartglasses. Picture: SUPPLIED/MICROSOFT SA

The manufacturing industry is ripe for digital transformation, and mixed reality — a technology that blends the physical and virtual worlds — has the potential to be a real game-changer in this regard. 

Manufacturers can use mixed reality to build more agile factories, reinvent and standardise processes, and reduce downtime and errors to improve productivity and yields.

This technology also has the power to help companies transform their workforces. Mixed reality allows employees to collaborate regardless of their geographic location and enables them to learn to complete tasks quickly.

Consider, for instance, how solutions such as Microsoft's HoloLens 2 — a pair of mixed reality smartglasses that can be integrated with Microsoft Dynamics 365 business apps — can empower workers to become more efficient by allowing them to visualise data, such as step-by-step holographic instructions or work checklists, on the factory floor.

Workers can use Microsoft HoloLens 2 to access step-by-step holographic instructions on the factory floor. Picture: SUPPLIED/MICROSOFT SA
Workers can use Microsoft HoloLens 2 to access step-by-step holographic instructions on the factory floor. Picture: SUPPLIED/MICROSOFT SA

It's hardly surprising, then, that the global mixed reality market is on the rise and is expected to hit the $3.6bn mark by 2025. Especially when you consider that the industrial uses for this technology have grown in sophistication following the onset of the pandemic.

Here are some examples of how large manufacturing companies have adopted HoloLens 2 to support mixed reality and, in doing so, revolutionised they way they work:

Visual learning

Mitsubishi Electric has been promoting changes in the way people work by handing out tablets to all employees since 2018.

This accelerated since the start of the pandemic with the goal of creating a new business style tailored to the "new normal" and not to geographical places. This eliminated the need for paper, name stamps and signatures.

From a manufacturing perspective, workers can use HoloLens 2 to collaborate from remote locations, enabling the organisation to deploy development and design expertise on the front lines.

Taking care of business continuity

When a large proportion of its skilled machine operators were in lockdown due to Covid-19 restrictions last year, Arla, one of the world’s largest dairy companies, enabled employees in some factories to go hands-free by using Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist on HoloLens 2.

Within two weeks, Arla kept its employees safe by adhering to social distancing measures, preserved essential food supply and created a blueprint for remote assistance that supported its high-priority sustainability goals.

The mixed reality environment helped the company respond to breakdowns of critical equipment as experts were virtually on hand to lend assistance right away with no travel time necessary. 

This tech also helped boost Arla’s knowledge database by allowing for the development of an online repair library that employees, new hires, interns and students could use to solve problems effectively.

Improving efficiencies

Similarly, global diversified industrial company, Eaton, has been using HoloLens 2 to accelerate the adoption of high-impact technologies in the power management segment of the market.

The staff at its plant in Brazil, where it manufactures engine valves for passenger cars and commercial vehicles, used Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist on HoloLens 2 to troubleshoot an Italian-built machine. This tech brought the issues to life, with the engineers in Italy being able to see what was happening in real-time, allowing them to diagnose the problem quickly using mixed-reality 3D annotations.

About the author: Johannes Kanis is the cloud and enterprise business group lead at Microsoft SA. Picture: SUPPLIED/MICROSOFT SA
About the author: Johannes Kanis is the cloud and enterprise business group lead at Microsoft SA. Picture: SUPPLIED/MICROSOFT SA

The collaboration assisted Eaton to avoid equipment downtime and travel costs. It also prevented any possible communication issues that could arise because of language barriers when liaising over email or on a call.

And at Eaton’s plant in Mexico, where employees manufacture heavy- and medium-duty transmissions and heavy-duty clutches, virtual guides are used to train employees to conduct preventive maintenance on 1,500 pieces of equipment. A hologram appears in front of a user who visually gets access to a checklist that can be implemented more efficiently than using traditional methods.

Remote support

When Burckhardt Compression, a global market leader in manufacturing and servicing reciprocating compressors, had to find a more efficient way of servicing the massive gas compressors on ships in remote locations, it turned to mixed reality solutions.

The time and resources to dispatch a service engineer to fix an issue on a ship were significant. Using HoloLens 2 and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, Burckhardt's engineers can now quickly collaborate with ship technicians in remote locations and provide specialised mechanical expertise.

These remote service engineers support a ship’s technicians by engaging in real-time video chat, providing instructions augmented with a schematic overlay, and creating markups onscreen over the actual compressor. The visual cues are especially helpful when the engineers and technicians are not native speakers of the same language.

The company also manages these service requests using Microsoft Dynamics 365 Field Service.

Adopting these mixed reality solutions has resulted in Burckhardt reducing costs and decreasing its carbon footprint, as well as enabled it to provide a quicker turnaround time to customers. 

Maintaining operations

The Schaeffler Group, a global automotive and industrial supplier, relies on a team of highly trained maintenance technicians to keep its advanced machines running smoothly across 75 plants worldwide.

The company wanted to improve its operational effectiveness, strengthen efficiency in global co-operation, and reduce its carbon footprint by exploring ways for its experts to facilitate remote support and collaboration at each plant.

As such, it adopted HoloLens 2 to support mixed reality and remote collaboration environments at almost all of its plants. Now, an onsite Schaeffler technician can easily use Dynamics 365 Remote Assist on HoloLens 2 to get remote expert support in real time from a colleague using a PC or tablet, all while keeping their hands free to do their job.

From around the world, technicians can also use gestures through video streaming and mixed-reality 3D annotations to clearly guide local teams as they optimise machines and conduct maintenance. 

For more information about Microsoft HoloLens 2, email hololens@tarsus.co.za.

This article was paid for by Microsoft SA.

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