Augmented reality (A.R.) is an emerging technology that delivers complex information normally found on a computer screen or in a book directly into the field of view.

Immediate impact

Examples of such kinds of information include procedural steps for fixing machinery or the status of industrial equipment, such as the amount of oil in an engine. An operator views this information by simply pointing a device—whether it be hand held such as a tablet, or worn on the body (e.g., smart glasses)—at a physical target object and looking at the information overlaid on that object, in the screen.

Without doubt, such a capability opens new vistas for workplace productivity, as operators can instantly view instructions in their field of view without having to consult a user manual. Large manufacturing companies are looking to integrate A.R.-enabled devices in their workflows to speed up task execution and reduce errors. While the technology is still being perfected, it promises a wide variety of benefits to organizations that successfully adopt it.

“Augmented reality promises to bring production and maintenance costs down by speeding up work and reducing errors.”

A range of capabilities

Dispensing with paper-based instructions enables companies to deliver up-to-date and even real-time data with A.R. The information can take the form of 2-D or 3-D images and text, and can be stored locally on the device or delivered over a network. In any case, the device recognizes a target physical object and displays the appropriate images and text—which appear to float over the object.

Asset and product life-cycle management systems can incorporate augmented reality information to streamline presentation and delivery of data on products and parts, embedding A.R. in existing workflows. The camera typically used for A.R. object recognition can also capture activities to prove compliance or later solve problems.

Bringing down costs

Augmented reality promises to bring production and maintenance costs down by speeding up work and reducing errors. The fact that instructions are displayed immediately in view means operators need to switch their attention much less than when looking for a manual or calling for help. Having information appear in the right place and time also reduces cognitive load, decreasing mistakes.

A wide variety of information can also be provided to workers to increase their situational awareness on the job. At a time when technology would seem to obviate human agency in the workplace, A.R. concentrates knowledge into operators’ hands and puts humans at the center of the next industrial revolution.