In our previous article, we touched on how VR and AR in the automotive sector can help manufacturers to target their audiences better. However, in the actual manufacturing process, AR and VR can play a much bigger role. It can save time and resources in the research and development process. It can also help during the training process to help employees better so there can be fewer job-related injuries, and ultimately increase productivity. In this article, we will discuss the ways in which AR and VR can transform the automotive manufacturing process.
Using AR/VR for Design
Source: The Verge
On average, it takes companies anywhere from two to four years to go from an initial design of a vehicle to the car actually hitting the showroom floor. For some vehicles, the process can take longer depending on various factors, such as the car being a brand new model, or certain components needing a major overhaul. The engineering design process is a series of steps engineers take to ensure they deliver the best product.
For the purpose of this article, we are going to be focusing on the critical brainstorming, prototyping and development steps of this process since it is these areas that benefit the most from having AR and VR technology.
Using Virtual Reality for Brainstorming
Brainstorming is an essential part of the engineering design process. This is where everyone comes together to share ideas with each other. Often these ideas can be hard to visualize, and even harder if the rest of your design team, or even your client, are located thousands of miles apart. Automotive companies that want to serve multiple markets often need to collaborate with engineers and designers from all over the world. A lot of CAD/CAM software does allow people to share ideas, but with VR, designers will be able to present their ideas instantly and to scale for their relevant stakeholders. This can be a great asset in the preliminary design phase. Instead of a 2D design medium, designers can take their ideas to virtual reality using tools, such as Sketchup or CATIA, and then drop their 3D model into visualization software like BRIOVR so that it can be animated, shared and viewed instantly.
With virtual brainstorming, designers will be able to see the ideas better and provide more comprehensive feedback before a practical model has even been built. With each new iteration, things can be easily addressed using virtual board meetings. Such applications already exist, such as Doghead Simulations. Companies such as Ford and Porsche have already implemented the Microsoft Hololens in their design phases. Microsoft Hololens provides a mixed reality experience for users. Designers and clients alike are able to see the design fully rendered right before their eyes.
Development Work Using VR
Virtual reality can play a crucial role during the development of a model. As mentioned earlier, designing a car is an intense process. It requires many iterations before a car can finally hit the showroom. Software such as CATIA does allow users to collaborate on major projects. However, imagine taking this to the next level with immersive reality. Whether you are trying to peek inside a specific component, or have a blown-up view of the entire design, only AR/VR can provide complete flexibility and interactivity short of actually building the model, which is a costly process if several versions will be required before a final one can be chosen.
Build a Prototype Using VR
Using clay models during the design phase is a common practice for automotive companies. Clay modeling still exists today and is a crucial part of the design process of the overall vehicle. However, even having this practical version has limitations since it is likely to be constructed in a different material than the final product will be. With the comprehensive material and texture customization that AR/VR offers in platforms like BRIOVR, designers and engineers can visualize their models exactly as they would appear in the final product.
Whether it’s an aerodynamic adjustment or changing the wheelbase of the car, designers can easily do so digitally in their preferred design software, and then view the changes in full, life-sized scale using virtual reality and augmented reality. This will allow designers to have a lot more experimental room without having to produce multiple clay models before refining the design. This saves money, time, and resources, while also providing more creative freedom throughout the workflow.
Using VR in Manufacturing
Manufacturing a vehicle is challenging, and the complexity of the challenge can vary depending on the make of the car. If it’s the development of a new model, the manufacturing floor itself often requires reconfiguration in order to produce it en masse.
Manufacturers can take advantage of VR by building a virtual assembly line and do a complete, to-scale walkthrough to see how it flows prior to beginning construction. By incorporating VR in to the workflow, engineers will be able to do a preliminary quality control and check before reconfiguring their factory floor. AR technology is ideal for retrofit projects, where new workstations can be developed digitally to specification, and then virtually placed in the intended space and viewed in context. Since AR can be viewed on all major smartphones, this is as easy and accessible option for users.
Because of the support for team collaboration on cloud-based AR/VR platforms, companies can also get factory employees to participate in the redesigning of the floor, giving them a sense of what the new space will feel like. This will save time and resources for manufacturers, but will also avoid occupational hazards and needless inhibiting factors to the production process.
Ford has already been doing something very similar when it comes to designing their assembly line. They have built a virtual assembly line where users can test their models. This allows the company to assess potential difficulties that employees may face while performing a specific task. They can even see if the performance of a specific task adds stress to its employees. This can allow manufacturers to go back and make changes to the future or existing production line to improve workplace safety and reduce production times.
Using VR for Employee Training
Training is one of the most important factors in any industry. In the manufacturing sector, it is critical for safety and reducing workplace hazards. According to the U.S. Department of Labor there were 5,160 job-related fatalities in 2016. Thorough training allows employees to stay knowledgeable about the tools they are using. However, for manufacturers, it is a way to keep productivity up. By having employee training, there are fewer opportunities for work-related injuries, and this allows employees to be more efficient.
Like Ford has begun to do, having employees go through a VR training facility helps them learn how to do their job better. On the floor training is still required, but having an extra step with virtual reality will reduce training costs and provide an opportunity to learn more effectively.
The automotive industry accounts for 3.5% of overall GDP of the United States. It is a dominant force in the economy. With the help of virtual and augmented reality, automotive companies will be able to create more jobs and develop more productive manufacturing facilities. Companies will be able to save money and time when it comes to resource planning and execution. Ultimately, they will have a stronger workforce with the help of AR/VR.