Virtual Reality in the Manufacturing Industry
To some people, the manufacturing industry may not be the first place they would look when it comes to technological innovation. I’m not one of those people, and chances are if you’re reading this, you aren’t, either. Ever since the announcement of products like the Oculus Rift, virtual reality has entered the mainstream. Outside of the enthusiast’s gaming circles that VR is usually touted in, virtual reality is also being spoken of in other circles, too, due to the possibilities it introduces for things like training, in addition to immersive educational/entertainment experiences.
Virtual reality has also become more prominent via things like Google Cardboard and Samsung’s Gear VR. One of the more mainstream usages include CNN airing the first Democratic Debate of 2016 Election in VR, which was described as an immersive, but strange experience. As time goes on, utilizations of VR technology like this will increase, and it’s already beginning to see usage in manufacturing circles.
A primary usage that VR sees in other circles is in training applications. The United States military has been using VR applications to assist in training their soldiers for quite some time, in addition to Pilot Training.
More prominently to this article’s topic, VR has seen usage in manufacturing, too. For instance, training courses via Superscape (a VR application) were being used as early as the late 90s to train for things like water inspection, cleanroom procedures and more. These applicatiosn also allowed evaluation of performance in a safe, consequence-free environment.
Other applications made possible with virtual reality in manufacturing circles includes virtual assembly. Virtual assembly is performed through a computer, made to help with assembly decisions via simulations and other advanced calculations. This was primarily used by the auto industry, pioneered by Ford in their creation of the Ford Mondeo, the first Ford to be made using virtual assembly.
Ford is also notable for using the Oculus Rift to create VR simulations of driving around in their vehicles, via the Immersion Lab project. As covered by Forbes (I highly recommend reading the full article), Ford created an incredibly high-specced virtual reality environment to help its manufacturing and design departments test out the look and “feel” of their vehicles in early stages of development. In addition to the internals of the car, things like weather and lighting conditions are also simulated, offering a wider picture of how customers might feel about the car.
The above examples are the most prominent that come to mind, but there are more out there. Virtual reality has had its place in manufacturing for a few decades now, and as the technology evolves and enters the mainstream, I can only see it becoming even more prominent and powerful in the future.