Using Augmented Reality to Close the Skills Gap

Headshot of Paul Ryznar - founder, president, and CEO of OPS Solutions

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) states that over the next decade, two million manufacturing jobs are expected to go unfilled. This can be directly attributed to the fact that, according to the Manufacturing Institute, 80 percent of manufacturers are reporting a significant shortage of qualified applicants. This includes jobs in the maintenance department.

A deficit in qualified maintenance professionals presents a trifecta of challenges for U.S. manufacturing. First, the baby-boomer generation is retiring at a rate of 10,000 workers per day. Using a combination of figures from NAM and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this rate of retirement could translate into over 10,000 experienced maintenance professionals leaving manufacturing plants every year for the next ten years. Furthermore, the BLS projects job openings in the industrial maintenance field will grow by 16 percent through 2024.

In addition to on-going recruitment, training, and retention efforts, new technology will have to play a role to help attract new blood to these positions. This technology solution could include the use of augmented reality.

Paul Ryznar is the creator of Light Guide Systems, an AR system from OPS Solutions that uses high-powered projectors to guide operators through complex MRO processes. We recently sat down with Ryznar, who is also the founder, president, and CEO of OPS, to discuss how AR could help improve the outlook for plant maintenance.

Jeff Reinke: How do you introduce the prospect of using augmented reality on the plant floor? What are the initial reactions?

Paul Ryznar: Right now, augmented and blended reality technology are in the early stages of transforming manufacturing. Today, growing numbers of manufacturers are embracing augmented reality and leveraging new tools to optimize efficiency and minimize mistakes while keeping costs down and reducing their liability exposure. In a lot of ways, the initial prospect of using AR is becoming easier to introduce.

JR: How do you get past some of the initial skepticism regarding the use of AR?

PR: AR encompasses a wide range of systems and technologies designed to provide the guidance they need to complete tasks correctly and efficiently. With the launch of the Apple AR iOS toolkit, AR is becoming a more prevalent and powerful tool and much of the initial skepticism is fading. In a manufacturing setting it has the power to save money, save time, save jobs, and even save lives.

In contrast to more traditional instruction, the best AR solutions provide real-time guidance with interactive functionality. AR is all about the right information at the right place at the right time, especially for complex sequences that can be standardized by ensuring that each step has been completed correctly and in the right order. 

JR: In addition to training, where can AR strategies help improve manufacturing competitiveness?

PR: The short answer is by eliminating errors, ensuring quality, and improving assembly processes. In addition to ensuring that the correct parts are put together in the right way, an AR guidance system can be portable and integrated with equipment already on the factory floor. Tools like programmable machine vision cameras, laser trackers, collaborative robots, and torque guns can be integrated into the system to provide precision confirmation. A projection-based guidance system can even place blueprints and instructional videos directly onto the work surface, and right in front of the operator’s eyes. The result is error-proofing and streamlining critical manual processes in nearly any industry.

JR: How do you help validate the costs of an AR system?

PR: In many ways, AR is not as large an investment as other types of technology. By placing information in the right place at the right time, Light Guide Systems can drive bottom line results related to higher quality, productivity, throughput and training efficiency.

JR: How can an AR system help improve the use and management of data?

PR: The system is flexible, scalable and customizable, and integrates into existing workstations, processes, and assembly lines. At the same time, it provides valuable real-time data and traceability, allowing manufacturers to adjust their lines, products, and personnel to maximize outcomes. We can actually create a digital birth certificate for every part built, ensuring that it has been assembled correctly.

JR: Where do you feel U.S. manufacturing stands in relation to IoT or Industry 4.0 technology adoption?

PR: Right now is an exciting time to be involved in manufacturing technology—which is on the cusp of a revolution. New and emerging technologies and software are all working in concert to improve visibility for every step of the manufacturing process. IoT and Industry 4.0 all contribute to a new era of smart manufacturing that creates an environment where all available information—from the plant floor and supply chain—is captured in real-time, made visible, and turned into actionable insights.

I think any manufacturers, organizations or corporations that have not yet adopted smart technologies on their factory floors will be doing so within the next few years and even months. It’s that powerful.


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