In August 2018, the well-respected German association for industrial communication and B2B marketing, BVIK, released the results of its survey, ‘Trends in industrial communication’. The more than 200 members of the association were asked to identify the main trends and challenges in their sector. Next to core issues, such as big data and data analysis, Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR/ AR) found a place at the top of the list. While these technologies are gradually being utilised in the manufacturing industry in Germany, this is barely the case in the Middle East and, unless rectified, could represent a missed opportunity.
THINKING AHEAD IN TERMS OF DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION
Immersive technologies, such as Virtual and Augmented Reality offer new ways to plan, control and sell complex HVACR products and projects. They can enable a manufacturer to explain its product in a more efficient, understandable and memorable manner. At the same time, these 3D technologies constitute increasingly important tools for internal and external education, production, service and maintenance, automation and data exchange.
If applied and understood correctly, implementing state-of-the-art VR and AR rightly support manufacturers with their digital transformation process. They furthermore offer a good return on investment as they, for instance, reduce the need to ship real products across the globe.
VR AND AR MADE UNDERSTANDABLE
Virtual and Augmented Reality can be broadly categorised as “3D real-time rendering technologies”. In comparison with classic animation films, which must be rendered over a longer period and have a pre-defined chain of events, AR and VR applications are interactive. The animation is rendered in real-time on devices such as a tablet or VR glasses, and the chain of events can be instantly adapted by the user.
EXAMPLES FROM THE HVACR SECTOR
Virtual Reality basically is a computer simulation of a real (for example, air- handling unit) or imaginary (for example, product prototype) object. In other words, it is an industrial type of computer game, in which the user could see a full-scale HVACR system on their screen and control all processes of it flexibly and in real time.
Augmented Reality goes a step further and involves merging a real-world environment (for example, the live camera view of a chiller on your iPhone) with digital objects (for example, flow simulations). That is, the user can put a chiller he or she is currently facing in the focus of their smartphone camera. The AR software then detects the object and can add additional virtual functions or information. The user could, for instance, virtually activate the compressor and visualise a real-time fluid and pressure visualisation – independent from the angle or distance to the real machine.
MISPERCEPTIONS CONCERNING VR GLASSES
Virtual Reality is often automatically linked with VR Glasses, such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. This is a common misperception. VR Glasses are only one of many means to show a Virtual Reality. A real-time VR environment can be equally projected on a touch device ranging from a large-scale touch wall to a smartphone, or a computer with a mouse.
Accordingly, many companies first think about VR glasses and invest accordingly. Yet, VR glasses still offer various limitations that companies should be aware of:
1. The technology is still rather complicated to install, requires a high IT knowledge and constant supervision
2. Controlling VR glasses is often difficult and requires practice
3. VR glasses are not yet very mobile, as they require specialised PCs and sensor installations
4. The reach of VR glasses installations is limited, as only one person at a time can use them
INVESTING THOUGHTFULLY IN AR AND VR
Accordingly, Virtual Reality, involving touch devices is, generally, the primary way to go for manufacturers. The IT infrastructure investments are manageable, and the VR application can be distributed broadly within the company or to externals. This maximises its usage and the eventual return on investment.A system involving VR glasses tends to follow in later project stages.
Equally, Augmented Reality applications offer a high utility and are increasingly being applied in the manufacturing sector. Same as with VR on touch devices – no high-end IT hardware is necessary; all that is needed is a good quality tablet or smartphone with a camera, which nearly everyone possesses these days.
INVOLVE EXPERTS IN THE REALISATION PHASE
Having understood the general concepts and possibilities of Virtual and Augmented Reality, it is important to not rush into the realisation phase with the first best provider or idea. VR and AR are a complex matter, which should be approached with a long-term vision and gradually rolled out across departments.
The provider should have a clear understanding of industrial processes and company structures. If not, the project may never amortise and, at some stage, may vanish into bits and bytes on your server.
Thomas Weiss is Technical Director, MRstudios. He can be contacted at thomas@MRstudios.eu.
To know more, MRstudios presents the following Virtual Reality 4.0 Demo Reel:
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