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It's Time to Outfit the Final Frontier

March 5, 2020
In the quest to become smart manufacturers, frontline workers are often the final frontier. It may finally be time to provide them with the digital tools they need.

There is always a lot of excitement when manufacturers start exploring avenues outside the traditional design and engineering departments for augmented-reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed-reality (MR) technologies. And for good reason. When organizations pair this type of technology with the right mix of content, it has the potential to provide a seamless avenue for knowledge transfer, and improve key numbers such as productivity, quality and safety.

The frontline is one area where the leveraging headset-based AR/VR/MR devices could provide a diverse workforce with the ability to improve how they approach day-to-day tasks as well as provide enhanced instructions as workers transition into new roles or the organization starts producing new parts. 

According to Taqtile CEO Dirck Schou, equipping the frontline workers is essentially the final frontier as organizations work towards becoming smart manufacturers. Taqtile provides organizations with an off-the-shelf AR/VR/MR solution that enables collaborative data visualization, especially for the frontline worker. It allows everyone who uses it to capture and share their knowledge, by creating content on real-world equipment.

Setting the stage

“Too many workers are retiring, and not enough new workers are entering the industrial workforce,” he says. “The ability to capture the knowledge from experienced frontline workers and present that knowledge to new workers in an easy to follow and understand manner, like through AR/VR, is key to the flexibility of an enterprise, and its ability to flourish in tight labor markets.”

As the potential use cases continue to grow, Schou tells IndustryWeek, for many manufacturers, the primary challenge to embracing AR/VR/MR solutions at the frontline rests with first addressing the infrastructure needs including access to a stable wireless connection. Fortunately, the ongoing rollout of industrial 5G deployments is playing an instrumental role in addressing this issue.

Getting the right headset for the job at hand is crucial. After all, most of the available head-mounted hardware that is used to present augmented reality experiences was not initially designed for front-line workers. “As the market matures and grows, head-mounted hardware will evolve, offering more choices designed for specific environments with specific functional and safety requirements,” says Schou. 

Fortunately, recent hardware based advances like Microsoft’s Hololens or Magic Leap One offer streamlined and cost effective offerings that are far more conducive to frontline environments.

Worth the wait

As with any technology deployment effectively utilizing AR/VR/MR solutions on the frontline is going to take time. Organizations need to be fully devoted to expanding their ability to use these new technologies, explains Schou.

“This is true from software and device acquisition to getting the team up to speed. However, when implemented correctly, error rates drop making workplaces safer, jobs are done more efficiently which saves money and increases employee availability,” he says. “And, in the process of capturing such knowledge, an entirely new knowledge base gets created which will grow into a tangible asset for companies that undertake this digital transformation for their frontline workers.”

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