Although the idea has been around for a while now, extended reality has been a particular topic of interest in recent years. With the rise of more easily accessible handheld devices, wearable technologies, and interest in digital environments, it has opened possibilities to new types of ventures and applications. In 2016, augmented reality games like Pokémon Go came into view. HoloLens and Oculus Rift were also released in the same year, gaining traction in different fields such as in gaming, medicine, retail, tourism, education, and maintenance and repair. Among the various subject areas, let us delve deeper into how this technology has been making way for an immersive digital experience in machine maintenance and repair.
But what makes an ‘extended reality’?
Extended reality is an environment where real life and computer-generated objects interact with one another. This concept can be divided into three categories: virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR). The main key difference among these categories is how real life and digital elements interact with each other.
VR is seeing a completely different world--being inside a simulated space that is far from what the real world is actually like. A head-mounted virtual reality headset is required to experience a virtual reality.
AR is having a virtual object be superimposed into the real world. It is still seeing the real world, but with virtual overlays. Usually, AR is seen through the lens of a device’s camera.
Lasty, MR, like its name, mixes both real world surroundings and virtual elements. Interactions with both virtual objects and real life objects are possible in a mixed reality.
Image: Mixed reality spectrum
Extended Reality in Maintenance and Repair
Companies have started to adopt ER in their systems. Because of the great risk and cost in implementing actual environments and training assets. Several aviation companies, like Pratt&Whitney, TAE Aerospace, and Japan Airlines have been using VR and AR as tools for customers, students, and airline mechanics for training and maintenance.
In 2017, Pratt & Whitney, an aerospace manufacturer, started to invest in virtual reality training for their customers, engineers, and manufacturing employees. This will allow people to explore and interact with the insides of an engine. The VR technology has helped engineers to visualize the mechanisms inside an engine.
TAE Aerospace also utilizes AR for their maintenance process. By using smart glasses, on-site technicians are assisted with a near-eye display of details related to the asset they are currently working on, saving time and money. There would be no need to print additional documents or have separate computing devices.
Japan Airlines have also started to use smart glasses to increase work efficiency of their maintenance staff. Hands-on mechanics would receive information in the form of audio and visual guides through the Microsoft HoloLens, a wearable mixed reality device. Mechanics would be able to walk inside a virtual engine to explore and learn more about them, instead of being given a blueprint.
Besides the use in aviation, car companies have also found ways to apply AR for their employees and users alike for maintenance training and as guides.
In 2009, BMW was also producing a proprietary AR device that would aid their technicians and engineers in identifying cars with problems or in need of repair. The idea was to overlay the parts of the engine with a different color which will include information about its status. A virtual instruction will also be shown to act as a guide in repairing a problem.
Several car manufacturers have also utilized extended reality for users in the form of a phone application. Hyundai Virtual Guide, Genesis AR Manual, I-Mechanic, and Volkswagen’s MARTA App are examples of phone applications that can be downloaded. These applications are an alternative interactive manual for the automobile. Users can point their phone cameras to the car and the app will show relevant information and guides to simple maintenance like oil changing.
With the ever growing technology, extended reality has proven itself to be a true technological improvement in maintenance and repair. Virtual headsets and devices like HoloLens have also become more prevalent today, making it easier to enforce these new ideas. Paired with the implementation of predictive maintenance techniques using artificial intelligence, the future of how machines are maintained and repaired can only go in the direction of more efficiency and productivity. The use of extended reality in maintenance and repair has not reached its full potential, but it will surely continue to grow in the coming years.