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Augmented reality goes beyond the hype to prove its worth in manufacturing

Tanya Weaver

No longer a buzzword – augmented reality (AR) is proving its worth in manufacturing (Credit: Shutterstock)
No longer a buzzword – augmented reality (AR) is proving its worth in manufacturing (Credit: Shutterstock)

Augmented reality caused a buzz a few years ago. Much was made of the applications this technology, which was traditionally associated with video games, would enable in other sectors. Then, struggling to live up to all the expectations, the hype died down.

However, this technology is back on the scene in a big way. The PWC report, Seeing is Believing, forecasts that virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) have the potential to add $1.5 trillion to the global economy by 2030. And GlobalData’s Emerging Technology Sentiment Analysis Q2 2021 report states that AR is now the most disruptive technology, ahead of artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things and cybersecurity.

Boost from pandemic

There are a number of reasons for this. The Covid-19 pandemic gave it a boost, with many coming to rely on immersive technologies to communicate, connect and collaborate with others remotely. And the hardware and software needed for the successful deployment of AR are becoming increasingly accessible. 

“There are a number of driving forces easing up AR adoption in the business-to-business field and in manufacturing. For instance, 5G is rolling out across Europe, enabling more demanding AR experiences. There is also an increasing number of brands launching AR-enabled glasses, which will allow for more hands-free AR use cases,” says Manuel Oliveira, CEO and co-founder of Kit-AR.

Kit-AR, an advanced AR system for smart manufacturing, emerged out of the Horizon 2020 project called HUman MANufacturing, which was researching the challenge of using digital technologies to support the manufacturing worker. 

“During the project, we adopted a strong co-creation approach, involving multiple stakeholders within companies like Airbus, Royo or Comau. A major common pain we detected was how to create and distribute knowledge across the company, especially to shopfloor workers, where paper documentation abounds,” says Oliveira. 

Although AR emerged as a key enabling technology from this research, at the time the project partners felt it was not being used effectively within manufacturing. Essentially, it was being used to show instruction sets to workers to complete a task but then not actually ensuring that the task was successfully completed.  

Quality assurance

The solution that Oliveira and his team came up with was a platform that combined AR with machine vision, sensors and machine learning to not only show what a worker needs to do, but also support quality assurance and traceability. Having developed a prototype and following successful testing in different industrial sectors, Kit-AR was launched. 

Oliveira says: “The Kit-AR platform is composed of four products that work in tandem, with the starting point being the creation of instruction sets using Kit-Build, which allows process engineers to create and modify more easily the instruction sets that are subsequently visualised with AR and voice navigated in a step-wise manner using the Kit-Assist. 

Dealing with errors

“We also enable automated quality checks on each process, where Kit-Smart’s algorithms help the worker detect probable mistakes, which we then provide error handling instructions using Kit-Assist. Finally, Kit-Insight gathers all usage data and generates valuable insights for engineers and managers to trace recurring difficulties experienced by workers, productivity bottlenecks and possible workflow improvements. They can use this knowledge to increase efficiency on the shopfloor, thus creating a virtuous cycle of continuous quality improvement.” 

Although a relatively new technology, Kit-AR has already been implemented in manufacturing environments. For one of the firm’s automotive clients, which was keen to reduce errors and waste on the shopfloor, the implementation has been so successful that productivity has increased by 20% and errors were practically zero. Kit-AR is now being set up on another process on the client’s assembly line to reduce critical errors and ease up line balancing. 

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Content published by Professional Engineering does not necessarily represent the views of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


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