Augmented Reality on the Shop Floor: Reimagining the Instruction Manual

If augmented reality technology providers have their way, equipment manuals and instructional videos could be headed to obsolescence.


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Augmented reality, which adds virtual elements to physical environs, is already having an effect on the remote servicing of equipment in industrial settings. It’s next impact will be felt in how companies train new employees on the operation of functioning equipment.

In a factory setting, augmented reality software uses the camera on smart glasses, a smartphone or a tablet to scan equipment within its view and add digital markers once the machinery is recognized. Scott Montgomerie, co-founder and CEO of Scope AR, a San Francisco-based creator of augmented reality software founded in 2011, is one company actively pushing augmented reality as a training alternative. Montgomerie’s company creates interactive instructions that could be used to train employees on the steps needed to set up a machine for companies like Caterpillar, for example.

For Scope AR, this area of its business is called WorkLink. Using instruction templates, companies can enter in CAD data for machinery and layer on markers and animations that guide a user through a routine process.

To demonstrate WorkLink’s functionality, Scope AR has a circuit breaker box it brings to trade shows. When WorkLink is opened and the camera of a device running the software is pointed at the box, it scans it, and walks the user through how to remove a broken circuit breaker. Arrows show where the box can be opened and the individual circuit breaker itself becomes animated, displaying in a loop how it can be physically removed from the box.

Tasked with replacing a circuit breaker, non-electricians could read from a printed manual with drawn pictures or photos of the elements in question, or these days, they might even seek out a video on YouTube, watching and listening to instructions. With augmented reality, however, the components that need to be manipulated come to life, as animated versions of the tools required walking a user through the task at hand while the task is literally at hand.  

“You can create 3D models from manufacturing processes and then overlay them on top of real equipment,” Montgomerie says. “Using animations and a combination of text and voiceovers, you can show a technician what to do with these really intuitive instructions.”

Scope AR has undertaken studies comparing the speed and efficiency of a worker using a paper manual versus augmented reality, with augmented reality coming in at 25% faster.

“The reason is they are able to understand the instructions so much more intuitively is they’re seeing things in front of them versus having to do a mental mapping from their paper instructions,” Montgomerie says.