Virtual reality (VR), an immersive computer-simulated 3D reality replicating a physical environment where users can interact by wearing special glasses, allows one to walk through an aircraft cabin before it exists, via a digital mockup.

Augmented reality (AR) – also known as mixed, hybrid, or extended reality – overlays a view of the real world with computer-generated video, graphics, or data. While a trivial use superimposes a cartoon animal nose and ears over your face on a cell phone, in manufacturing, AR can improve aircraft panel assembly, superimposing fastener location and installation sequence over the real-world object. In maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO), AR allows a technician’s head-mounted display to relay images of a part to remote experts, who can diagnose the problem and immediately indicate a repair.

That ability to enhance workers’ understanding of their tasks and environments makes AR/VR technology an exciting entry into factories of the future.

GridRaster Inc., a cloud-based provider of extended reality platforms, conducted a survey in July to assess the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on aerospace companies adopting AR/VR technologies. A summary of the findings is presented in Gaining Altitude, but the short answer is yes, the pandemic has changed the polled companies’ schedule for implementing AR/VR. Two-thirds of respondents have either started planning or are fast-tracking existing plans to implement AR/VR this year.

In further survey results, companies that already implemented AR/VR technologies indicated they are using them for multiple reasons, including production assembly and MRO (83%), virtual customer service visits (75%), employee training (53%), and design and engineering (30%).

Companies planning to implement AR/VR noted the same reasons and rank them similarly to those now using the technology, with the exception that 75% plan to leverage it for virtual design and engineering.

GridRaster co-founder Dijam Panigrahi shares with our readers the initial steps for aerospace companies seeking to adopt AR/VR technology.

First, identify a use-case to demonstrate its value within a specified time. Partner with an expert if in-house AR/VR capabilities are lacking. Assess the infrastructure required for a pilot project and how it would scale. Then execute, learn, and execute again to prove return on investment (ROI).

Of those companies that haven’t implemented AR/VR technology, the most- cited reason wasn’t cost or questioning its benefit, but how to manage and scale it (85%). Panigrahi offers advice for companies already using AR/VR.

“Those who have proved ROI for use cases through pilot programs and are now seeking to scale with high-fidelity virtual-model overlays onto the physical world should consider cloud-based architecture to achieve the desired performance for complex virtual worlds, more users, and additional locations.”

Using the cloud brings down a system’s total cost of ownership by pooling computing resources across a large user base, reducing operating cost. It also eases integration with other manufacturing engineering systems (MES) and Internet of Things (IoT) data, providing all users access to the latest information.

Training workforces faster and reducing production costs must become a reality, and not a virtual one, for aerospace companies to thrive. – Eric