How augmented reality boosts training and productivity

Augmented reality is gaining ground as a way to improve employee training, boost field worker productivity and optimize operational performance.

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Keeping pediatric crash carts up to date in a hospital environment is a detailed-oriented task, and the stakes are incredibly high given that a relatively small mix-up could lead to potentially life-threatening circumstances.

In lieu of costly and time-consuming hands-on training, OSF HealthCare turned to an augmented reality (AR) app developed by its internal innovation unit. Compared to traditional training methods, the Code Cart AR smart phone app is a more effective way of acclimating health care personnel to the contents of the cart and its myriad use cases, according to Kyle Formella, creative director, Medical Visualization at Jump Simulation, the innovation arm of OSF HealthCare.

“We can provide a rich experience in which users can explore the piece of equipment and immense content found within it so they are better equipped when using it in a live world,” Formella says. “In the real world, they can’t just walk up to a code cart on the floor and look around because they have to keep them locked and stocked.”

OSF HealthCare may be in the forefront of leveraging AR technology for new use cases, but it is certainly not alone. Once the stuff of sci-fi movies and video games, AR

Keeping pediatric crash carts up to date in a hospital environment is a detailed-oriented task, and the stakes are incredibly high given that a relatively small mix-up could lead to potentially life-threatening circumstances.

In lieu of costly and time-consuming hands-on training, OSF HealthCare turned to an augmented reality (AR) app developed by its internal innovation unit. Compared to traditional training methods, the Code Cart AR smart phone app is a more effective way of acclimating health care personnel to the contents of the cart and its myriad use cases, according to Kyle Formella, creative director, Medical Visualization at Jump Simulation, the innovation arm of OSF HealthCare.

“We can provide a rich experience in which users can explore the piece of equipment and immense content found within it so they are better equipped when using it in a live world,” Formella says. “In the real world, they can’t just walk up to a code cart on the floor and look around because they have to keep them locked and stocked.”

OSF HealthCare may be in the forefront of leveraging AR technology for new use cases, but it is certainly not alone. Once the stuff of sci-fi movies and video games, AR is starting to creep into the enterprise in an array of fledging use cases, from training and retail user experiences to an increasing number of applications in the industrial space as a way to bolster workforce productivity, reduce scrap and rework, and improve safety and compliance.

According to Zion Market Research, AR is experiencing an uptick and girding for its moment.  In the firm’s latest report, the AR and virtual reality (VR) market hit around $26.7 billion last year and is slated to surge to $814.7 billion by 2025, a calculated average growth rate (CAGR) of 63 percent. Zion Market Research calls out the manufacturing sector as a specific sweet spot for AR adoption, for a variety of use cases such as complex assembly maintenance, expert support, and quality assurance.

Nevertheless, experts say the maturing of the category, including the improved quality of hardware solutions like the latest iteration of Microsoft HoloLens, along with new software solutions focused on AR content delivery, are driving increased interest and accelerated adoption.

“Beyond technology, this was an interesting year as customers got crisper on the value of AR,” says Mike Campbell, executive vice president, augmented reality products at PTC, one of the leaders in the category. “A few years ago, it was what is AR, a year or two ago, it was that’s cool and fun technology, now it’s getting to the point where customers are able to understand and measure value. At the end of the day, that’s where it needs to be.”

The industrial revolution

PTC, which got into AR in a big way when it purchased Vuforia in 2015, says its AR business has been growing at a rate of 80 percent annually and currently represents about 7 percent of the company’s overall sales.

The traction is particularly strong in the industrial sector, PTC’s traditional domain, where manufacturers are experimenting with AR and IoT-enabled solutions on the plant floor and in the supply chain to optimize production and eliminate unplanned downtime. These same companies are also using AR to assist remote service technicians in on-site asset repairs, allowing them to work more productively while decreasing the number of truck rolls.

AR is powering new digital product experiences, enabling new forms of training and self-service of industrial equipment, and fostering virtual team collaboration for product engineers. Rockwell Automation, PTC’s key partner in the industrial space, claims that 40 percent of its new automation deals now include some element of AR.

A PTC survey on AR provides some insights into industrial enterprise adoption. Twenty-six percent of early adopters hail from industrial companies with an additional 29 percent from industrial verticals such as automotive, electronics, high tech, and aerospace and defense, the survey found. Digging deeper, there is increasing adoption of AR across the value chain, but it is most prominently taking off for service and support (26 percent), manufacturing (23 percent), and training (17 percent) applications, according to PTC’s research.

At Howden, for example, AR is being tapped to help its industrial equipment customers avoid costly and disruptive unplanned downtime. The solution, built with Vuforia Studio and using Microsoft HoloLens, leverages IoT data and predictive analytics to give workers an enhanced view that showcases the operating conditions and performance of the equipment along with insights to help improve performance and day-to-day operations. AR experiences also deliver predictive maintenance alerts, rapid parts identification, and easy to follow repair instructions, allowing for efficient and safe equipment operation.

Training is another opportunity where AR can shine, particularly if it’s used in early training scenarios — not to demonstrate a simple operation like turning a wrench on the plant floor, says Joe Barkai, an industry analyst, blogger, and author specializing in manufacturing.

“In order to provide top-notch service, a technician needs to work on a physical asset with different configurations and options, and logistically, it becomes expensive to train workers on all the different configurations and options,” Barkai says. “With AR, technicians can train on their own time.”

The reality of AR obstacles

Despite AR’s current momentum, Barkai and other experts agree there are obstacles ahead, including two big ones: Identifying the right use case for the technology and developing AR content that delivers lasting value beyond the initial wow factor.

OSF HealthCare’s JumpSimulation is addressing both concerns by dedicating a separate group that works in tandem with IT on creating content and strategies for 3D modeling tools, including AR. The organization is staffed with experts who are knowledgeable in the different types of AR and the pros and cons of each approach, allowing them to navigate key decisions, including when to choose a third-party offering or to roll an internally-developed solution.

Focusing on user experience and content quality is essential to ensuring AR success, Formella says. “AR is novel for users whether it’s for training purposes or real-time use,” he says. “But after you captivate them for the moment, you have to provide lasting purpose and value, and that’s where AR often fails most.”