Augmented Reality (AR) is often touted – alongside the IoT – as the next big thing for manufacturing. It’s set to revolutionise industrial processes, improve efficiency, open new opportunities, cut costs and reduce errors.
However, there is a distinct difference between the application of AR techniques to aid the manufacturing process itself and the challenges involved in manufacturing AR-enabled products and devices.
For all the solutions and opportunities that AR may be set to gift manufacturing, it can also in many cases present OEMS with a logistical headache.
Here’s the thing:
AR devices present manufacturers with very complex process requirements and a series of challenges that start at the supply chain and continue through to the assembly line.
Here are just some of the ways that AR presents a challenge to manufacturers producing cutting edge electronic devices.
· Expert supply chain management is needed to juggle the multiple components and processes involved.
· The use of exotic or hard to find materials calls for assembly conditions that have been rigorously prepared.
· The necessary form factor miniaturisation complicates the level of accuracy required in product construction.
· Heat dissipation is a major concern and precision optics need calibrating with great attention to detail.
· The latest cutting-edge technology needs to be applied yet every solution must lend itself to scalability in the event of increased product demand.
· And, of course, the expense of all the parts and processes involved leaves absolutely no margin for error.
Let’s expand on just one of these challenges a little further:
Form factor miniaturisation is never simply a process of making everything smaller. Miniaturisation of one phase of a product usually reveals limitations and obstacles in other parts of the overall design and manufacturing process. Advances in a specific technology—semiconductor fab, pc board, power, manufacturing or packaging—tend to leapfrog other technologies. And the assembly line is not the place to be trying to play catch up.
Thermal management is also closely related to miniaturisation, especially as device speeds and packaging densities rise. Heat loads are really putting cooling techniques to the test, calling for innovative solutions for direct, spot refrigeration of high heat-flux regions on IC dies.
We love the AR challenge: it plays to all of our strengths. But to counterbalance all the ‘AR is the saving grace of manufacturers’ hyperbole we’d like to add our own take on the relationship between AR and manufacturing.
The reality of AR manufacturing
Daqri is a US technology start-up. Having already wowed the market with its wearable tech the team were hyper-keen to launch their cutting-edge AR helmet. (link to case study)
The helmet has a futuristic pilot-style ‘heads up display’ that uses advanced short-range optical projector technology to overlay the user’s vision with advanced data feeds based on real-time information.
Whilst Daqri had exceptional design and development capabilities, it had little experience of the controlled manufacturing systems needed to deliver its finished product at scale.
When the team reached out to us their most pressing concern was co-ordinating a highly complex supply chain of suppliers – and that’s exactly what we excel at.
They asked us to manage the supply chain so that they could scale up their existing prototype to produce 400 developer systems.
It wasn’t easy: where AR is concerned it never is. But we micro-managed the global supply network and introduced a flawless production processes that allowed Daqri to meet its tight delivery targets.
In fact, they made the leap from concept to product in the fastest possible time.
The future of AR manufacturing
According to CCS Insight many companies are going to be needing EMS partners with expertise in meeting the AR manufacturing challenge.
It predicts that augmented reality device sales are set to hit $11.9 billion in 2021. In volume terms this represents 99 million devices – each of which will carry the same manufacturing challenges that we outlined before.
2021 is not a date in the distant future: it’s barely more than two years away.
Looking to capture some of this market are the big names in tech: Microsoft, Google, Sony and Apple have all invested in some high-profile initiatives.
You can be certain, however, that there are also many labs out there with a killer prototype seeking funding to enter production.
And we’re happy to help turn an AR prototype into an AR product.
It won’t be easy, but with our attention to detail, focus on precision and dedication to strictly governed processes, anything is possible!