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How AR Will Enhance the Smart Manufacturing Workforce

How AR Will Enhance the Smart Manufacturing Workforce
<p><strong>Magic Leap </strong><strong>(</strong><strong>2018</strong><strong>)</strong></p><p>In 2014 Magic Leap was a mysterious startup that raised nearly half a billion dollars in funding from</p><p>major players like Google and Qualcomm. Originally the company pitched itself as having developed a way of doing augmented reality without the need for cumbersome hardware. Rumor was that Magic Leap could use smartphones and other wearables to create and project virtual images onto environments that we could then interact with using specialized objects the company calls “totems.”</p><p>Alas, that idea never came to fruition and, after some <a href="" target="_blank">controversy</a> around the legitimacy of its demo videos up to that point, Magic Leap turned out to be doing AR more or less the same way everyone else has done it.</p><p>In 2018 the company released its Magic Leap One headset. Since that time the company has <a href="" target="_blank">pivoted</a> away from consumer and entertainment applications and has leaned into positioning itself as an enterprise AR company.</p><p><em>(Image source: Magic Leap)</em></p>
Is augmented reality (AR) the way forward for the manufacturing workforce? A panel from the recent Advanced Manufacturing Expo examined how AR and other emerging technologies are transforming the hiring and training of factory workers.

Futurist Brian Federal said AR could be a major disruptive force in manufacturing, particulary if a company like Magic Leap achieves its technical goals. (Image source: Magic Leap)

Is augmented reality (AR) the way forward for the manufacturing workforce?

The growing workforce gap being created as Baby Boomers retire, coupled with new advancements in automation, is sending disruptive waves through the manufacturing sector. New workers coming into the plant are faced with having to adapt to a new work environment of collaborative robots and machine learning-driven applications. At the same time, they have to maintain, or in some cases re-learn, the legacy knowledge that is being lost as older generations exit the workforce.

But can AR fill that gap? A panel at the recent Atlantic Manufacturing & Design Expo (ADM), “Workforce Integration in the New Age of Smart Manufacturing,” examined how the practice of hiring workers for the factory floor is going to evolve in the very near future. Advanced manufacturers are looking for operators and technicians with both traditional and newer skill sets. The challenge is how prospective workers can bridge this gap and how companies can help them.

AR's potential in factory training and education was among the most discussed trends among the panelists. David Iyoha, director of software solutions at Fortech LLC, discussed manufacturers' need to put systems in place to capture knowledge. Fellow panelist Bruce Lichorowic, president of Galen Robotics, stressed the crucial role that workforce education is going to play going forward.

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Plenty of companies, from large entities like Microsoft to smaller companies and even startups, are pointing AR toward the challenge of worker training. There are also plenty of reasons to be skeptical of companies like Magic Leap, that may be over-promising on what AR can deliver. But Brian Federal, a futurist with Prana Communications, told the ADM audience that AR will be “invaluable” on the shop floor, particularly if it can reach the level Magic Leap is seeking.

How disruptive will AR be to the workforce? Will it impact more industries than others? And how does AR fit in alongside other transformative smart manufacturing technologies, such as collaborative robots, AI, and additive manufacturing?

Watch the full panel, “Workforce Integration in the New Age of Smart Manufacturing,” below. And for more updates, be sure to follow Design News on Facebook.  

Chris Wiltz is a senior editor at Design News covering emerging technologies, including VR/AR, AI, and robotics.

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