Extended Reality Technologies in Manufacturing Training
Chad Schron, Senior Director, Tooling U-SME on
March 25, 2021
Extended reality (XR) technologies — including mixed, virtual and augmented
reality applications in manufacturing — are poised to change the way we
work. They’re also changing the way businesses train their employees, a
topic that’s explored in an on-demand Tooling U-SME webinar, “Virtual, Augmented and Mixed Reality in Manufacturing Training
Recently I had the opportunity to facilitate an interesting discussion with
Vijayanandraj Vaiyapuri Ramalingam, PhD, business intelligence and
solutions architect at Sify Technologies North America Corp. and Dmitry
Kopytin, qualifications developer at BMW. This webinar provided an overview
of extended reality in manufacturing and offered a first-person account of
BMW’s experience with virtual reality in training.
Why XR, Why Now?
The use of XR reality in training isn’t new, but the only industries that
could initially afford it were the military and healthcare. Due to
economies of scale, other industries, including manufacturing, are starting
to use XR technologies in training to achieve beneficial results such as:
Faster time to comprehension
Increased engagement and enjoyment
Another benefit of XR technologies is that users can work remotely while
feeling like they’re present in the physical workplace — which has been
particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, XR technologies
have proven to be very attractive to the generation of manufacturers who
grew up with the Internet and immersive games, as these new manufacturing
technologies employ gaming techniques with which these younger users are
What Is XR?
XR is a term that encompasses many different technologies like virtual
reality, augmented reality and mixed reality. Our panelists answered
questions from the audience about the complementary technologies comprising
What is virtual reality (VR)? VR allows users to become
fully immersed in the VR environment with dedicated devices such as HTC
Vive, Oculus Rift/Quest, Sony PlayStation VR and Samsung Gear.
What is augmented reality (AR)? AR
overlays digital content such as images, video and data onto the real
world. Augmented reality devices include commonly owned tools such as
smartphones and tablets, as well as smart glasses and headsets.
What is mixed reality (MR)? Like AR, MR
overlays digital elements onto the real world, but it also allows users to
interact with those elements through devices such as Microsoft HoloLens and
Magic Leap. In manufacturing, MR is commonly used to convey virtual work
instructions, and to overlay tools on different types of processes.
Implementing XR Technologies
For companies that are thinking about introducing XR-based solutions, Sify
Technologies’ Ramalingam said to first determine whether your workplace is
ready for them. In certain cases, you might really need a larger physical
space. The next consideration, especially from an adoption standpoint, is
people readiness. When we talk about people readiness, any first-generation
technologies will have their own issues. So, you need to educate people;
have them be prepared.
From a technology standpoint, Ramalingam explained that organizations
should first define their business requirements, then align their XR
technologies and devices to those requirements. This is a newer technology
that is still evolving, so whatever XR advancements are happening, you need
to have a plan to integrate and move forward. It's all about finding the
right solution for the problem at hand. There are use cases of what works
for VR, and there are use cases of what works for AR, and you need to be
very clear in your requirements.
Ramalingam stressed the importance of the adoption process. At the end of
the day, any technology is only as successful as how it has been adopted in
the organization, noting that adoption risk factors include the age of
users — as older workers tend to be more resistant — and the probable
necessity of sharing devices.
He also explained that XR technology is not going to replace traditional
training tools. It has to be more of a complementary tool. In certain
cases, this could be part of a package that you’re going to roll out, or it
could be part of an elearning session.
BMW’s Kopytin, who helped introduce VR into the company’s workplace
training with two 360-degree videos, agreed. “We took it a step back and
thought, what would be something to start with? We decided to start with
things that give people a 360-video approach. We didn’t want to say that XR
has got to replace all the classroom training; we didn’t want to scare
people. We just wanted to give our associates an extra tool.”
The 360-degree approach allows users to immerse themselves in a space where
they can observe and learn from the environment around them. According to
Kopytin, the auto company has seen big results since implementing the
approach. Associates participating and completing the modules were able to
identify issues a lot faster.
Following its success with 360-degree videos, BMW explained its use of VR
to virtual spaces. “We are trying to put the virtual space in front of the
trainee and create a place for troubleshooting,” says Kopytin, pointing out
that virtual spaces allow companies to remotely provide an identical
experience to a classroom of trainees without having to maintain a huge
training center with multiple machines.
The ultimate goal is to allow trainees to embed themselves into training,
which is not just putting a video in front of them, or asking them multiple
types of questions, but actually interacting with their thinking.
Virtual Reality Labs
Tooling U-SME’s new virtual reality labs, set to debut later this year,
will allow companies to provide just that sort of interaction as a
response to the growing popularity of virtual reality in the
Students are going to be placed into a virtual reality manufacturing world,
and they’re going to have to solve real manufacturing problems.
The labs will work similarly to a video game, so as users move along,
the task will get increasingly more difficult. The tolerances will get
tighter, and there will be additional tools to use. As the lab
advances, it will collect data and analytics using the xAPI standard
and chart how employees are performing as they progress through the
lab. Using this data, Tooling U-SME will make real-time content
recommendations for those students based on how they’re doing in the
virtual reality world.
XR technologies are a great bridge between the knowledge side and the skill
side of the traditional competency model. They really are just another tool
in a blended learning solution, allowing more time for the hands-on
To learn more about virtual reality in manufacturing, augmented reality in
manufacturing and mixed reality in manufacturing, access the full webinar here.
Want to learn more about how implementing XR training solutions can benefit
Contact us today
"Extended reality technologies in manufacturing"