Before we start looking into what impact immersive technologies have on the industries mentioned above, let’s define exactly what they are first. The simplest way to explain it is to think of it as technology that creates a digital world that engages your senses in the same way the real world does, so you become immersed in it. An example most people would know is virtual reality (VR), where you wear goggles or a headset, to experience the virtual world.
Of course, this form of technology has been around since the 50s, but what’s new and exciting is that it’s now becoming something businesses can use to improve processes, makes things more efficient, and create better customer experiences.
So now you understand what immersive technology is, let’s explore what its effect on manufacturing and supply chains is. To help us do this, we’ve asked The Virtual Engineering Centre (VEC), which is part of the University of Liverpool (one of our Gold partners), and located here at Sci-Tech Daresbury, for their expert take on the subject.
‘There are lots of ways immersive technologies can give you an advantage within manufacturing and your supply chain. They can make research and design more efficient through digital prototyping and virtual product testing. Training, risk management and data handling can also all be improved through the application of immersive technologies.
‘Real-life examples include warehouse workers being able to do their jobs more efficiently, as smart glasses and watch apps automatically scan barcodes on products, so the user can pick and fulfil orders more efficiently. The same technology can also enable hands-free, virtual maintenance of machinery and equipment.
‘Immersive technologies can also play a part in communication via immersive visualisation of products to customers and stakeholders. Instead of relying on traditional brochures or catalogues, we helped a container conversion and modular unit manufacturer bring their products to life and really show customers exactly how they’d look once completed.
‘We did this using existing computer aided design (CAD) combined with VR scenario tools, so their customers could become immersed in their bespoke product and explore the possibilities of what could be offered, and potentially customising the final order.
‘And for an enhanced immersive experience, we can even help people “touch” their surroundings with our Haptic technology. It uses vibrations from tracked gloves which signal when two or more virtual entities come into virtual contact. These vibrations raise immersion levels above what’s normally experienced when only visual feedback is delivered to the user.
‘The automotive industry can also use immersive technologies to benefit its supply chain by using simulation tools to speed up innovation in vehicle engineering. One major car manufacturer we helped, developed new digital processes and procedures using VR and haptic simulation, reducing their product development time, and improving the perceived quality of their vehicles. They were also able to develop and recruit new staff, while helping one of their partners secure a large supply-chain and innovation project.
‘Another great immersive technology example is mixed reality, which blends physical and digital worlds by blending what we see in the real world with models which only exist in the virtual world. MR or XR is a particularly good technology for training, as you can build life-size replicas of equipment and view them at 1:1 in situ, so workers and operatives can gain spatial awareness and familiarise themselves with how things work before they use it in the real world. The cost savings can be considerable when this technology is applied in the correct way.’
Immersive technology is growing in demand across all industries and sectors. To date, the VEC has already helped support over 900 companies in the adoption and development of immersive digital tools for business impact in nuclear, aerospace, energy, health, and the manufacturing sectors, and the adoption of advanced digital technologies is estimated to grow exponentially over the next five to ten years.
The VEC is home to an advanced visualisation laboratory and has a dedicated industrial digitalisation team, who work closely in collaboration with businesses to explore how best to support their digital journey through innovative and emerging technologies, improving business efficiencies, support training, advance communication tools, and reduce design and production times, while providing enhanced data to support better informed business decisions.