Model changeovers, interior and exterior facelifts, and new products keep automotive OEMs and suppliers on their toes. While automation and other technologies are helping manufacturers become more efficient, the pressure to innovate and adjust to change never ends.
Automotive manufacturers are expected to gear up for new products faster than ever, compressing the time it takes to adjust to change. And with electric vehicles (EVs) now part of the mix, complexity is increasing as manufacturers are challenged to manage even more product variations and convert the internal combustion engine (ICE) into an EV.
As automotive manufacturing becomes more complex, companies are challenged to maintain and improve quality while also increasing productivity to reduce costs. To maintain business, OEMs and automotive suppliers must respond to change quickly while ensuring products are manufactured with stable, repeatable processes.
Never-ending production changes, paired with more complex standards, are causing manufacturers to reassess the solutions they use to maintain quality and efficient processes. As such, companies are exploring the uses of augmented reality (AR) in automotive manufacturing and finding that AR helps OEMs and suppliers improve quality and throughput.
Benefits of AR for Automotive Manufacturing
AR solutions designed for automotive manufacturing can bring manual processes into the 21st Century by improving training, throughput, and quality. Let’s take a closer look at how projected augmented reality is giving modern manufacturers a competitive edge.
The Struggle to Standardize Manual Processes
One of the biggest challenges facing automotive manufacturers is the ability to standardize manual processes, particularly those that include high variation. For example, the Dodge Dakota has 48 different wire harnesses just for the headliner. It’s all too easy for processes like this to get bogged down in confusion, frustration, and rework.
Traditionally, operators follow work instructions from a sheet of paper or screen. In a high-variation environment, this can be distracting. Operators need to regularly reference the instructions as they work, which distracts their focus and erodes productivity. In many cases, instructions can be unclear to workers, forcing them to leaf through dusty binders to find answers to process questions. How productive is that?
In addition, creating work instructions is a tedious and time-consuming process that can be tough on engineers. And despite manufacturers’ best intentions, when processes change, work instructions often aren’t updated.
AR Work Instructions Standardize & Streamline Complex Manual Processes
AR enables manufacturers to distill endless pages of work instructions into an intuitive, easy-to-understand process. All operators need to do is bring their parts to the workstation, scan the barcode, and their AR work instructions are immediately retrieved so they can get right to work.
AR software from LightGuide guides operators through each step of a manual process with audio and visual prompts, pacing, and direction, so all they have to do is follow the lights. By projecting work instructions directly onto the work surface, operators no longer need to memorize each step and can quickly assimilate to new processes. This eliminates distractions and enables them to stay focused on the task at hand, leading to greater productivity and the ability to effortlessly handle tasks with higher levels of variation.
When instructions need to be changed, either to optimize a process or accommodate a new product or variation, the instructions can be updated once and published across the enterprise or shared with suppliers. This means work instructions written in the United States can be adapted to plants in other countries, fostering a consistent standardization of assembly processes across global operations.
With standardized work instructions, employees making the same product at different workstations—or in separate locations—get the exact same instructions because AR puts the right information in the right place at the right time for every operator.
Inconsistent Training Leads to Inconsistent Results
Training programs are costly and challenging to manage, especially when training needs to be updated for new products and variations. Often, training is managed by multiple people—who all have their own style, tips, or tricks—which can result in inconsistencies. This, in turn, can lead to inconsistency in production outcomes such as increased error rates, production time, and even safety hazards.
In addition, automotive OEMs and suppliers must deal with the ever-widening skills gap. As older workers retire and take their knowledge and experience with them, training new workers becomes a bigger challenge. In a high-tech production environment, automotive manufacturers need workers who are skilled, flexible, and can quickly adjust to change.
AR Standardizes Training Across the Enterprise
AR-guided training simulates the production environment by teaching employees how to perform each step in a process. Because AR trains employees on best practices from the start, training becomes standardized and consistent and enables manufacturers to quickly train substitute workers when an employee is absent.
LightGuide enables manufacturers to easily create high impact, immersive training by creating a virtual operating canvas that’s projected onto any part or assembly. Trainees are guided step-by-step through work instructions using visual and audio prompts. When a trainee completes the lesson test, LightGuide can issue a digital certificate of success. Manufacturers can quickly and simply create lessons using an intuitive programming environment.
Errors in assembly and inspection can lead to rework, production issues downstream, warranty claims and other drains on productivity and profit. For example, it’s not uncommon for manufacturers to kit components to a build line. But kitting issues, such as incomplete kits or kits with the wrong parts, can bog down the production line.
AR Guidance and Success Confirmation
One of the key benefits of AR for automotive manufacturing is improvement in quality. AR provides step-by-step guidance in kitting, assembly, and inspection, and confirms success to ensure each step conforms to standards.
Augmented reality for automotive manufacturing can reduce or eliminate errors in part picking for kitting. Using projected augmented reality technology from LightGuide, manufacturers can build quality into the kitting process by guiding workers to the correct part and confirming the picks and sequencing are correct.
Another common use of augmented reality in automotive manufacturing is standardizing work instructions for assembly processes so every worker across every line receives the same information. With LightGuide’s AR software, work instructions can be projected onto an operator’s work surface to guide them through each step of the assembly process. As each step is completed, the AR software confirms the assembly conforms to standards before releasing the next step in the process. This enables automotive manufacturers to establish a “no-fault forward” approach to manual assembly that ensures products being built meet requirements every time.
Sometimes, quality problems are hard to identify. To identify the source of quality issues, AR provides additional traceability benefits. Traceability data can help pinpoint the source of quality problems caused by a batch of raw materials, a faulty machine, a design defect, or other issues. It can also enable manufacturers to review manual process data and find opportunities for more efficiency at the individual, factory, or enterprise level. This data can be compiled into reports and dashboards—using LightGuide’s integrated Live Data Viewer or a third-party dashboarding system like Microsoft’s Power BI Platform—to paint a more complete picture of any process and the individual components that pass through it.
Integrating AR with Automation Systems
The best AR solutions for automotive manufacturing tie into your MES, PLCs, and other factory automation devices, such as machine vision and sensors.
To ensure the right part is built at the right time, AR from LightGuide integrates seamlessly with your automation infrastructure to receive signals directly from the operations schedule to load the correct program for the next assembly.
AR software from LightGuide also integrates with smart tools, such as digital torque guns. Through this connection, the software receives data from digital torque guns to ensure bolts are tightened in the right sequence using the correct torque. If an operator makes a mistake, the program does not allow the worker to move forward to the next step until the proper torque is applied.
Manage the Challenges of Automotive Manufacturing with Confidence
The future of automotive manufacturing isn’t only about automation. It’s about empowering the workforce with the best digital tools. As the automotive industry continues to evolve, are your processes agile enough to keep pace with market demands?
While the human touch is still important for manufacturers, manual processes for assembly, kitting, and inspection are inherently prone to error. And when training is inconsistent and work processes aren’t standardized, errors can multiply and amplify.
Augmented reality has already proven to be effective in standardizing manual processes and delivering consistent, effective training for leading automotive manufacturers around the world—with 6 of the top global automotive OEMs using LightGuide to drive operational improvement.
Interested in learning how augmented reality solutions from LightGuide can improve your automotive manufacturing processes? Contact us to schedule a consultation with one of our AR experts.