Virtual technology has been around for more than 50 years, but it’s only been recently that augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) have shown up in manufacturing environments. The technologies are well on their way to more widespread adoption. Early adopters in the manufacturing industry are thinking innovatively when it comes to AR and VR. As they consider the future, they’re coming up with ways to use these potentially disruptive technologies to improve worker safety, speed new products to market, reduce training costs and increase productivity, to name just a few uses. Many see virtual technology as important to staying competitive in the manufacturing marketplace.

While it’s easy to assume technologies like this are the exclusive realm of recreation or video gaming, their reach extends to the commercial and industrial sectors — including the manufacturing industry.

1. Data Management

Analytical-minded leaders and those who love to work with numbers use AR for data management. Considering the vast amounts of data in the manufacturing industry today, it’s a viable solution to the ever-growing problem of big data.

In a typical use-case scenario, a warehouse uses AR in tandem with machine learning and advanced artificial intelligence to locate products, scan them into the system and even determine if they have the right item. AR allows them to complete this process much faster and more efficiently than previous methods.

2. Staff Training and Instruction

Many current AR applications involve staff training, instruction or education. Instead of referring to a book that might contain hundreds or thousands of pages, or sitting through hours of tedious lectures, new hires and trainees use headsets and goggles that broadcast the pertinent information directly in front of their eyes.

Apart from making it easier and more exciting to learn new concepts, systems like this free up trainees’ hands for taking notes or completing tasks. It’s a great way to combine next-gen technology with hands-on learning and instruction.

3. Equipment Maintenance

AR isn’t just for the workforce. This kind of next-gen technology has implications across the entire production floor. With so many new jobs requiring advanced knowledge of VR or AR technologies, it’s becoming harder to ignore AR.

Instead of relying on the best guesses and estimates from technicians and maintenance personnel, smart factories use AR to facilitate preventive and predictive maintenance. Not only does this cut down on the expense of unnecessary, routine maintenance, but it also makes it possible to detect or predict production bottlenecks and machine failures with greater accuracy than ever before.

4. Local Deliveries

While AR has the potential to impact domestic and international shipments, local deliveries gain a lot from this new technology, too. When it comes to logistics, the final mile — from the post office to the customer’s location — can be the most expensive part of the entire shipping process.

AR reduces these costs in many different ways. Not only is it a viable solution for identifying, tagging and sequencing every package within a warehouse or delivery vehicle, but AR glasses or other hardware can display turn-by-turn navigational directions and even graphical, blueprint overlays of large buildings and complexes.

To the Smart Factory and Beyond

Technologies like VR and AR aren’t just for kids. Although they are a source of entertainment for adults too, manufacturers are combining this fun with the business world — and experiencing great results. There’s still a long road ahead and many kinks to work out before AR becomes commonplace, even with smart factories appearing just over the horizon — but AR isn’t far behind.