(Click here to view article in digital edition)AR/VR may be most prevalent in the video gaming industry, but with the advent of Industry 4.0, more advanced technologies are being developed for manufacturing companies. Just take a walk down any industry exhibition and it is likely that you will come across multiple companies showcasing some form of ‘smart glasses’, handheld device or virtual headset. AR/VR technology is now making its way into the panel building industry and has become a trend that is difficult to miss. This issue of PBSI, for instance, has an array of companies writing about the benefits of smart manufacturing, including that of AR/VR (p.5). The topic of smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 can often come down to the question: “why should I make significant investments in technology when I’ve been doing just fine without it so far”. The answer to this from companies is usually one about efficiency gains and long-term financial benefits that come with producing more in a shorter amount of time. AR/VR is one Industry 4.0 technology that could offer these benefits.Using ‘smart glasses’, a panel builder could be provided with on the spot instructions and guidance about the panel they are working on. However, as with all emerging technology, VR/AR is far from perfect. Particularly with VR, nausea can still be a significant issue for users, whereas AR relies on a well designed and intuitive user interface. If users are nauseous or just simply dislike the way that information is presented to them through the smart glasses, then an investment in AR/VR would be an expensive waste. There is also the issue that many people are simply technophobes who would much rather rely on their own knowledge and skills rather than trusting what they are being shown through a headset. On the other hand, an area that the technology would certainly benefit is training. Rather than having to show every new trainee or apprentice how to wire a panel, a simple piece of training software accessible via AR/VR would free up the time of experienced panel builders and ensure that skills and knowledge can be transferred even after experienced engineers have retired. This is a particularly important benefit considering the current skills gap which is seeing many of the most skilled engineers leaving the industry and fewer engineers with the required levels of skill and knowledge coming in to replace them.Furthermore, younger engineers undergoing training tend to have grown up being surrounded by technology so would be more likely to embrace new gadgets if it offered a more efficient way of learning and working. As with most technological trends, it can be difficult to know whether a technology is here to stay or whether the investment will be worth it. AR and VR seem to be an unstoppable trend in other industries, but will it be for panel building? Let me know your thoughts. Enjoy the issue!
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