Augmented reality (AR) has been used by transportation companies for years, but it’s gained few mainstream applications. That may be changing as manufacturing and service teams discover ways to use the technology to handle complex systems like wire harnesses.
AR can be used to help repair technicians and factory installers see how their task should be performed. A range of headsets and projectors can direct them to the right spots as they perform their job. AR is simpler than and more interactive than virtual reality, letting people blend the imagery with real world views.
However, its usage has to date been more for special projects rather than mainstream applications. At the 2016 SAE World Congress, technical expert panel members discussed potential “killer apps” during a panel session entitled "Preparing For Delivering Knowledge Transfer via Augmented Reality."
“For AR to succeed, it has to be something that people have to have,” said Jürgen Lumera of Bosch Automotive Service Solutions. “Wiring harnesses are a good area for it, they are very complex, and they’re getting more complex as lighting expands. A technician may tear a panel off because they don’t know where to find the clip that holds the panel on.”
Wiring harnesses are often a vexing element for repair technicians. It’s easy to reverse them or grab the wrong harness. AR could help maintenance technicians avoid problems like these.
“We have 25-40 main wiring harnesses deployed on our body sets, so dealerships see a lot of complexity,” said Marty Smets of Ford Motor Co. “Authenticating the orientation of the wiring harness is very important. With AR, we could authenticate and validate layout so users can see how they’re actually placed instead of looking at a drawing where everything is in straight lines. In real life, wiring harnesses flop all over the place.”
AR can also be used in the off-highway market, where equipment is often assembled on the worksite. Off-highway vehicles offer a broad range of options, so wiring can be quite complex. Installers don’t often see the same wiring configuration.
“On our excavator products, more than 30% are customized, so the wiring harnesses don’t look the same,” said Caterpillar Inc.’s James Wagner. “Every time a technician sees a new model, it may have a different wiring harness. On a service truck that’s very long, one technician found that there wasn’t enough wire. It took four hours to smooth it out to get the right length. If the assembler had AR, he could have where to pull up the slack during the installation.”
One obstacle for AR has been the equipment used to view AR imagery. Helmets with goggles are often bulky and they can block users peripheral vision, which can lead to injuries in industrial and maintenance areas. In factories, some users suggest using projectors so they don’t have to wear any special gear.
“Battery life, heat and safety are big issues, the equipment can’t be heavy or too hot to wear,” Smets said. “A projector that illuminates the area can be very effective.”
Panelists also noted that it can be challenging to create and deploy AR solutions. Creating a stable infrastructure for development and distribution could help the technology increase its acceptance.
“There are not a lot of standards for augmented reality,” said Farhad Patel of Huawei. “We have formed a group within Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS) and we hope to start a program to deliver standards.”