From automotive and aerospace engineering to medical device manufacturing, augmented reality (AR) has broad applications across a wide variety of industries. Every manufacturer looks to enhance their quality, throughput, and training effectiveness, which is exactly what AR delivers.
As manufacturers look to implement augmented reality, there is often one question that stands above the rest: which type of augmented reality should I use?
Currently, there are three main types of AR being used to support manufacturing and assembly operations: tablet AR, wearable AR, and projection-based AR.
Of those three types, tablet-based AR gained a lot of popularity on the factory floor for its easy setup, simplified training, and analytics sharing. But, tablet AR is not the best option for every application. Business leaders need to consider the different pros and cons of tablets on the factory floor before deciding whether to use them.
Tablet-Based Augmented Reality
Tablet-based AR technology is a combination of tablets and other hand-held devices (like phones) that present work instructions through AR apps.
Most people know about the AR applications on social media, like Snapchat filters. However, tablets and phones have made their way into industry more and more over the past few years.
Benefits of Tablet AR
The easiest-to-use form of AR, tablet-based AR reduces start-up time and training through its simplicity and familiarity.
Setting up with a tablet only requires downloading an AR app. This makes it quick to get up and running within a few hours, if not minutes. And as most people know how to use a tablet, this type of AR doesn’t have a technological skills gap. People can pick up the device and begin using it automatically because they already know how to use it.
However, there are some trade-offs. The simplicity and familiarity of tablets are paired with size and scalability limitations, as well as worker engagement issues.
Phones and tablets were made to fit in the palm of our hands. That’s part of the appeal. But, the size and mobility aren’t necessarily a benefit.
On the software side, tablets and phones are limited. There is only so much data that can be stored. AR technology is a complex system of code and such small processors aren’t able to hold all of the content needed to run through extremely detailed processes.
Tablets also require battery power and an internet connection to operate. Needing to plug in and charge a device holds up operations and decreases production time. If one worker finishes their shift and plugs in the tablet, the next shift can’t start until it’s charged, which could take hours. And for manufacturers in highly confidential sectors, like aerospace and defense, a wi-fi connection is often a security threat.
On the external side of it, how people interact with tablets and phones has a huge impact on the ability to operate successfully.
Research has shown that staring at a screen for long periods can affect our eyesight.
The Eye Center of Texas found that “the average person looks at their smartphone 150 times per day” and “2 out of 3 Americans will experience eye strain caused by excessive phone use.” And that’s just the strain incurred in our personal lives. Now pair that with a full day of reading small text on a tablet.
This isn’t the only safety concern tablets cause either. Their mobility is a double-edged sword. Workers with the ability to use tablets while walking around put themselves in danger by being less aware of the environment around them. This is more likely to cause accidents or seriously injure workers.
Along with that, spending time looking at a tablet draws focus away from work. Work becomes less efficient, causing bottlenecks in productivity and potentially leading to more quality issues.
Of course, all of this sways decisions of full-time use of tablets. But, that doesn’t mean they have no place in a factory.
Limited Tablet Benefits
Overall, tablets are an affordable method of bringing augmented reality into a factory. However, their affordability rarely outweighs their problems. Their AR programs are less complex, they require time to charge, and they have operational risks; for safety and productivity. With all of that, how do you determine the best application for tablet-based AR?
In short, tablets-based AR should be used for applications that need general guidance and short bursts of information. Operations that require limited work instructions are optimal because less time is spent looking at the tablet, lowering the risks. A short, simple set of work instructions in a low variation operation is the best opportunity for operational success with tablet-based AR.