Here, Ian McGregor, Business Development Manager at Emulate3D, a Rockwell Automation Company, discusses why virtual reality (VR) will continue to grow in prominence and popularity in manufacturing and industry.

As any engineer can attest, the industrial world is evolving at a breakneck pace. It’s consistently in some phase of transition or, indeed, transformation. 

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to spread across the manufacturing world, technologies continue to blur the lines between physical and digital. Meanwhile, augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are emerging technologies with potential to bring fundamental change to industrial operations. Collectively known as XR, they can add value and reduce costs in the design and commissioning phases of an automation project, as well as in system ramp and operation.    

Imagine having an always-available expert watch over your shoulder as you perform a difficult task. Imagine them guiding you through each step, correcting your mistakes and helping you finish the task more quickly than you ever could working alone. Sound too good to be true? With XR, we’re much closer to this reality than you might think. 

From then to now

Of course, it wasn’t always this way. We’ve been developing dynamic digital twin software for virtual commissioning for the last 15 years. Our company Emulate3D, now part of Rockwell Automation, was born out of a need for more accurate, timely and efficient virtual commissioning.

And while the need for testing in any industrial setting has been non-negotiable for a long time, discrete-event simulation (DES) was the default testing method for decades, while 2D modelling was widely accepted as the norm.

In practice, this was proving increasingly problematic. Firstly, 2D illustrations leave more room for error. If design changes need to be made, it can be expensive, time-consuming, and even a bit risky to use 2D drawings alone.

Not only that, but they needed multiple drawings, and without expert guidance, these could be difficult to understand. This is, ultimately, where Emulate3D came in.

Speed and safety

If the commissioning process is the first time you are seeing a new implementation in operation, rework and delays will be inevitable. Every industrial worker knows this, as they understand the consequent negative effects to project timelines, safety, reliability and revenue generation that result from improper testing.

And where 2D modelling fell short, we were able to ensure 3D modelling picked up the slack. The result was increased revenue thanks to faster time-to-market and higher-quality products. And with more informed decision taken at the design stage, and consequently better solutions implemented for end users, profit margins went up.

Use Cases

Having understood the benefits, let’s take a closer look at some of the use cases of XR application in industrial environments.

Research and Design

Design processes are not typically fast – or cheap. A typical process will begin by reviewing plans, and materials, before a working prototype is built. This prototype is reviewed for defects or performance issues, and often several iterations of the prototype are required before stakeholders are satisfied. XR can allow manufacturers to reach the review process without incurring any costs and delays in creating the product or numerous physical prototypes beforehand.

Training

Training workers in a digital environment is not only cheaper and quicker, it also allows for proactive pre-empting of what-if scenarios without any risk to operators, systems, or products. Used properly, this can vastly reduce incidents, injuries, and delays in production.

Picking the Right Solution

For manufacturers, it is important to understand that the success of XR implementation is not just achieved through the latest technology alone. Businesses need expertise to choose the correct use cases, and knowledge to design the experience.

Choosing an XR partner is not a small undertaking and customers should consider working with reputable businesses that have a history of understanding and pioneering XR projects. Rockwell Automation can work as an experienced partner to guide your business through to digital transformation.

You can see dynamic digital twin software by visiting one of Rockwell Automation’s Virtual Tours in the Products & Technology Showcase, Digital Thread Experience and Digital Engineering Hall at Automation Fair Home event experience