Augmented reality work instructions for manual assembly

Jan 19, 2022 | Blog

Augmented reality work instructions

Digital Work Instructions and why you should choose for Augmented Reality to implement them

Since you’ve come across this website, chances are great you are in the manufacturing industry and you are considering to digitize your workstations. Congratulations, you have taken the first and most important step! You might still have many open questions, and the answers to a lot of them depend on your exact use case. But after reading this article, I can assure you that you can tick at least a few questions on your list. You will no longer wonder if you should move on to digitizing your work instructions. The answer to that question will be self-evident. You will also know why. And you will even have a first idea about the way to implement them in your industry.

What are digital work instructions and why you should choose them over paper work instructions any time

There is an overwhelming number of good reasons to move on from paper to digital work instructions. The question is not if you should do it, but why you have waited so long.

A first and important reason is that digital work instructions allow you to work paperless. There is no more need to print and distribute manuals and procedures among your operators. Not only is this a considerable cost reduction, it also helps to enforce a clean desk policy. And last but not least, it is a contribution to preserving the environment.

A second big advantage of digital work instructions is their maintainability. For any change in your production processes, your documentation can be updated in the blink of an eye. No time or money is lost due to printing and distributing new versions. You can ensure your operators always have the latest information at their disposal and avoid outdated versions lingering around and leading to costly mistakes. Digital work instruction systems also allow you to efficiently manage different flavours of your procedures, for example for different variants with partly common steps.

Working digitally also allows you to include different ways of presenting information, such as videos and audio recordings. Visual documentation helps operators to understand and process complex subjects and procedures. You can also make your work instructions interactive, i.e. request your audience to confirm they have executed an action or understood the information before they can proceed. Both the use of different media and the interactivity in your work procedures stimulate the learning effect. Research teaches us that people learn much quicker if they have to take on an active role in the learning process. As such, higher quality results as well as a reduction of training time can be guaranteed.

Another important topic is searchability, or more accurately, the irrelevance of searchability when using digital work instructions. With instructions on paper or in a pdf, operators spend a lot of time finding the correct work instruction for the product they are making and, once they have found that, to match the instructions with the step in the assembly process they are executing. With digital work instructions, there is no need for all that. Digital work instruction systems can easily be configured to lead operators towards the instructions that are relevant to the current assembly step. Or in other words, the right instructions will be provided at the right place and the right time.

A digital work instruction system can also be integrated with your MES or ERP system. Data can be imported and exported, and exchanged between systems. This way, the execution of work instructions can be logged, and reports for quality inspection can be generated.

Implementing digital work instructions using Augmented Reality

Digital work instructions can be implemented in several ways. The most powerful way is without any doubt through Augmented Reality. Your work instructions do not consist of a separate system but are seamlessly integrated into your work environment. They can easily be linked to your assembly process and made available at the correct time and place in your assembly process.

Several types of augmented reality are available. One can make use of AR wearables, such as glasses, lenses and headsets. While this ensures a strong alignment of the user’s focus and the provided information, the technology also has some important drawbacks. Wearing such a device during an entire work shift can be very uncomfortable for an operator, especially in circumstances with high temperatures. In some cases they can also restrict a worker’s field of vision making him less aware of what happens around him and causing safety issues in the workplace. Wearables also rely on battery power and often network connectivity. These technological dependencies can both lead to important production delays when a disruption occurs during a work shift.

Another option is to use hand-held mobile devices, such as tablets. This option might sound appealing at first sight, since it requires virtually no installation or setup time. As opposed to wearables, most operators will also be familiar with this type of handheld devices from their personal lives. They won’t experience their use at work as disruptive or uncomfortable. However, just like wearables, also tablets need to be charged and may suffer from network issues. Additionally, an operator typically needs both hands during the assembly process. Picking up a tablet automatically involves an interruption of the assembly workflow.

A third choice is to use projected augmented reality. This type of technology directly enriches the physical workbench with a digital overlay. Through a combination of 3D cameras and projectors, it registers the actions executed on the workbench and reacts by highlighting the relevant work area and projecting related text and image instructions. The initial setup of such a system might be a bit more complicated, but once it is up and running, it comes with some important benefits. First of all, because the system can easily be integrated at the best location on the workbench, ergonomics can be taken into account during installation. The system is standalone, does not depend on battery power and is therefore more durable than the options described above. It is non-intrusive for the operator: he is not hindered and does not need to interrupt his activities to manipulate a device. His field of vision is not blocked in any way, which ensures that the operator remains conscious of his work environment at all times and safety is not jeopardized.

All of the benefits described above make projected augmented reality the best option to go with in most industrial use cases. That’s why Arkite decided to build its Operator Guidance Platform based upon this technology.

A closer look at Arkite’s Operator Guidance Platform with projected Augmented Reality instructions

With Arkite’s Operator Guidance Platform, operators don’t need to bother about looking for the correct work instructions in extended documents or worry about subtle differences between variants of a product. In the beginning of the assembly, they select the variant that will be produced, and the system automatically presents the corresponding work instruction to them. Additionally, it will only show the instructions that are relevant to the current assembly step. Or in other words, the right instructions will be shown at the right place and the right time.

That also means operators do not need to remember the entire assembly process. Since they get instructions for an assembly step exactly at the time of execution, they can entirely focus on that step itself and not think too much about one comes next. As a consequence, training time is drastically reduced. Operators can work independently much quicker, without the need for a senior colleague or trainer supervising them. The digital work instructions act as an on-the-job trainer and allow the operator to gradually get to know the assembly process and speed up the time of execution.

The exact same principle also makes the entire workforce more versatile. Depending on the demand, the production line can easily switch between variants without the need for extra training. All operators can be deployed on all lines, and temporary workforce can be easily integrated in the production process.

Arkite’s Operator Guidance Platform also supports interactivity. You can build in different checkpoints into the  assembly process, where the operator needs to confirm an action has been taken. Through sensors, the system will also verify if a step was executed and wait to continue if it was not. This way, errors are prevented, quality is safeguarded and the amount of rework and scrap is minimized. Furthermore, it also accelerates the operator’s learning curve. If an operator is alarmed about an error before he even makes it, chances are a lot better that he won’t make the same error a second time.

Arkite’s Operator Guidance Platform also provides continuous feedback on different levels:

  • First of all there is the direct feedback to the operator. The system will confirm the assembly process has been executed correctly and alert him if he makes an error. This will boost the operator’s confidence. At all times he knows he’s doing the right thing, and he knows the system will warn him when he’s about to make a mistake.
  • A second form of feedback is the one to the supervisor or team leader. Thanks to the reporting module, the system will immediately raise an alert if an anomality occurs at one of the workstations or if there is an unexpected decrease in productivity. This allows the supervisor to intervene and correct much sooner.
  • The reporting module also facilitates long term process improvements. Process engineers will be able to identify the steps in the assembly process that take significantly more time or cause more errors. It will allow them to make changes and optimize the production process.

Interested in seeing Arkite’s Operator Guidance Platform in action? Have a look at our references and case studies. For more information, contact