Lockheed Martin Using Augmented Reality in Spacecraft Manufacturing
It is almost like something straight out a Sci-Fi movie but Lockheed Martin is deploying augmented reality in building NASA’s Orion spacecraft which will be used on its mission to Mars. Technicians at the defense company will be using AR headsets and software in the production floor to speed up the time required to learn and perform manufacturing processes for the spacecraft.
Augmented reality is a technology that superimposes digital content onto your real world view. Lockheed Martin is planning to integrate AR as part of its digital infrastructure during its manufacturing process. Part of the digital content that will be superimposed onto real-world objects in the AR projection are hologram-like images. For the defense company, the AR integration brings greater efficiency and speeds up the time required to troubleshoot the design and manufacturing issues that arise during the building of the spacecraft. The use of AR also minimizes the rate of defects.
Augmented reality mixes 3D digital images with real objects in the real world. In a critical manufacturing environment where small mistakes can be very costly, engineers using AR technology have a more efficient and detailed way of visualizing the process of developing the spacecraft technology. The AR visualization also makes it possible for engineers to see the flaws in spacecraft design from multiple view points. As a result, engineers and technicians are able troubleshoot and solve design flaws at a faster rate. For a mission-critical manufacturing process such as the development of NASA’s Orion spacecraft, these advantages bring huge benefits to the spacecraft development project.
An Improvement over Paper Instructions and Computer Models
Normally, technicians working in the Orion manufacturing processes use 3D computer models or paper instructions to go through their routine. The AR adds greater efficiency to the process since technicians no longer have to go through information on computers across the room or through binders of data. The technicians and engineers can simply wear their AR headsets which will overlay the data sets or instructions on specific parts of the spacecraft. It adds greater capability to the process and for the manufacturer it also spells a greater ROI when it comes to reducing the defect and cycle times. Technicians can use either the HoloLens or Google Glass devices to visualize this information.
This is not the first time that Lockheed Martin is leveraging augmented reality technology. In a 2015 project that the defense company did in collaboration with NGRAIN, it used AR glasses in building its F-35 fighter jets. In that project, its employees had used the Epson Moverio BT-200 glasses in visualizing the process and ensuring that all the fighter jet parts were in the right places. The Lockheed Martin were able to use the augmented reality glasses in visualizing each and every component used in the aircraft as well as the assembly information which brought about a massive improvement in how the aircraft were built.
In the past, the defense company used the Scope AR software in its processes. Scope AR simplified the process of developing 3D objects for every individual project since it didn’t require a lot of coding.
The leveraging of augmented reality in Lockheed Martin has also had a financial impact on the operations of the company. It has helped in cutting down costs and reduced the time required to train new employees. Instead of spending hours in classrooms going through white papers or manuals, the employees are able to work on tasks with the required information overlay available to them in real time through augmented reality. Employees working on the AR-supported projects are therefore able to learn on the go ad also build a muscle memory that is critical in the assembly processes. The learning experience is also more interactive and more qualitative.
The use of augmented reality glasses has had a massive positive impact on how employees at Lockheed Martin perform their tasks. According to the company, augmented reality technology has helped double the retention rate of new knowledge. As a result, the speed with which its employees accomplish tasks has increased by 30% with an accuracy rate of 96%.
In spite of the initial successes, there are still technological issues that have to be overcome before a company-wide deployment of AR can be realized. One of them is that the software that supports the AR headsets does not always provide a high resolution 3D rendering of complex machinery that has numerous parts and details as a result of a strain in computer processing.
Because of these challenges, Lockheed Martin will not be equipping its entire staff with AR headsets yet. However, the company is seeing a great opportunity in the deployment of immersive technology in its operations. Lockheed Martin is even planning to use augmented reality to provide its customers with a chance to visualize how some of its products will be in certain environments.