The use of augmented reality technology is on the rise across many commercial and industrial applications – from advertising to retail, automotive and gaming. Businesses are using augmented reality to design better products, engage customers and help make buying decisions easier.
The auto industry is a big player in bringing augmented reality to the forefront. Ford uses it in car design – digitally overlaying 3-D vehicle elements onto clay models of cars, while Jaguar lets customers virtually test drive cars through an augmented reality app.
This same technology is also being used in the welding industry to provide solutions that help companies improve operator screening and training. Saving time and money in training is important, especially as the industry’s welding operator shortage makes it a priority to find better and faster training solutions.
What is augmented reality?
Technologies that use augmented reality layer or superimpose a computer-generated image over the real-world image that users see – creating a composite image.
The 3-D images created in augmented reality can be used to overlay information, instructions and directions, as just a few examples. This technology can be used to make images on a billboard appear to come alive or to provide additional product details within a user app when a customer scans an item in a grocery store.
Beyond these examples, many companies are interested in using augmented reality technology to improve or enhance employee training. Augmented reality typically offers a much more realistic user experience compared to previous virtual reality technologies that were used.
Augmented reality technology is providing benefits in welding applications by bridging the gap from classroom to welding lab, resulting in a shorter learning curve for new welding operators.
How it works
Welding equipment manufacturers are using augmented reality to create products and solutions to get welding operators on the job faster – and the use of that technology appeals to generations raised on smartphones and video games.
The AugmentedArc augmented reality welding system from Miller Electric Mfg. Co. is one example on the market that simulates multi-process welding – MIG, stick, TIG and flux-cored – by blending real-world and computer-generated images.
Here’s how the technology works:
- Users wear a specially designed welding helmet that contains an external optical sensor, which captures images of coded devices and coupons and sends them to the simulator.
- The simulator generates 3-D images of metal workpieces, weld arcs and weld beads – augmenting them into the real-world environment.
- Inside the helmet, the augmented reality environment appears on a specially designed heads-up display panel, showing the user’s proximity to and interaction with the workpieces and welding gun or torch. The same images also appear on a second display panel in the simulator’s case with realistic arc sounds fed through speakers located in the helmet.
- The system continuously monitors the user’s adherence to predetermined or custom welding parameters. Depending on the welding process being used, the system can track parameters that include work angle, travel angle, travel speed, contact tip-to-work distance, arc length and aim.
- The helmet’s heads-up display delivers immediate visual feedback on the user’s performance, providing confirmation when parameters are being maintained and alerts when they are exceeded.
- Once the welding exercise is complete, the system provides an analysis of performance in the form of scores and graphs. Video of the welding can also be recorded and made available for playback.
- The system includes software that instructors or trainers can use to develop a curriculum with quizzes and welding exercises. It can also be used to monitor user performance and create progress reports.
The result is a realistic welding simulation that closely resembles live arc welding. To the user, this looks and sounds like actual welding, complete with metal workpieces, welding arcs and weld beads. However, because they are not consuming coupons, wire or gas, it saves companies money and resources. It’s like a welding lab experience without the lab.
This technology also provides companies with an objective means to measure the skills of each applicant, allowing them to gauge a candidate’s skills on a determined scoring process for that organization.
Welding solutions that utilize augmented reality can deliver numerous benefits for applicant screening and training.
- Minimize material cost: Because the technology provides a welding lab experience without the actual lab, there is less waste of resources, saving companies money.
- Reduce overall training time: Compared to traditional methods, simulation technology helps to reduce the amount of time needed to teach users welding techniques and methods.
- Deliver real-time feedback: By providing immediate feedback to users, the technology quickly helps to correct errors, reinforce proper technique and accelerate skill advancement prior to actual live arc welding in a lab.
- Optimize instructor efficiency: As there is more demand for welding operators and as screening and training labs potentially become larger, instructors and trainers get pulled in more directions. Technology can be an assistant, allowing trainers to be more efficient and to spend quality one-on-one time more often with learners.
- Build a larger, more skilled workforce: Traditional training may not always capture the imagination of students who grew up with smart technology. Innovative technology can help companies create awareness of opportunities and attract computer-savvy applicants to welding programs – creating a larger pool of applicants.
Many companies are looking for ways to attract and train more welding operators to fill the needs of the operation and to improve productivity and efficiency. Once an applicant is hired, the clock is ticking for a company. The personnel investment doesn’t start paying off until that person is on the floor, completing quality welds.
Augmented reality technology can deliver a real welding environment in the classroom or training program, bridging the gap between virtual reality and actual welding without using costly resources.
This technology has been successfully used in many other industries, and now it can change the way the welding industry screens and trains applicants – making training more effective while saving time, money and resources. Embracing this type of innovative technology also provides companies more opportunities to introduce welding to a new generation of potential welders.