Employing virtual reality technology to revolutionise manual work
A European-funded project promises to improve productivity and working environments across Europe, thanks to its newly developed system, which combines virtual and augmented reality technology, ergonomics and product lifecycle management. The partners of the MANUVAR project ('Manual work support throughout system lifecycle by exploiting virtual and augmented reality') developed a modular, reconfigurable system that will support manual work across a range of industries.
|MANUVAR team performing trial|
According to Eurostat, in 2011, 15.7 million people were involved in high-knowledge manual work in Europe, mainly as plant and machine assemblers and operators. But one result of globalisation is that some work, in particular manual work, which is an expensive component of manufacturing, is increasingly being outsourced globally. While reducing costs, this does create its own set of problems: increased lead times, lower quality products and services, and weaker management. The MANUVAR project aimed to provide a timely and systematic solution to this problem.
Outsourcing is not always an option: work such as spacecraft assembly, maintenance of power plants, operation of complex machinery, and design and manufacturing of highly customised products requires high-level knowledge and skills of manual workers. 'MANUVAR could improve utilisation of the workforce's knowledge and raise global competitiveness,' commented MANUVAR’s Project Coordinator, Dr Boris Krassi from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. 'This in turn will protect domestic employment and result in better quality, a shorter time to market and better value.'
As a result of the researchers’ efforts, the MANUVAR system can successfully improve all aspects of manual work for all actors involved in the product lifecycle, from engineers and managers to workers and operators. The system enhances communication in the product lifecycle, supports workplace and work procedures design, and facilitates training and the delivery of instructions.
During a demonstration phase of the project held in February and March 2012, senior managers and engineers from European industry confirmed the potential of the system in real manufacturing scenarios. They were enthusiastic in their feedback: 'This is exactly what we need to provide efficient communication ... With this system you may design a good workstation right first time ... The application would save us many man hours… We would also improve customer service via the application... Also, the quality of our work would clearly be improved'.
The project was organised around five clusters: Spacecraft Assembly, Assembly Lines and SMEs, Remote Maintenance, Power Plants, and Heavy Machinery. These areas represent niche industries as well as crucial sectors that are vital for Europe's economic as well as scientific future.
MANUVAR included 18 partners from 8 EU countries, and received more than EUR 7 million in funding from the EU's Seventh Framework Programme.