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Boeing: Productive VR Cuts Training Time by 75%

Aditya Kishore

LONDON -- VR & AR World -- While video entertainment has been an important industry for decades, the use of video for productive purposes is more recent. Video communication tools have increasingly become common in the enterprise, but now we are seeing video and virtual reality being used by enterprises for a range of functions. (See Defining Productive Video and How VR Helped Land Rover Raise the Roof.)

Boeing has been using augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) within its organization to help improve training efficiency, reduce design errors and speed up maintenance processes. Paul Davies, associate technical fellow at Boeing, shared examples of the company's use of productive video at the VR & AR World event in London yesterday.

As you can imagine, building airplanes is a complex process, and the consequences of an error can be catastrophic. As such, great care has to be taken in the construction process, and no mistakes can be accepted. One of the key issues is in the area of wiring, as significant lengths of wire are laid out in the airplane, and must be connected exactly right. Mistakes here lead to failures in testing, and can result in costly delays as the problem has to be identified and isolated before it can be fixed.

Boeing uses VR to help with wiring. The company has created VR images of the body of the airplane, with detailed, exact visuals of the wires that have to be connected. Trainees are taken through the module and see exactly what has to be done, making training faster and easier for new engineers.

Boeing is also using VR for certain more specialized manufacturing tasks. According to Davies, "A lot of folks are trained in [aircraft] assembly, but some jobs are more 'tribal.' Like a cargo door seal, which goes across the joint of the fuselage. It is a process that takes 50 individual steps and there's only a handful of people that know how to do this in the company. If they are sick or on vacation -- we have delays."

Boeing uses the increasingly popular Microsoft HoloLens to show the engineer the different pieces of equipment involved and how to put them together using a detailed 3D model. Guidance in text form also pops up as part of the experience, and there's a voice-over to guide the engineer through the entire process. Using this approach, Boeing believe they can cut training time by 75% per person.

"Initially we have someone [with experience in assembling cargo door seals] shadow the new person, and we do it in a classroom setting. But we think it can all be done in two to three hours." Today, Davies estimates it has only been used by 50-100 people in the company for this purpose, but there are also other tools and use cases where VR has been employed in a similar way, and he anticipates it will grow fast within the company.

Boeing is also using AR/VR in the development of its space exploration efforts. The HoloLens is being used in the development of the Starliner, a small crew transport module for the International Space Station. According to Connie Miller, application development lead in the space exploration IT group at Boeing, "The HoloLens is really useful here. We can look closely at the module, make sure there is clearance, that there is space to get to the things you might need to fix."

That helps catch problems earlier in the process, while still in the design phase rather than after the product has been developed, when it is much more expensive and time-consuming to fix. Despite this, VR remains a very new concept within the enterprise, and its value still needs to be evangelized to large corporate management teams. While there are early adopters and evangelists within companies like Boeing, there are also others who are not aware of the technology and don't understand its benefits right away.

Another challenge is the pace of change. While those in the technology industry are used to innovative solutions replacing older products every year, many enterprises are in slower-evolving sectors, where regularly trying new technologies and updating equipment is more difficult to sell into the corporate entity. This again makes it harder to leverage new VR-related solutions, as new headsets and glasses are not immediately sanctioned. By the time VR teams get approval, a new headset has been launched, with better performance and capabilities.

VR is at an early stage within the enterprise. But while it may trail adoption among gamers, it's likely to move faster than most other consumer applications. That's because enterprises are focused on the bottom line, and if a new technology offers a clear, measurable advantage over a prior process, it will get picked. Plus, a handful of large companies using VR widely can move the market in a way no consumer can.

Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation

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User Rank: Light Sabre
6/28/2017 | 3:03:02 PM
Re: Making Safe
I'm looking forward to the innovations that can come from this level of detail in design. VR seems well-suited for this kind of work.
User Rank: Light Sabre
6/28/2017 | 12:33:25 PM
Making Safe
It would seem that giant aircraft manufacturing would be one place that VR could be used successfully. The complexity and necessity of preciseness would be enhanced by a "realistic" view of how it's to be done, and not rely on perhaps less exaxt teaching methods. The expenses in building of an airplance would also seem to merit an investment in what to smaller manufacturers might find to be extravagant in investing in the time and money necessary for VR training, production and equipment costs.
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