Virtual Reality: A New Perspective on Operational Excellence

Virtual Reality, better known as VR, is a computer-generated immersive environment with scenes and objects that appear to be realistic, making the user feel they are immersed in real surroundings.

The History

Virtual Reality’s most immediately-recognizable component is the head-mounted display. Today’s VR technologies are built upon ideas that date back to the 1800s, where the first stereoscope was invented which eventually developed into the View-Master, patented in 1939. By 1965, “the Ultimate Display,” a head-mounted device, was developed that would serve as a “window into a virtual world.” The 1970s and 1980s were a heady time in the field where optical advances ran parallel to projects that worked on haptic devices such as NASA’s Virtual Interface Environment Workstation (VIEW) system, which combined a head-mounted device with gloves to enable the haptic interaction. The term “virtual reality,” was first used in the mid-1980s when the first goggles and gloves were developed. Today’s current virtual reality gear owes a debt of gratitude to the pioneering inventors of the past six decades who paved the way for the low-cost, high-quality devices which are easily accessible.

Real-World Applications

Since VR’s inception, different industries are uncovering innovative ways to adopt it on a number of fronts. Some manufacturers apply VR in product development, maintenance, repair, and worker training, and safety. A PwC survey conducted in 2015 found out, about one in three participants reported VR has been already adopted or would have been in the next three years.
In the healthcare industry, VR has been used for therapy sessions, virtual surgeries, emergency training, and VR anatomy applications. There was even a live stream of an operation.

In the automotive industry, VR has been used for product development, training, and customer relationship management.  Ford’s Immersive Vehicle Environment is designed to combine forces of engineers from different countries to work on the design and simulate assembly work while considering employee safety. Volvo offered its customers an opportunity to take a virtual test drive using their smartphones, while Audi’s application allowed the customers to try various configurations of the car. Virtual reality can also be used to immerse an employee in a future workstation, capturing the employee’s movement to evaluate task feasibility and proficiency. Using VR, automotive giant Ford has reduced the injury rate of employees by an eye-opening 70%.

In Aerospace, Lockheed Martin has been using VR in product development in order to build the F-35. Lockheed Martin’s engineers are using VR glasses to ensure each part of the warplane is on just right. The company says that this technology has enabled engineers to work 30% faster with accuracy up to 96%. As another example in the Aerospace industry, Boeing has been using VR in product development. “Traditionally technicians had to look at and interpret a two-dimensional twenty-foot-long drawing and construct that image in their mind and attempt to wire based on this mental model,” says Brian Laughlin, Boeing Technical Fellow. “By using VR, technicians can easily see where the electrical wiring goes in the aircraft fuselage. They can roam around the airplane and see the wiring renderings in full depth within their surroundings and access instructions hands-free.”


Of course, VR technology capabilities are not limited to the examples provided in this blog. For instance, VR can be used for factory floor planning or simply defining the flow of material in production lines by optimally placing tools, equipment, and personnel. In manufacturing, factory planning is one of the most crucial aspects for improving productivity and efficiency. Altering an existing plant or engineering a new one comprises design, testing, and trials. Any unexpected delays or temporary production line shutdowns can be very costly. Virtual technologies not only bypasses the potential delays or shutdowns through providing virtual trials but also can provide autonomous and semi-autonomous management and control of these engineered facilities when coupled with IIoT platforms.

Figure 1: PWC and Zpryme survey and analysis, “2015 Disruptive Manufacturing Innovations Survey,” conducted in November 2015 with 120 respondents

Sara Masoud is an assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering at Wayne State University. Her research focuses on mixed reality, virtual reality, augmented reality and dynamic, data-driven application systems by utilizing machine learning, simulation and optimization models in agro-industry, transportation, health care and manufacturing. She is a member of the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE) and Institute of Operation Research and Management Sciences. In 2019, she received the IISE Annual Meeting Best Paper Award in the Data Analytics and Information Systems track. She is also the principal research scientist of Mixed Reality and Simulation at IndustryX.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *