May 23, 2020
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VR / AR. When is new technology especially needed by industry?

When immersive technologies really benefit industrial enterprises, and when it is better to wait a little longer with implementation, says Dmitry Kirillov, President of the Russian VR / AR company Modum Lab.

Virtual reality (VR) - these are technologies that allow you to immerse a person in an artificially created world, create the effect of presence. Today, these technologies allow you to recreate almost any environment, put the user in certain situations. A picture can be drawn on a computer or recorded video with a viewing angle of 360 degrees.

In the case of AR, we are talking about supplementing the real space with elements of a virtual environment. Often companies use such technologies as a tool for solving production problems or in marketing.

Today, solutions created in the VR / AR format are widely used not only in the gaming field, but also in business, marketing, industrial safety , communications, allow companies to optimize a number of production processes. These technologies are among the "end-to-end" and can be applied in a variety of fields. The directions in which virtual reality technologies are applied are extensive. The introduction of VR can be aimed at solving applied problems, for example, training staff.

The advantages of VR are also that knowledge that previously could be obtained only in the form of theoretical knowledge in classes with personal as a trainer, now you can "pack" in digital format, practice and scale to an unlimited number of employees. During the training, associative connections between theory and practice are created: the user successfully assimilates new theoretical knowledge and immediately gets a chance to put them into practice in virtual space. Because of the ability to recreate complex processes and demonstrate how they work, VR is often used in industry.

According to Pricewater house Coopers study for 2019 year, in the top five breakthrough technologies for business included virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR). However, a breakthrough does not mean suitable for absolutely everyone. Sometimes multimillion-dollar innovative initiatives can lead to very significant losses.

According to a study by European analysts at PAC, on average, one unsuccessful project related to the introduction of technology costs half a million euros to industrial companies from the EU countries. In Russia, the price of an unsuccessful experiment is usually somewhat lower, but in practice, such an experience still negatively affects the welfare of the business. But the fact is that full or spot digitalization in a company consists not only in purchasing good technology, but in setting up and preliminary preparation of a number of processes. The lack of experience plays an important role here.

Another common mistake is the desire of the business to catch the “hype wave”. At the same time, specific tasks are not worked out, economic efficiency is not calculated beforehand. Innovation executives may sometimes believe that if a technology approached their market rivals and showed their effectiveness there, then it will suit everyone. But it doesn’t work like that.

Drones, AI and other innovative solutions went through a misunderstanding of the business at the initial stages of development. Today, for example, AI is on the crest of the “hype” wave: companies understand that this is fashionable, moreover, the technology works effectively in hundreds of other companies. But to introduce innovation in such a way that specific goals are achieved and increased performance is far from achieved by everyone.

And yet, speaking about technologies, it would be wrong to start from those cases when they do not work.

It is worthwhile to understand that VR / AR technologies are “end-to-end”, which means that they can be used to solve a variety of problems, in a variety of areas. And, by the way, every year an increasing number of companies are effectively using virtual and augmented reality.

Even enterprises that do not have digital equipment can resort to VR / AR solutions. It is often difficult for employees to master complex equipment, correctly follow the sequence of actions during work, which significantly slows down production. In this case, VR-training helps to quickly and efficiently train staff and speed up processes. This works not only in the case of old equipment, but vice versa - with new, high-tech.

For example, the Russian biotechnology company BIOCAD introduced VR-technologies to train trainees in working with a complicated and expensive refueling process bioreactor. An employee’s mistake while working with this equipment can cost a company tens of millions of rubles, and a technologically advanced training method can reduce risks to almost zero.

VR experience today is becoming indispensable for employees of companies dealing with dangerous and combustible substances, explosive materials. All employees of such enterprises, undoubtedly, undergo special briefings and exercises simulating dangerous phenomena. But at the same time, there is a nuance: people know about all actions only in theory and the real behavior of a person in case of emergency becomes impossible to predict. With a high probability, an employee who does not have real experience will be scared, make a mistake in the aftermath of the accident, or seriously suffer. VR, on the other hand, allows you to accurately simulate a dangerous situation, observe the sequence and procedures for emergency situations, save on exercises and scale training for as many people as you like. At the same time, the availability of modern equipment in the company will in no way be connected with the quality of training.

Employees of one of the Russian industrial companies, in the mode of individual instruction, are trained in oil product loading and actions in case of fire, bottling and other emergencies. At the same time, a person interacts with the equipment, feels the height, and if there is a special suit, he can even feel the heat of the flame and the vibrations of the blast wave.

It’s worthwhile to understand that creating highly detailed simulations is quite an expensive process in some cases it is better to replace it with the most budget counterparts. In the case of VR, these may be the so-called “boxed" solutions. In other words, projects that are aimed at training standard skills and can suit anyone. Such decisions can be aimed at training work at heights, providing emergency medical care or studying the rules of work with equipment typical for a particular industry.

The ability of employees to efficiently build a dialogue with partners, to learn continuously or to manage emotions in stressful situations today are for companies the same valuable skills as the technical knowledge of staff, experience. A study by the Carnegie Melon Foundation and Stanford Research Institute proved that the success of company executives on the Fortune 500 list by 75% depends on soft skills , while hard skills occupy only 17%.

Scientists also acknowledged that flexibility allows you to become more successful, regardless of the type of activity and the specifics of work. Companies are actively using VR to develop soft skills for line staff or executives. Virtual reality technologies are even called an “empathy machine” due to the ability to put an employee in the place of a colleague or, for example, a potential client.

Walmart demonstrated the first large-scale training of employees with soft skills using VR, purchasing for these purposes 17 thousands of VR helmets. With the help of technology, company employees learn to better understand their customers, show self-control during Black Friday, or communicate correctly with subordinates. The same skills are needed for industry-related project managers.

However, before deciding on the implementation of VR solutions, many indicators should be taken into account: injuries at the workplace, the number of emergency situations, breakdowns, and expensive downtime equipment and the cost of training new employees for the company. Preliminary analytics helps to avoid problems even on the path of planning and to understand whether the technology can solve the necessary problems, close the issues of employee training, whether it can scale in the future and work efficiently. Often the problem also lies in the fact that companies do not have developed or completely created digital transformation departments or departments that are directly responsible for VR / AR technologies. And it is important not only to develop the technology, but also to remain in constant contact with the developer in the future, pilot the project, and, if necessary, make corrections, configure the equipment, and conduct analytics. The employees of such departments are also involved in the strategy of introducing digital products into the company as part of solving specific business problems.

Specialists work closely with internal departments for personnel development, HR, corporate universities, as well as units responsible for industrial safety or marketing. Today in Russia, the presence of such departments is still a rarity, although they already exist in very large business and market leading companies. There are such specialists, for example, Gazprom Neft, BIOCAD, Polyus Gold and Sibur.

Constraining factors for the implementation of VR / AR for some, especially small, companies may be the high cost of implementing technologies, access to data, insufficient number of successful examples among competitors, low level of automation in a number of industries, lack of qualified personnel. Effective use of the transformative functionality of innovative implementations also implies the presence of the right people ready to accept digital transformation, well-established processes and flexible partnerships. Almost always, the actions and strategies undertaken by the business in advance are crucial for achieving success in the implementation of high-tech products.

Technologies can open up new sources of income for industrialists and increase work efficiency. However, a lot of money and time can be wasted if organizations do not prepare the business to use innovative solutions correctly.

This happened, for example, with the American company GE, which in 2011 announced a promising digital transformation of production, employee training, ways to deliver products and provide services. As part of the transition to a “digital industrial” program, the company has implemented electronic sensors in many products, developed a powerful innovative platform for the Internet of things, and transformed business models for production solutions.

At the same time, the company's shares plummeted over several years, the company faced serious losses, and the CEO, responsible for GE technological solutions, resigned. As a result, the corporation interrupted the financing of an ambitious and large-scale project in virtual reality and all funds were wasted. It also happens that line managers are too keen on technology and lose a rational approach to decision making. This happened a few years ago with Ford and the introduction of VR. Huge digital investments in the production process simply did not pay off and were characterized by a rapid decline in stocks. The head was also "paid" for the leader in charge of innovation, who simply could not figure out the risks and introduced technologies into processes that did not require it.

The results of the introduction of technological solutions in most companies today indicate that their digital designs are yielding results. It is important to take into account that, according to American researchers, about 33% of large international companies over the past 3 years had to cancel projects related to digital transformation then. when significant investments have already been made into projects.

Misses related to management and lack of experience are frequent. Due to the lack of skills and insufficient level of knowledge in introducing innovations, business today needs external experience and support at the state level. For example, last year an important project was implemented in Russia - a “road map” was written that regulates the implementation of VR / AR technologies in industry and large business, as well as in training and retraining programs for specialists in advanced manufacturing technologies. The document was written by developers, the VR / AR Center NTI FEFU and experts from Russian corporations who have successfully implemented technologies.

Such initiatives can attract the attention of the state and even more companies to technologies, and also help novice companies in this field to avoid mistakes at the initial stages of VR / AR implementation.

Posted by Dmitry Kirillov, President of the Russian VR / AR company Modum Lab

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