Digital Manufacturing Transformation - From Learning to See to Seeing to Learn on the Job

LEAN manufacturing took a giant leap forward when Mike Rother and John Shook, shared their value-stream mapping workbook, “Learning to See: Making Value Flow… From End To End.” Value-stream mapping is an overarching tool that gives managers and executives a picture of the entire production process in an easily grasped format making complicated concepts simple.

Value stream mapping exposes the value-added component provided by skilled workers. As skilled workers retire from all industries, their skills must be passed on to a new generation of workers to address the growing skills gap. Companies are looking for solutions to help transfer the needed skills using technology and digital applications to sustain and bring more jobs back home to lead a post-pandemic economic recovery.

Digital Transformation

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown how technology enables one person to teach the same hands-on skills to thousands, or even millions. In the era of mobile digital devices, we have an opportunity to enable better learning through technology. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI), cognitive technologies, and robotics are upending time-honored assumptions about jobs, careers, the role of technology in the workplace, and the way work gets done.

Augmented Reality (AR) seems to be the natural next step for the evolution of education and training. Workforce training in manufacturing has traditionally been very low-tech: in-person teaching sessions, one-on-one apprenticeship, written manuals, and perhaps a video. To keep pace with an increasing skills gap, manufacturers are now turning to augmented reality and other technology applications to teach their workers new skills.

A Purdue team has entered into a $5 million cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create an augmented and virtual reality experience prototype called Skill-XR. Remote learning is now a vital piece of our everyday lives, and Skill-XR will enable remote hands-on skilling to happen anywhere.

The “X” in “Skill-XR” stands for a range of technologies that includes augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and extended reality (XR). For example, a newly-hired factory worker may wear augmented reality glasses while being trained on a piece of equipment, and see graphics overlaid on the machine about how to operate the controls. The instant feedback upon performing the task correctly ensures that workers are trained quickly, effectively, and safely.

Companies that have adapted new technologies like augmented reality to close the skills gap are finding these applications are not only practical but have proven results. Index AR Solutions, a leading provider of digital workforce training, celebrated a major milestone in its product library, which now includes 238 unique mobile apps and eBooks being created through the company’s SuperApp® Development model. Customers use field-tested SuperApp mobile apps and eBooks to measurably transform business operations and modernize training initiatives – making workers safer, more capable and more efficient.

Another example of a digital manufacturing transformation using augmented reality comes from AGCO an AME corporate member. AGCO Corp. is a publicly held $7B global corporation focused on the manufacturing and distribution of high-tech solutions—tractors, harvest equipment and implements– for professional farmers. The company makes highly complex machines at a low-volume. They are an innovator in agricultural equipment.

AGCO is increasing the efficiency, quality and safety of its manufacturing programs by pioneering the use of assisted reality, a form of augmented reality that uses wearable devices like Google Glass. Assisted reality technologies are different from virtual reality. The goal of virtual reality is to transport you, making you feel like you are in another physical space. Assisted reality keeps you in your present environment, but provides additional information to your line of sight, including more than 40 manufacturing sites around the world. Microsoft is helping business users transition away from the 2D screens most use every day to a future of hands-free, wearable user interfaces and 3D holographic images. Its HoloLens 2 mixed-reality headset, features a more balanced and comfortable design, and greatly improves the resolution of the 3D imagery you can see through the lenses. Microsoft’s enterprise customers are using HoloLens to do such things as access information to help the customers in front of them, and to collaborate with faraway coworkers within virtual work spaces.

The Way Forward

The Fourth Industrial and Digital Revolution takes computing to an entirely new level, in respect to a “cyber-physical” world where data-driven decision making, augmented reality, artificial intelligence, autonomous systems and the cloud are changing the fundamental manufacturing industry paradigm. Edge computing was developed due to the exponential growth of IoT devices, which connect to the internet for either receiving information from the cloud or delivering data back to the cloud.

Educators and business leaders must form public-private partnerships and join with organizations like the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME), the Reshoring Initiative, Tooling-U -SME and other learning organizations in leading an educational and manufacturing renaissance.

Join with other organizations to learn how to lead your own technology driven enterprise excellence journey. The 2021 AME International Conference will take place Oct. 18-21, 2021 in Atlanta, Ga. ---

Glenn Marshall, Newport News Shipbuilding Career Pathways (retired), is on the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Management Team initiative for leading a “Manufacturing Renaissance” and a member of the Reshoring Initiative and Job Creators Network. For more information contact


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