Skills gap? Augmented reality can beam in expertise across the enterprise

Hives of subject matter experts could man augmented reality switchboards, transferring knowledge to field.

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There's a major skills gap in U.S. manufacturing. Prone to economic turbulence and subject to offshoring, the industry has not attracted a new generation of workers in sufficient numbers. 

Some 10 million manufacturing jobs will likely be needed in the coming decade, yet many of those will likely go unfilled, according to Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute. Somewhat ironically, one of the biggest factors holding back a strong American manufacturing segment in 2019 may not be cheap foreign labor but unqualified U.S. labor.

Augmented reality, which is still trying to find its stride in the enterprise, could help by serving as a conduit for on-the-job knowledge transfer. 

"We are excited to offer industrial enterprises a new way to use AR to leverage the tribal knowledge of subject matter experts (SMEs) and help alleviate the skills gap crisis threatening today's industrial enterprise," says Mike Campbell, EVP, augmented reality products, PTC. 

PTC is an industrial augmented reality company. In 2015, it acquired enterprise AR software company Vuforia, and now it's unveiling a product called Vuforia Expert Capture to help make it easy for SMEs to capture and transfer on-the-job know-how.

"Vuforia Expert Capture is a high-value, out-of-the-box solution that accelerates AR content creation that enables manufacturers to not only improve the accuracy and speed at which workers successfully complete new or unfamiliar tasks," says Campbell, "but also to reduce training costs and time to productivity."

The SMEs can create step-by-step instructions for workers distributed across a manufacturing environment. It's sort of like a YouTube tutorial engine, only for augmented reality. On the other end of the equation, less experienced workers can utilize captured procedures via RealWear HMT-2, Microsoft HoloLens, or mobile devices, which allow them to apply the knowledge directly. 

We've seen this AR-based knowledge transfer strategy applied to field service techs, as well. I've written about use cases from BP, where a hive of SMEs has been used to transfer expertise in real-time to distributed workers in the field.

Caterpillar also recently tested an AR solution for the techs who service on-site portable generators. 

AR is still a technology with a lot of promise but not a lot of deployment. With an ongoing labor crunch and continuing strong economic, despite signs of slowdown, on-the-job guidance could be one of the early critical early use cases to help AR break into the mainstream.