How Today’s Retail Manufacturers Are Moving Automation Technologies to the Cloud
There are many industries where manufacturing continues to be the backbone of the economy, where companies that produce products and goods used by both businesses and consumers have found a way to push forward during the COVID-pandemic. Retail manufacturers especially are continuously finding opportunities to create efficiencies while protecting the health of employees and customers.
Even though manufacturing has continued throughout 2020, it's showing signs of a slight slowdown in a year highlighted by great economic challenges. According to a recent report in Reuters, the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its index of national factory activity fell to a reading of 55.4 in September, down slightly from 56 in August. Despite the slowdown, September marked the fourth straight month of growth, and it compares to an August figure that was the highest level dating back to November 2018.
A reading above 50 indicates expansion in manufacturing, which accounts for 11.3 percent of the U.S. economy.
Technology Has Helped Manufacturers Push Forward in 2020
Technology has helped retail manufacturers maintain factory output despite the challenges posed by COVID-19. One technology in particularly is the suite of immersive mixed reality (MR) technologies, which are best described as a fully immersive experience that brings virtual objects into the real world or one which blends the physical world with the digital one.
MR technologies, including augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), are poised to grow considerably over the next few years. In fact, more manufacturers are leveraging this technology, as the AR market is expected to reach $70 billion-$75 billion in revenue by 2023.
Not All AR/VR Platform Environments Are Created Equal
Retail manufacturers should be cautious in how they design and deploy these technologies, because there's great difference in the platform they're built on and maximized for use.
Even though technologies like AR/VR have been in use for several years, many retail-focused manufacturers have deployed virtual solutions that are built upon an on-premise environment, where all the technology data is stored locally. This buildout was more common a few years ago and was considered the de facto platform for this type of technology.
On-premise AR/VR infrastructures limit the speed and scalability needed for today’s virtual designs, and it limits the ability to conduct knowledge sharing between organizations that can be critical when designing new products and understanding the best way for virtual buildouts.
Cloud-Based Automation Technologies Proving Pivotal
Manufacturers are overcoming these limitations by leveraging cloud-based (or remote server-based) AR/VR platforms powered by distributed cloud architecture and 3D vision-based artificial intelligence (AI). These cloud platforms provide the desired performance and scalability to drive innovation in the industry at speed and scale.
Enterprise-grade high-quality AR/VR platforms require both performance and scale. However, existing systems such as MS HoloLens and others are severely limited in both aspects. Most enterprises have a rich repository of existing complex 3D CAD/CAM models created over the years. These 3D models may vary in their complexity (e.g., poly count, hierarchy, details, etc.), making it difficult to run and excel within on-premise virtual platform environments, restricted by device limitations. This forces developers to decimate the contents (3D models/scenes) to fit to different mobile devices, spending months in the process and sacrificing on the overall quality of the experience.
As these virtual environments become richer and larger, the problem continues to compound. This cycle is repeated for each of the different AR/VR hardware platforms, making it difficult for any enterprise to move from experiments and pilots to full-scale deployable solutions, thus stunting the speed of innovation and effectiveness
The device limitations also severely restrict the capability of existing AR/VR systems to generate and work with very fine mesh with large polygon count models and point clouds, which is essential to collocate and precisely fuse the virtual objects on top of physical objects in the real world with complex surfaces, and varied lighting and environments.
Retail-focused manufacturers are overcoming this great challenge by partnering with providers of cloud-based (or remote server-based) AR/VR platforms powered by distributed cloud architecture and 3D vision-based AI. These AR/VR cloud platforms provide the desired performance and scalability to drive innovation in the industry at speed and scale.
Manufacturers today are experiencing the next wave of technology innovation that will fundamentally alter the way they operate. This transformation is primarily driven by merging of the digital and physical world to create a better, smarter and more efficient way of operating. Immersive technologies such as AR and VR are playing a pivotal role in this transformation. The organizations that take a leadership role will be the ones that not only leverage these technologies, but also partner with the right technology provider to help scale appropriately without having to stunt technological growth.
Dijam Panigrahi is the co-founder and COO of Grid Raster Inc., a leading provider of cloud-based AR/VR platforms that power compelling high-quality experiences on mobile devices for enterprises.