The Growing Role of Augmented Reality in Through-life Engineering.

The DigiTOP Project offers opportunities to realise the potential impact that emerging digital technologies can have within manufacturing and maintenance settings. Whilst there is a whole host of emerging technologies, there are a number of uncertainties in terms of efficiency and effectiveness gains. Augmented reality (AR) is one technology that is emerging to address numerous challenges. This blog provides insight into existing research and gathered experience of implementing AR into through-life engineering of complex, and long life assets.

AR is a visual technology, which uses a physical real-world environment and supplements it by superimposing a live direct or indirect computer-generated input such as sound, video and graphics. Whereas Virtual Reality (VR) is an immersive technology, which consists of an artificial world, which allows the user to interact with a computer-simulated environment (McKalin, 2015). High efficiency and productivity have become the centre of many industries in a globalised world, which consists of highly competitive markets across the majority of industries (Cooper et al., 2017). The reason for this is to lower operational cost to increase the competitiveness, and to win over more contracts to expand the business opportunity. As a result, many industries have looked towards new emerging technologies, such as Augmented and Virtual Reality.

Erkoyuncu et al. (2017) show that the required time to perform a task with a paper-based manual was around 50% higher when compared with the AR-based approach. On the AR solution implemented by Westerfield et al. (2015) it was found that overlaying instructions in 3D resulted in an error reduction of 82% during assembly tasks. In addition, Nee et al. (2012) reported the performance time of a task using an AR-based manual was shortened by about 15% and the errors were almost zero. In more general terms, Palmarini et al. (2018) mention a study in which the application of AR to a complex maintenance operation leads to an improvement of both time and reduced error rate. He also highlights two main issues of traditional maintenance that could be addressed with this technology, the digitalisation of manuals and the shortening of training of new technicians. In AR based collaborative maintenance, Palmarini et al. (2018) also highlights a 10% time reduction compared to phone assistance. Regarding the automotive and aviation industry, the author mentions that it has been predicted “a reduction of about 40% in travels and 30% in cost for maintenance operations” with the application of AR technology.

Overall, AR has commonly been applied in a through-life perspective for assembly/disassembly, tests, inspections, repairs and diagnosis. In DigiTOP, we will be tackling three main challenges using AR: remote collaboration, dynamic information feedback based on the needs of the maintainer/manufacturer and evaluating the human factors related challenges of AR. Firstly, remote collaboration could solve challenges such as not being able to identify parts correctly, not holding the correct guidance documents or ceasing work due to a lack of knowledge to tackle an issue, which could all be detrimental to the business. Secondly, the ability to access information in real time, could save time in complex procedures or having guidance in specific tasks (such as analysing the current state of an actuator) would help to lower derived errors. As part of DigiTOP we will also be evaluating the human factors related challenges of introducing AR in complex industrial settings. We will be examining the cognitive work load and performance related outcomes. This will particularly help to evaluate what type of AR solutions are suitable in different contexts and environments.


Cooper, T. et al. (2017) ‘GLOBAL FLEET; MRO MARKET FORECAST SUMMARY’, 2(1), pp. 1–42.

Erkoyuncu, J.A. et al. (2017) ‘Improving efficiency of industrial maintenance with context aware adaptive authoring in augmented reality’, CIRP Annals – Manufacturing Technology, 66(1) Elsevier USA, pp. 465–468. Available at: 10.1016/j.cirp.2017.04.006.

McKalin, V. (2015) ‘Augmented Reality vs . Virtual Reality : What are the differences and similarities ?’, Tech Times, 5(6), pp. 1–6.

Nee, A.Y.C. et al. (2012) ‘Augmented reality applications in design and manufacturing’, CIRP Annals – Manufacturing Technology, 61(2) Elsevier, pp. 657–679. Available at: 10.1016/j.cirp.2012.05.010.

Palmarini, R. et al. (2018) ‘A systematic review of augmented reality applications in maintenance’, Robotics and Computer-Integrated Manufacturing, 49 Pergamon, pp. 215–228. Available at: 10.1016/J.RCIM.2017.06.002.

Westerfield, G. et al. (2015) ‘Intelligent Augmented Reality Training for Motherboard Assembly’, International Journal of Artificial Intelligence in Education, 25(1) Springer New York, pp. 157–172. Available at: 10.1007/s40593-014-0032-x.

Dr. John Erkoyuncu,
Director of Through-life Engineering Services Centre
Cranfield University

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