Aircraft manufacturer Airbus has deployed Microsoft’s mixed reality (MR) Hololens devices in a bid to speed production and improve training for new staff. Airbus is also teaming up with Microsoft to sell MR apps to other businesses in the airline industry.
The Netherlands-based company, which competes with the likes of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, aims to build 20,000 aircraft over the next two decades.
Airbus has been an advocate of virtual, augmented and mixed reality for some time, and has worked with Microsoft on related projects for four years, including trials and deployments of its HoloLens hardware and software.
Airbus has identified more than 300 potential use cases for MR across its business, such as remote staff training that doesn’t tie up expensive equipment. MR systems can also boost frontline worker productivity at Airbus with hands-free access to information, such as instructions or diagrams overlaid on physical machinery, cutting manufacturing time by a third.
The company also said design processes are 80 per cent quicker because designs can be tested in 3D before manufacturing.
“Mixed reality can help us to increase quality, safety and security” Jean-Brice Dumont, executive vice president of engineering at Airbus, said in a blog post Monday. “The level of human error is significantly reduced, and in aerospace, increased quality is increased safety – and needless to say, security goes with that.”
Microsoft unveiled its HoloLens 2 device earlier this year, touting a slimmer and more powerful device that, like its predecessor, is aimed at business. A release date for that upgraded hardware was yet to be announced.
Airbus did not immediately respond to a request for more information about the scale of the Hololens deployment. The company has been using the first-generation devices and has already created apps for the coming Hololens 2 upgrade.
MR, VR and AR see traction in manufacturing
Aerospace and manufacturing industries have emerged as one of the primary areas XR technologies are gaing traction traction.
“I am already seeing significant adoption of XR for the aerospace industry because of the cost of the components and the difficulty and cost of training,” said Anshel Sag, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. “By bringing these barriers down and reducing cost, these technologies are quickly being implemented in many different engineering applications, including aerospace.”
HoloLens devices could offer greater insight into the progress of manufacturing within Airbus, he said.
“I believe it will be absolutely crucial to the company's front-line workers because now the company will have real-time data about where in the manufacturing process each part of the plane is at, as opposed to at the end of the day when the workers finish their jobs,” he said.
"Additionally, much of the documentation that workers need to follow while building Airbus aerospace products will always be right in front of them, hands-free.
“While I don't see this being as important to a highly experienced and skilled worker, I do believe it will help get new workers onboard more quickly and as they move from project to project to quickly adjust to changes without any errors.”
An ongoing partnership with Microsoft
Airbus has worked with Microsoft to create HoloLens 2 applications targeted at customers in the aerospace industry. The first – initially designed in cooperation with Japan Airlines in 2017 – creates a 3D environment to aid training of airline maintenance operators and cabin crews.
Airbus will also launch a “collaborative map solution” to virtually connect defence and aerospace personnel to plan and prepare for missions.
Microsoft has a small number of applications for use with HoloLens 2, such as Dynamics Remote Assist, Guides and Layouts and has partnered with other companies such as PTC and Philips to create more specialised applications for the device.
“Microsoft knows that they are not experts in the aerospace industry, but they know Airbus is” said Sag. “I could easily foresee this becoming a tool for every Airbus customer as a way to speed up maintenance of their plans as well as reduce the cost of training new mechanics.
“Since Airbus is in the business of selling aircraft, they can offer HoloLens 2 as a way to save their customers money and time because, in theory, the entire plane is already integrated into Airbus' databases and can easily be accessed and viewed in the Hololens.”
Last year, Microsoft announced a $480 million deal that could see up to 100,000 adapted HoloLens 2 headsets deployed to troops for training and combat.