In a span of three months, we had the opportunity to run a large–screen virtual reality (VR) display at the AeroDef, Rapid + TCT, and Smart Manufacturing Experience events. As an exhibitor with my Mechdyne teammates, we supported the Society of Manufacturing Engineers’ (SME) efforts to help organizations realize the potential for VR and augmented reality (AR) technologies and improve their digital workflows. Although these tradeshows took place weeks apart, we noticed attendees were asking similar questions at each event. Many of them had no experience at all with VR, while some organizations had experience with VR – just not in manufacturing. They were all especially interested in what was possible and what to consider.

Given the frequency and popularity of the questions, on May 30th, I presented a live webinar to address those questions for a wider audience. The webinar was designed to be high level and help attendees learn about:

  • The differences between VR and AR
  • Varying types of VR technologies
  • Potential VR use cases for SMART manufacturing
  • Considerations for VR systems and software
  • Opportunities for return on investment (ROI)

These considerations would enable attendees to examine their existing digital workflows and identify how VR can add value and generate ROI.

The Differences Between Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality

An immersive VR space replicates reality through the use of computer-generated images. An entire VR session involves interacting with data/environments that are not real, though you want them to appear as real as possible. Augmented reality overlays computer graphics and/or information onto real environments and objects to provide information that would otherwise not be there.


Think of it this way: a VR screen is your world, while AR makes the world your screen. 

Types of Virtual Reality Technology

VR has evolved and improved over decades and includes a spectrum of solutions, from the single-user head-mounted displays (HMDs), which many people use for gaming, to large-scale immersive systems, like the CAVE2 or FLEX. Of course, there are multiple display configurations between these extremes; remember, though, the system must suit your use cases and help you achieve your objectives. At any size and configuration, the ability to share data between systems is opening new opportunities for team collaboration, whether local or remote.

Each type of VR technology has its own benefits. For instance, HMDs are a cost-effective, single-user solution, especially for users who are new to VR. They are also compact and don’t require a lot of space to use and store, which is something to evaluate when looking at larger visualization solutions. However, when collaboration is key to your workflows, that is where larger systems shine. A system like an ARC provides users with a high-resolution, 1:1 perspective of their data.

Using VR for SMART Manufacturing

While at the manufacturing events this spring, Mechdyne showcased VR content related to design and prototyping reviews as well as assembly and disassembly tasks. Attendees were able to interact with an airplane model and the factory it was being assembled in. Users could disassemble parts of the plan, perform a plant walkthrough, and change the plant layout. Users testing this application were able to realize the potential for:

  • Early design and digital prototyping to avoid risks
  • Presentations to engage and collaborate with potential customers
  • Production and factory planning and training
  • Service and maintenance training

If you plan to introduce VR into your digital workflow, consider its application as early as possible in the planning and design stages. The earlier potential issues are avoided and approvals are received, there is tremendous potential to reduce costs associated with physical prototyping and accelerate time-to-insight and time to market. By visualizing your designs virtually, you can more efficiently and effectively interact with, compare, manipulate, and test virtual renderings of your prototypes without wasting materials or facing rework later in the process.


Before choosing a VR solution, ask yourself important questions related to VR content, software, your workflows and desired applications, and more. This process will help you choose the right technology for your needs. Some of these questions include:

Software: Do you have content to display in the system? Do you have a means of transferring the content you have into a virtual space? Does your software have a built-in VR viewing capability? If you don’t have VR content, who will create the content you need?

Use cases: What workflow challenges are you trying to solve? What are your goals for improvement? Could one or more stages in your workflow benefit from VR? Can it be used by other departments in your organization as well? How many people need to be able to participate? Do you have a local team, or will you need remote collaboration capabilities?

Space: What physical space do you have available for a VR system? What is the range of motion required for interacting with the VR data?

Technology implementation: What level of detail do you need? Color fidelity? Does your content have to be reviewed at a 1:1 scale to achieve insight?

What are the Opportunities for Return on Investment?

After you’ve learned all the possible VR and AR options on the market and thoroughly analyzed your workflow, needs, and goals, you can better predict the ROI of the technology. Some of the ROI our manufacturing clients have experienced using VR include:

  • Reduced rework and costs for production
  • Faster time-to-market
  • Increased stakeholder engagement and faster sign-off
  • Streamlined, cross-functional collaboration
  • Improved client engagement

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