Smart Glasses, Augmented Reality Add Fuel to Boeing’s Assembly Line

Boeing designs and manufactures some of the world’s most complex machines–jet engines and aircraft. Boeing technicians in charge of wiring new planes have no room for error and need constant access to diagrams, schematics, and parts. To meet those requirements, Boeing uses a combination of augmented reality, smart glasses, voice recognition, and connected cloud-based systems, equipping its technicians with a hands-free solution for faster, accurate assembly and troubleshooting.

 

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Image credit: UpSkill 

More than 130 miles of wiring go into every new Boeing 747-8 Freighter jet, the largest variant of the 747. For Boeing, that translates into tens of thousands of work hours each year assigned to its manufacturing teams to properly install and connect wires that are tucked away deep inside the fuselage, everywhere from the cockpit to the wheel wells. 

Assembling an aircraft has no margin for error, and wiring poses a unique challenge. Every Boeing aircraft, from the 737 to the 787 Dreamliner, has multiple configurations, each with its own wiring scheme. Technicians typically rely on huge books of diagrams to do their work, coupled with laptops that contain hundreds of schematics. Constant “look-away” interruptions as workers get assembly directions and cross-check diagrams makes wiring installation a slow and tedious process.    

 

Wired Over AR

To help ease the production demands of wiring, Boeing launched a program that uses a connected wearable solution for its factory technicians: smart glasses made by Glass Enterprise Edition and Upskill’s enterprise augmented reality (AR) software, integrated with the SAP Field Service Management platform.  

Part of Germany-based TeamViewer Frontline, Upskill’s enterprise AR software gives Boeing technicians the instructions they need in a viewfinder in Glass. They can move through multiple prompts with voice commands, the Glass device touchpad, and a head tracking interface. A simple voice command for a schematic calls up the correct step-by-step instructions for each section of wiring, allowing the technicians to keep their hands on the assembly the entire time. Bar code readers and the Glass cameras can also identify and immediately confirm wiring inventory. 

AR screen on glasses provides wiring instructions

Image credit: TeamViewer

Real-time AR Remote Assistance

The TeamViewer Frontline software is integrated with SAP Field Service Management (FSM). This allows remote experts to connect with field service personnel to provide real-time augmented reality remote assistance through their smart glasses or mobile devices — directly from the SAP FSM dashboard. 

When technicians need extra help, workers can initiate a “See What I See” video stream and share their view with engineers or other remote staff. Technicians can also view how-to videos in their field of view, allowing them to remain hands free and work on the wiring in real time as they watch. 

With Frontline software and the smart glasses, Boeing estimates that it cut wiring production time by 25 percent and reduced error rates effectively to zero. Boeing considers that type of improvement in industrial workflow processes a step function change. “Rather than picking up seconds or minutes, this step function change cut our build time in wiring by 25 percent,” explains Randall MacPherson, senior manager for Boeing’s Electrical Strategic Fabrication Center. 

Boeing is looking at ways to use AR and automation in other areas of its manufacturing and assembly. MacPherson adds, “Smart wearable technology is helping us amplify the power of our workforce.” 

Building Resilient Operations Post-Pandemic

Boeing is not alone in trying to drive more factory efficiencies with automation. At the recent SAP Aerospace and Defense Innovation Days event in Charleston, SC, experts discussed how digital technology is necessary to establish a resilient A&D operation–and compensate for a shrinking workforce pool. 

“We are seeing a huge drive to automate the factory floor,” explains Torsten Welte, global head of industrial business unit, aerospace and defense, at SAP. “A&D companies are turning to AI and machine learning to increase manufacturing production, reduce errors, and speed information flow.” 

He notes that emerging, even disruptive technologies can help compensate for a workforce that has significantly diminished in the last year. “The pandemic has impacted operations in A&D all around the world. Companies are looking to modernize production using data-driven solutions and analytics that support efficient workflows and supply chain resilience,” Welte adds. 

 

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