Lockheed Martin Deploys AR for Spacecraft Manufacturing

An article on The Wall Street Journal reports on AREA member Lockheed Martin Corp.’s utilisation of Augmented Reality headsets and software in their spacecraft division. Yvonne Hodge, the spacecraft division’s Vice President and Chief Information Officer, is stated to have said that the technology reduces the time it takes for engineers to be trained and conduct manufacturing processes on spacecraft.

Ms. Hodge has also said that AR is become a vital part of the spacecraft division’s digital infrastructure, as it is increasing the efficiency, reducing troubleshooting time for design and manufacturing issues, and reducing defect rate for one spacecraft production line. She is quoted to have said that the tech can give them a competitive advantage and accelerate the company.

Many other companies, particularly in manufacturing, have been exploring AR. According to Forrester Research Inc., approximately 14.4 million US workers will use smart glasses such as Microsoft HoloLens and Google Glass in 2025, compared to 400,000 in 2018. They have also predicted that large companies will spend $3.6 billion on smart glasses in 2025, compared to $6 million in 2016.

Lockheed’s spacecraft division started exploring use of AR in production five years ago. In the last year, the company has begun experimenting with AR in the manufacturing of the Orion space vehicle being built for NASA with the purpose of travelling to Mars, due to advances in AR headsets and sufficient expertise on the software. Before this, technicians used paper instructions or 3D computer models in certain Orion manufacturing processes, whereas now, wearable AR devices overlay instructions rather than workers having to use binders of data or move across the room to view content on a computer screen.

Shelley Peterson, Augmented Reality systems engineer at Lockheed Martin, is stated to have said that since using the headsets, the time taken for a technician to understand drilling processes has been reduced to 45 minutes from eight hours. The manufacturing process of drilling and inserting panels into the Orion spacecraft previously took six weeks, but recently took only two weeks. Ms. Hodge is stated to have said that AR has also helped technicians to eliminate defects due to ease of following instructions, and that analysing ROI looks at reducing defect rate and cycle time.

Ms. Hodge has also said that software programmes given by vendors like Scope AR make it easier for IT workers at Lockheed to design 3D representations of instructions and objects overlaid on the physical world, as they require less coding. Technological challenges remain, such as headsets encountering difficulties in 3D image rendering of complex machinery, as Ms. Hodge pointed out, which need to be addressed before AR reached widespread deployment. However, the spacecraft division is further experimenting with using 3D representations of jets and weapons systems to reduce design time for military members’ defense system-related projects. Lockheed’s innovation centre in Denver plans to offer clients the chance to visualise certain weapons systems or F-35 jets in certain environments, which would reduce design time due to Lockheed’s quick, instant feedback and customer collaboration, as stated by Ms. Hodge.

Lockheed Martin’s AREA member profile can be read here.

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