The Benefits of Early AR/VR Adoption Interview with Flex’s Zohair Mehkri

A featured post on the blog of AREA Partner BrainXChange, details an interview with Zohair Mehkri, Director of Engineering at Flex, about driving and executing worldwide strategies for augmented reality, virtual reality and other next-generation technologies in manufacturing. Zohair Mehkri will also be speaking at this year’s EWTS taking place online in October.

You can read the full interview here 

Key summary points from the interview:

AR/VR is one of those technologies that has numerous benefits in manufacturing environments and Flex began utilizing it before a lot of other players entered the market.

Flex currently uses a variety of immersive technologies across its functions. Augmented and virtual reality are used for applications like Remote Assistance, Work Instructions, Logistics, Design Collaboration, Training, and others.

In addition, Flex uses advanced simulation technologies to not only optimize production systems but also immerse users into virtual manufacturing environments with Digital Twins.

It was a big undertaking to start the journey at Flex, and the biggest achievement in the beginning was executive sponsorship and buy-in.

My role was / is worldwide leader and owner of the technology and strategy. The first use case was remote assistance due to the financial benefits and seemingly simpler development. I say seemingly because we quickly learned it wasn’t so easy.

When we started development, we conducted very large-scale market studies and did a lot of collaboration with vendors and suppliers to understand the best path forward.

Our employees at first had mixed reactions and to this day the biggest pain point is the hardware. But as we continue to improve, we’re seeing that acceptance is growing.

To name a few challenges for AR/VR: Hardware maturity, hardware comfort, field of view, battery life, graphics, processing power and UX/UI.

The software had many challenges, as well, including tracking, localization, overlaying, OCR (optical character recognition), object recognition, IDE (integrated development environment) features, and OS compatibility. There are more, of course, but we consider these to be the major ones.

We overcame some of these challenges, mostly in the software space, and for some we had to desperately and quickly find alternatives, especially in the case of hardware. For instance, our hardware strategy ended up shifting to mobile in the beginning due to the lack of wearable hardware that could deliver what we needed.

It was fun introducing AR/VR to Flex’s customers.

The pandemic has had a huge impact; we have seen groups and teams we would never have imagined wanting to use the technology, each with their own needs and requirements.

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