Augmented Reality Use-cases at Newport News Shipbuilding

Shipbuilding has been the perfect environment for industrial innovation for hundreds of years. Sails to steam, wood to iron, rivets to welds, blueprints to CAD, stick-built to modular construction–all major innovations to building extraordinarily complex vehicles. At Newport News Shipbuilding, we constantly seek new innovations to improve our safety, quality, cost, and schedules. Since 2007, we have explored Augmented Reality as a means to shift away from paper-based documentation in our work.

Since we began looking into AR for construction, operation, and maintenance workflows, we’ve come up with hundreds of use-cases to improve tasks or processes. These range from assisting shipbuilders in painting, ship-fitting, electrical installation, pipefitting, and more in several ways – on new construction ships, ship overhaul, facility maintenance, and decommissioning. Every use-case improves our ability to deliver nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines, but at different degrees of improvement.

We’re always adding new use-cases to the list, and we’ve needed to devise an adaptable framework for organizing and categorizing existing, proven uses and prioritizing future, potential use-cases.

Genesis of a Use Case

Augmented Reality should be employed first in places where it creates the most value – and that actually can be subjective. Sometimes, this is helping people become more efficient and working more quickly, sometimes this is about helping to reduce errors and rework, and sometimes it is all about improving safety. At Newport News Shipbuilding, a dedicated team of AR professionals help determine where AR is best suited, whether the technology is ready for the use-case, and how to best implement and scale a solution.

The first step in defining a use-case is performed by an AR industrial engineer, who determines where AR brings value in a workflow. She first meets with a skilled craftsman, and understands their challenges and needs. The industrial engineer identifies pain points in processes, such as when and where shipbuilders must consult paper documentation to complete a task. She must also consider human factors and always balance the needs of the craftsman against the capability of the AR solution as it can be delivered today.

Then, the AR engineer works with an AR designer and an AR developer to deliver a product. The AR designer determines the available data, components, interfaces and models for the system to satisfy requirements. Once the use-case is fully defined and the data is assembled, an AR developer implements software solutions, tests the system, and ensures reliable and adaptable development tools. At the end of the process, a new use-case is addressed, and a high-value product is delivered to the skilled craftsman.

A Classification Scheme

Over the years we’ve devised hundreds of use-cases and needed a way to understand and prioritize them. We started by categorizing them into a taxonomy that we think of as general, but we admit they might be specific to our business. We call these our seven use-case categories.



Inspection (quality assurance)

An inspector determines how well a component or part conforms to defined requirements.

Work instruction

Guides a person or otherwise provides information useful for task execution.


AR as a new medium for training skilled craftspeople, especially on complex and/or expensive systems.

Workflow management

Helps a supervisor plan and execute workflows for a team.


Use-cases for visualizing data about ongoing operations or system states (energy in a circuit breaker, flow rate in a pipe, etc.).


Enhance situational awareness for craftspeople.


Helps a craftsman or supervisor understand where people and things are in space.

These 7 categories then are applied across three additional axes. These variables create a volume of exploration, or “trade space” for each use-case. The three application axes are as follows.



Product line

Ship types such as aircraft carriers, submarines, etc., are differentiated and determine the content available for a use-case. For example, what type of, if any, 3D CAD models are available. Products without 3D CAD can still benefit from AR, but require laser scanning, data collation, and other methods to create effective AR uses. Also, industrial processes for one product may be different from the process for another, and these differences may make AR valuable on one product, and unnecessary on another.

Product life cycle

Represents phases of a ship’s life cycle, such as new construction, operation, overhaul and inactivation. Understanding the life cycle provides purpose and scope for the content, and also defines the type of AR consumer – shipbuilder, sailor, engineering maintainer, etc.

Trade skill

Workshop roles such as welders, pipefitters, electricians, etc., which determine AR needs, personal protective equipment, user factors, and in many cases, content and tolerance requirements.

Return on Investment

When investing in new technology, it’s important to find those areas offering the highest return on investment (ROI) for every dollar spent. At the same time, there are potentially high value use-cases that are simply not conducive to an AR solution today. As a professional AR team, we pride ourselves on understanding when we can have an impact, when we can have a really big impact, and when AR technology simply isn’t yet up to the challenge. We primarily focus on advancing the seven use-case categories, and use the three variable axes to ensure we are maximizing customer value and ROI. As our expertise has grown, and as the technology matures, we have steadily increased value and readiness of AR throughout the entire trade space.

Today, we assess highest potential ROI and use that as a metric for scaling priority. Our model shows the greatest ROI in use-cases for inspection, work instruction, and training. Our focus there is now on scalability. We also know that the ROI is really tied directly to the technology readiness levels (TRL) of AR for those use-cases. While we are certain there will be benefit, maybe even higher ROI, on workflow management, operations, safety, and logistics – the readiness levels of AR for those use-cases within our trade space simply isn’t as high (today) as for the first three mentioned. You can’t scale what doesn’t yet work. So for the latter four uses, therefore, the investment isn’t in scalability, but rather in improving the TRL.

As Augmented Reality technology becomes more capable and less expensive to implement, enterprises will find ever-increasing uses. We’d like to learn how others in different industries have been developing theirs. Please share your comments and experiences with us.

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