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Mixed Reality, a Catalyst for Sales and Productivity: The Audi Case

July 27, 2022

Audi uses mixed reality (MR) to present its new products at press conferences, trade fairs, and events. This makes the company a pioneer in the visual presentation of technical information using the most modern means—thoroughly in keeping with its motto “Vorsprung durch Technik,” or “progress through technology.” Now the premium car manufacturer is also using mixed reality in its logistics planning.

🗣 The challenge? Making “Vorsprung durch Technik” a tangible experience

Premium vehicles catch the eye with their sleek design, but their quality lies in their sophisticated, highly complex technology. What sets a model apart from the competition isn’t obvious at first glance. As a result, it’s a challenge for manufacturers to convey to outsiders—even car aficionados—in a fast and intuitive way how the model works and how the technical innovations interact. Traditionally, car manufacturers use multimedia exhibits at trade shows and other events to communicate the advantages of the new model series to the industry. Against the backdrop of an increasing trend toward digitalization, Audi seeks to have people experience its technical lead directly in its product presentations.

🗣 The solution? Mixed reality with HoloLens 2

That’s why the Ingolstadt, Germany–based premium carmaker relies on AR, using its own computer-aided design (CAD) data from its technical development work. Audi’s product communication team has developed virtual exhibits in the same distinctive manner and style. Holographic animations fill the room to present vehicles and their technology with all the technical details and functionalities. This allows companies to convey content to journalists live and in an easy-to-follow, memorable way.

“Virtual exhibits with Microsoft HoloLens 2 digitalize the classic exhibit in automotive product communication, saving time, money, and resources,” says Marjan Blazevski, Communication Content Product/Technology at Audi. Mixed reality offers trade visitors a much more intuitive and vivid experience than the examination and discussion of a purely physical exhibit. In addition, this digital technology enables the automaker to reach automotive journalists at multiple locations simultaneously—without the logistical challenge of transporting real exhibits halfway around the world.

The company has already integrated the award-winning virtual exhibit into numerous projects, using the HoloLens 2 mixed reality system for implementation. This system offers the advantage of an immersive experience, thus enriching the viewer’s surroundings with relevant graphics or 3D content. For Audi, this was an important prerequisite for ensuring that workshop situations would permit in-person discussions.

To make the virtual exhibit happen, Audi commissioned the S X CES agency, which worked intensively with the AR and MR specialists at RE’FLEKT. One typical application is the simulation of air flows, which showcases the expertise and care that Audi pours into its car body design. In addition, vehicle connectivity and sensor areas can be displayed as an overlay in the virtual vehicle—all information that would not be visible without mixed reality.

Mixed reality applied: Improved, more intuitive logistics planning

🗣 In spring 2019, Audi decided to use mixed reality technology in its supply chain planning. After all, the production of a new vehicle model requires an environment that is tailored precisely to the vehicle—and, of course, to the requirements of the production staff. Long before the start of production, a manufacturer needs to plan the processes, structures, and the entire logistical set up along the material flow in the factory—including the required automation technology. Working with 3D holograms, superimposed directly onto the real factory floor via mixed reality glasses, makes it easier to assess the situation in advance, before the first systems or even prototypes of the vehicle are available. Thanks to mixed reality —for which Audi also uses HoloLens 2—the planning team can see the real environment together with the digital mockups in a unified view.

 This approach eliminates the need for time-consuming production of mockups for operating equipment. “Currently, we build our own prototype containers and shelves, using them as well as lines laboriously glued to the floor to illustrate structures and proportions,” explains Tobias Brigl, Project Manager at Audi. “That setup calls for a lot of imagination on the part of viewers. Mixed reality is the ideal tool for bridging the gap between the real and virtual worlds”, he adds. This is becoming increasingly important for Audi, since more and more automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are used for material transport in factories. The space requirements of these vehicles must be precisely taken into account during planning.

When Audi’s planning teams have to set up new logistics structures, they can look to VISCOPIC’s LayAR software for support. LayAR—for “layout” plus “augmented reality”—obtains the CAD data of objects such as shelves, containers, and components from a database. The software then visualizes these “digital twins” of the objects as holograms in HoloLens 2 and projects them in their original size into the real environment. “To do this, the planners scan the QR codes of predefined brands,” explains Felix Meißgeier, Co-founder of VISCOPIC. “LayAR calculates the position of the virtual objects and of the user and displays the digital twins in HoloLens 2 so that they always look right from the user’s perspective—even while moving through the factory.” Users can manipulate the objects with simple hand movements, for example, pushing or rotating them.

LayAR, like REFLEKT ONE from RE’FLEKT, is based on Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Toolkit, an open-source project that is freely available on GitHub. “The Mixed Reality Toolkit supports natural, intuitive hand interactions,” says Michael Zawrel, Mixed Reality Solution Specialist at Microsoft. “This means users don’t have to learn specific gestures to use the full capabilities of HoloLens 2. A digital tool lets users measure distances and areas directly in LayAR’s holographic display, and all changes and results, for example from a workshop, can be incorporated into the CAD data in just a few seconds. This allows the team to continue working immediately with the updated planning status.

Microsoft’s Mixed Reality Tool Kit simplifies work 

🗣  Usually, several people from a planning team inspect the factory floor together, so it’s important to make sure that everyone involved sees the status quo. To do this, LayAR synchronizes the current display on multiple augmented reality glasses so that any changes are visible to all the viewers in real-time. This simplifies discussion and collaboration even across site and country boundaries—an important feature for a premium automaker that maintains production sites in Europe as well as in China or Mexico, for example.

Thanks to LayAR, in the future project participants will also be able to take part in decision-making from home or from other locations via web conferences. Digitalization thus facilitates distributed working; the implementation of the LayAR project itself took place in the middle of the COVID-19 health crisis but was nevertheless completed on schedule. Even after the pandemic, Audi will retain these “work from anywhere” benefits: the solution can significantly reduce travel costs in the future, and eliminate delays that might occur when, say, specialists need to travel to a site.

The new software solution is used not only on the factory floor but also for presentations and meetings in the office: with LayAR, planners can scale down the virtual production environment to a 1:20 ratio so that it can be projected onto a desktop or table surface. In addition to the hologram view, a 3D display on a Surface tablet also facilitates discussion, for example in meetings.

Cutting edge digital technologies

🗣  “In Audi production, we use digital technologies specifically where they give us a real edge,” says Peter Kössler, Member of the Board of Management for Production and Logistics. As of this year, augmented reality glasses have become an integral part of the logistics planners’ toolbox. Experts at the Ingolstadt body shop are currently planning the plant engineering required to support the use of AGVs—long before the first AGV delivery. LayAR will also be used to set up the production of electric vehicles at the company’s headquarters.

The bottom line is that mixed reality technology enables Audi to significantly increase the efficiency of its product presentations as well as its logistics planning. As a result, the premium manufacturer can reach the trade audience much more effectively and deploy new technologies even faster in its plants worldwide—particularly in view of the increasing complexity and diversity of variants in vehicle production. The virtual objects also have practical advantages: in addition to eliminating global prototype logistics, virtual objects eliminate the transport, storage, management, and disposal of models for operating equipment. Overall, the use of mixed reality has already saved Audi millions in costs over the past three years.

Audi is yet another multinational company that has dabbled in AR and MR to enhance their customer’s experience and their work productivity. New technologies are here to stay!

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