Contrary to popular belief, there is much more than playing video games with technologies like virtual, augmented, and mixed reality systems. According to PCB Trace Technologies Inc, these technologies are now revolutionizing many industries, especially in the manufacturing world. Here is a brief recapitulation of what these technologies mean:
VR or Virtual Reality — Provides a fully immersive experience, via a helmet or inside an enclosed simulator. A VR experience offers the user an entry into a virtual world, where they can engage with the objects there.
AR or Augmented Reality — Provides real-world visuals with external imagery or data, typically via smart glasses. An AR experience offers the user a 3-D view of a virtual product, such as its dimensions.
MR or Mixed Reality — A technology providing a mixed experience of the above two. Provides a combination of real-world and virtual objects, responding to the user’s motions. Users can interact with virtual characters in real-world environments, causing their movements by their own real-world actions.
Many industries have already implemented the above technologies, and many more are coming forward to do so. To understand why the VR, AR, and MR technologies are so beneficial to several industries, it is necessary to understand the advantages these technologies are offering.
So far, engineers and designers had to build scaled prototype models of their products, or at best, watch 2-D animations to get a feel of what they had conceived. With VR, AR, and MR technologies, it is now possible for them to see and evaluate every element of their design even before physically building the prototype. They can easily receive detailed visual feedback and review, helping them identify discrepancies they must address before building the actual prototype. The new technologies also allow a team of engineers to collaborate on products in virtual space, even when they are located in different parts of the world. They can identify and pinpoint areas of a product where they can offer their feedback or suggest improvements.
Many industries are providing AR glasses to their workers on the floor. These special glasses, equipped with motion and depth sensors, provide the employees with overlays of images showing where each part must go during an assembly. That way, employees can work faster and make fewer mistakes. Industries claim AR glasses can enable workers to be 30 percent faster, while improving their accuracy by 96 percent.
With VR simulation, manufacturers can simulate the production experience even before starting the plant. They can assess the safety of the employees while manufacturing the equipment. Industries are using VR simulation for improving their assembly line processes. They are claiming to have reduced workplace injuries by about 70 percent.
Industries are also using MR technologies for training simulations. This offers employees a real-world feedback on their actions, even before they are on the shop floor. Not only does this contribute to workplace safety, it quickens the onboarding process, while reducing the likelihood of rework or rejections during the assembly process. New hires can have a strong background in required procedures even before they are in the plant.
With the above technologies, product engineers can bring their products to life virtually, and help their manufacturing teams to assemble the products faster and with improved safety. The electronic engineering space is seeing a high adoption rates of these dynamic technologies as they are becoming more and more affordable.
There are multiple benefits to PCB design with advanced technologies like VR, AR, and MR. Some of these benefits are:
- Accelerated Manual Assembly — Using AR overlays for guided component placement
- Reduced Debugging Time — Reduction in contact switching and common errors
- Improved Collaboration — Visual tools eliminate common communication mishaps
For instance, industries are using AR tools for translating physical PCBs to digital artwork. They transform this into a live documentation, offering the board designer a wealth of information from all who physically interact with the virtual PCB. The AR overlay activates on the selection of any component, net, or layer. This immediately identifies the position of the component on the physical PCB.
Rather than search the schematics of the design, the AR search feature finds nets and components on the board. Users can conduct their search for reference designators, component values, or MPNs.
These advanced technologies offer collaboration and tele-engineering features to allow the entire team to align themselves on a project. Not only can a team of engineers work in parallel on a project, they can communicate clearly, enabling faster time to market.
Advanced AR features provide technicians with overlays to ensure accurate connection of test devices, reducing common errors during testing.
As the VR, AR, and MR technologies use off-the-shelf devices, the entire process is rather easy to use. For instance, it is possible to complete in minutes a two-step calibration process for the front and back sides of a board. Fiducials are not necessary, while the technology can work with any combination of colors of work surfaces like solder mask and silkscreen.
Irrespective of the shape of the PCB, these advanced tools can work efficiently. Users can match the profile of their board with custom calibration, thereby accounting for components that are side mounted, or overhanging. The calibration even takes care of any slots or internal cutouts in the board.
VR, AR, and MR tools use the board outline for calculating approximate locations of the virtual overlays. They can compute the location of the board in real-time. The calibration process allows the user to make small adjustments for greater accuracy.
The tools keep track of all overlays in relation to others. For instance, it tracks all nets connected to a component, while tracking all components connected to each net. The user can click any component to view the design-specific pinout. Flipping over the virtual board results in reversing and mirroring all the overlays to match the design.
Each overlay in the tools is aware of its topology in relation to the others in the design. For instance, a component can keep track of each net connected to each pin, and a net keeps track of each component pin it connects to. This allows the user to use engineering intuition rather than a specific knowledge of a design when navigating withing a board. For instance, activating a component allows visualizing all nets connected to each pin. This allows the user to follow the power or move to other nets for exploring sensor behavior, communication, and more.
Rather than use time-consuming tools for preparing documentation, these advanced tools allow automatic documentation. For instance, users can take the help of the screenshot markup tool, and add their own custom drawings or instructions.
While VR is already popular with the consumer electronics industry, AR is proving likewise with PCB design. Here, AR is addressing issues like fitting electronic packages in unconventional shapes, while ensuring proper working of circuit connections and reducing the time for placement and routing processes.
While with VR, the user is immersed fully in a digital world, AR can overlay digital content onto the existing reality. It is possible to orient virtual objects, thereby enabling them to have a real place in the world.
In the future, it is possible for a designer to flick between the final virtual version of a board and its real-life work-in-progress. This could help the designer establish what he must still do while reminding them of the finished board.
It is possible to offer the designer a non-distracted view of their work area. An overlay of virtual instructions can help the designer from the distraction of having to turn pages of a design. Moreover, the designer can choose to use a tunnel view, where they can highlight a specific area of interest while the rest of the view remains in the dark.
According to PCB Trace Technologies Inc, it will take time for engineers to use VR, AR, and MR technologies for daily use. One of the reasons for this is the need for hardware and software support. For instance, while the industry is already using these technologies for fault-finding, they are yet to reach their full potential in PCB design.