Even with precise written instructions, some parts of the automotive assembly process still require a bit of art, says David Kleiner, who leads Toyota Motor North America’s Applied Technology Research Lab.
Take hammering on a door edge guard. That’s the thin strip of steel that protects against dents and dings when you fling the door open into a wall or parked car. Use too much force, and a worker can damage the vehicle. Too little, and the edge guard will pop off the next time the door gets slammed shut.
Recently, a worker at a Toyota Logistics Center in New Jersey was struggling to find that balance. So they put on a HoloLens 2, Microsoft’s mixed reality headset, opened a holographic window and called a colleague in California for help. They were instantly looking through the eyes of someone on the opposite side of the country.
Here’s the trick, their coworker said: Listen for this sound. And they struck the piece at just the right angle, producing a distinct tone and a clear visual that the colleague could see and hear as if they were right next to each other.
That sound of success is now helping other Toyota workers install door edge guards. The clip was recorded on a HoloLens 2 and captured in the step-by-step holographic instructions in Microsoft Dynamics 365 Guides, giving all workers the benefit of that wisdom.
For Kleiner, that story shows how HoloLens 2 is a tool perfectly in tune with kaizen, a core Toyota principle of continuous improvement. And it explains why the device has sped out of Toyota’s innovation labs and into its everyday workplace. Workers at six U.S. Toyota Logistics Centers use HoloLens 2 for hands-free training, guidance and collaboration. The headsets will roll out soon to sites in Canada and Mexico, Kleiner said, with more expansion planned.
“The killer metric for Toyota is speed,” Kleiner said. “The faster we can train people and solve problems, the faster we can get a product to market. That’s why we want to overcome location, we want to overcome time, and we want people to move faster and share knowledge. HoloLens has enabled us to do all that.”
Over the past year, Microsoft has made significant investments in the HoloLens 2 platform in response to accelerating adoption from enterprise customers like Toyota, from new updates enabling immersive collaboration to solutions that allow companies to scale and manage a fleet of devices.
Microsoft is delivering the cloud-powered productivity and collaboration tools that deskbound workers have long had at their fingertips to the frontline worker. No matter where they are, HoloLens 2 users can summon an array of holographic windows with a Teams call or chat, a Power BI dashboard, a Word document, a PDF or video, their OneDrive folder, or their calendar and operate in an immersive, 3D experience.
“We’re truly delivering Windows in mixed reality,” said Alysa Taylor, Microsoft corporate vice president for Azure and Industry.
Those capabilities help explain why businesses like Toyota have moved beyond just kicking the tires on the metaverse.
The industrial metaverse that Toyota and others are exploring is a fundamentally new way for humans and AI to work together to design, build, operate and optimize their physical systems, Taylor said. With Microsoft Azure, Dynamics 365 and mixed reality offerings that bridge the digital and physical, customers can build digital twins of a factory floor or warehouse and simulate manufacturing or supply chain processes in the cloud. That allows them to refine those processes in the industrial metaverse – whether to boost operational efficiency or shrink their environmental footprint – before committing them to physical form.
We’re truly delivering Windows in mixed reality.
Mixed reality is a key technology of Microsoft’s industrial metaverse solutions, Taylor said. HoloLens 2 delivers those solutions all the way to frontline workers who work with their hands and can’t be tethered to a computer or keyboard. Since its launch, Microsoft has incorporated customer feedback and invested in making the devices truly work on the frontlines – from longer lasting batteries to designs that fit over safety glasses to updates that make it easy for a fleet of devices to be managed by a customer’s IT department.
“Frontline workers form the backbone of many of the world’s largest industries, yet they’ve been largely underserved by technology,” Taylor said. “So much knowledge and information is in the cloud, but how does that deskless worker in the field or on the factory floor access that digital world?”
Microsoft’s answer is HoloLens 2 and its Dynamics Mixed Reality suite of apps. With Azure cloud services doing much of the heavy lifting, they can take digital information and integrate it into the user’s physical world. That holographic experience helps them learn industrial processes faster or support colleagues around the globe with expert advice as if they were in the same room, without the expense or environmental impact of long-distance travel.
“These employees don’t have desks; giving them a laptop just won’t work,” Toyota’s Kleiner said. “We want HoloLens to be our screens for our frontline workers. When they’re wearing a HoloLens, they now have a screen that gives them all the digital tools they need.”