Keeping Workplaces Safe
One of the first companies to speak out about a successful
experiment with AR was Agco, an agricultural equipment
manufacturer based in suburban Atlanta with almost 20,000
employees and more than 150 locations worldwide. Employees
at the company’s Jackson, Minn., facility build custom tractors
and other farming equipment. Buyers choose from hundreds
of designs, with countless add-on options. Each tractor that
comes off the assembly line is as unique as a snowflake, says
Peggy Gulick, Agco’s business process improvement director.
The AR pilot program began in 2014 in Jackson’s quality
Reducing the Skills Gap
assurance department. Workers were using tablets to complete
checklists during the inspection process. However, as work-
ers climbed onto the machines to make assessments, inevitably
some would drop—and shatter—their tablets. After exploring
options, the company decided to purchase smartglasses that use
what Agco refers to as “informed real-
ity,” a form of AR in which users
see digitally overlaid compo-
nents only when they want
to. By looking upward
and to the right or by
issuing a vocal com-
mand, users can
call up informa-
they need it, but
at other times their smartglasses are just like any other pair of
safety goggles. In this way, a worker’s view is never unexpect-
The program was expanded to include assembly-line work-
ers in early 2017. Smartglasses are now used by more than 100
employees at the Jackson site. Since the pilot began, Jackson has
reduced its inspection times by 30 percent, and its tractor pro-
duction times by 25 percent, according to Gulick. Agco plans to
expand AR to five more worksites within the next 12-14 months,
in Kansas, Illinois, Maryland, Brazil and Italy.
The employees love their smartglasses, Gulick says. When
workers who have used AR are transferred to another depart-
ment they ask her when their new area will be getting smart-
AR can also provide invaluable safety training, particularly
where there is heightened potential for danger. For instance, it
can simulate a live wire on the ground, a jet engine failure or an
oil well blowout so workers can safely practice what to do until
the proper protocols become second nature. With AR, workers
can practice identifying potential hazards and rehearse different
ways to handle emergencies.
A lack of qualified applicants to fill available jobs is a problem
for HR professionals in many industries. Using AR, individuals
with little or no formal training can be taught to do high-skilled
tasks—fast. In fact, AR works best for nonrepetitive complex
Where AR Is Making Inroads
Industries that are using or experimenting with AR technology include:
■ Manufacturing. On the factory floor, AR headsets can deliver hands-free, real-time data. Workers can view live feeds, instructions, diagrams and video recordings of their colleagues’ work. By relying on overlaid images and instructions, new workers can
become productive faster. Checklists and manuals can be accessed at any time.
■ Construction. AR allows all parties—architects, builders and specialists in the trades—to visualize what is being built.
Blueprints are in 3-D, and 3-D images can be superimposed over worksites, giving workers data to spot potential problems
early. Designers and others can collaborate remotely.
■ Maintenance and repairs. AR overlays the inner workings of cars, airplanes, elevators and other machines, allowing for fast
diagnosis of problems (broken part, snapped wire, overheating). By using an AR headset, workers can access checklists and
manuals without interrupting their work.
■ Warehouse operations. Workers wearing AR can be directed safely and quickly to stocked products. AR can help workers
more efficiently load carts and docks and can also track inventory.
■ Oil and gas. AR’s ability to provide 3-D maps helps with planning and preventing mistakes. Because many work situations in
this field have the potential for danger, AR can be used to train workers on what to do in potentially dangerous scenarios.
■ Architecture and design. Blueprints and models can be manipulated in 3-D and superimposed over worksites. Changes can
be made to the 3-D images by any member of the team, from any location. Problems can be discovered early in the process.
■ Medicine. AR can guide surgeons as they operate, and medical students can practice high-stakes procedures without any risk
to patients. The technology can help nurses identify the most viable vein when drawing blood. AR makes it possible to interact
with a specialist from anywhere, allowing for worldwide access to advanced medical care.
■ Retail. Customers can see what that couch would look like in their living room or how they would look wearing a new suit without having to try it on.
■ Tourism. Travelers can see diagrams projected over ancient ruins and immediately get information about the site. Arrows can
guide tourists who are lost, and signs and even conversations can be translated instantly.