Digital beats 20/20 vision
© Getty
September 2021

Digital beats 20/20 vision

By Volker Paulun
Why travel across the world when you can visualize the project by wearing a high-tech headset while working from home? Welcome to augmented reality (AR). Examples from the Schaeffler world show how this digital-visual technology makes processes more efficient and can even enhance quality.

“Without using augmented reality, we couldn’t have managed this project during the pandemic,” Schaeffler quality expert Dr. Achim Donnermeyer is sure. He and his colleagues had to get two large-bearing test benches up and running for Schaeffler right in the middle of turbulent coronavirus times: one of them in China and the other one in Romania. The high-tech systems boasting the dimensions of a volleyball field had been custom-developed and built to meet Schaeffler’s exacting specifications in one-off production by a specialized company in Israel.

Four countries (including Germany, where Donnermeyer and his colleagues are based), several thousand kilometers apart from each other, at a time when the coronavirus had brought travel to a standstill: “By using so-called HoloLens headsets, the AR system of our IT partner Microsoft, among other things, we managed to create on-site scenarios, so to speak. In this way, we were able not only to check the production of the machine in Israel in real time as needed, but also employed this technology during the entire acceptance process,” explains Donnermeyer.

Digital beats 20/20 vision
Schaeffler Virtual Fitter: Due to the information recorded and transmitted via HoloLens, the Schaeffler expert is able to support on-site work by audio-visual instructions from his desk back home – in real time© Schaeffler
A workaround becomes an object lesson

Originally just meant to be a workaround, the solution proved to be truly beneficial during the course of the production process. “In problem-solving situations, we were able to respond not only faster but more precisely as well. Consequently, the list of adjustments that routinely emerge was shorter during the acceptance process than with similar projects in the past,” says the Schaeffler expert. He provides an example to explain this kind of HoloLens use: “Let’s assume a specific component is causing problems. It could be one in thousands of installed screws. Now, instead of laboriously describing which screw is meant exactly, we just mark the problem area on our monitor at home directly in the live image the colleague working on the machine at the site that’s thousands of kilometers away has transmitted to us by HoloLens. Our marking is then displayed to him in real time as well so that he knows exactly where to take action. Such ad hoc solutions proved to be extremely efficient and helpful because we were able to make adjustments throughout the entire production process.” The HoloLens again displayed these strengths when the test benches were set up in China and Romania. In spite of the Covid travel restrictions both systems were put into operation as scheduled. “Due to the HoloLens, I – alone – saved two weeks of on-site work and, obviously, that’s a cost factor too,” says ­Donnermeyer.

Deployed around the globe

Schaeffler has been using augmented reality in many different areas for many years. Now, practically every location is equipped with HoloLens systems. The Automotive Aftermarket unit, for instance, is planning to increasingly employ such virtual animations and interactive elements of Holo­Lens technology for explaining to garage customers around the world in easily understandable ways how to use repair kits and specialty tools.

76.7 million professional VR headsets

are expected to be sold worldwide by 2024, ten times as many as in 2020. The market for virtual reality will grow by 30 % per year by 2024 and, in the best case, by as much as 57 % for augmented and mixed reality.

Forecast: Deloitte; source:

In the form of the Schaeffler Virtual Fitter, the Industrial division offers its customers fast, efficient and – again – globally accessible installation support using augmented reality. If needed, Schaeff­ler will send an AR headset to the customer for this purpose. The customer’s employee will wear this set while inspecting a machine, joined remotely by a Schaeffler technician via a secure data connection. The live transmission of photographs and videos provides Schaeffler’s experts with a comprehensive picture of the machine’s condition, enabling them to assist in the on-site work with their expertise. Due to the projection of images into their field of view, the people performing the work have both their hands free to do the job.

This remote mounting service is usually available faster than a local Schaeffler expert would be, who would have to travel to the site in person. Plus, this time advantage saves hard cash because travel and personnel expenses are reduced and, in many cases, the costs associated with machine downtime are lower too. “Compared to on-site service, our customers save up to 50 percent of costs by using the remote service. In addition, the expert instructions transfer know-how to the customer,” says Reinhold Daft, Head of Mounting Services at Schaeffler.