By Don Gardner

The following was originally published as a blog by the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development and is published with their permission.

When the term “virtual reality” is mentioned, most of us in our mind’s eye think of video games. And that wouldn’t be wrong. Gaming and entertainment are currently the industries in which virtual reality is most often used.

But would you believe virtual reality, and its close relative augmented reality, will be just as big in manufacturing and healthcare in as little as two years? And it is estimated there will be a $500 billion market for AR/VR technology by 2025. But this is not just about the future. Practical use of AR/VR in the manufacturing field is happening right now.

That was the message delivered by Kalid Mirza, the founding director of the Augmented Reality Center (ARC) at Oakland University. Mirza was the keynote speaker for the Industry 4.0 workshop “Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality” Thursday, June 15 at the Velocity Center in Sterling Heights. The presentation was the third in a five-part series of I4.0 workshops hosted by the Macomb County Department of Planning and Economic Development.

Virtual reality and augmented reality are both defined as “immersive technology,” in which the user has various levels of depth in using the technology.

In the “reality continuum,” reality is what we see with our eyes, the real world, without the use of technology. At the other end of the continuum is virtual reality, in which a completely artificial world is created digitally. A user is immersed in it as if they exist in it. The user can interact with the environment and do things in it.

The advantage of working in a virtual environment, Mirza said, is that you can create an environment that might be risky or dangerous in the real world that would be safe to train workers on in the virtual world for the materials or equipment they might be working with. For designing parts, a CAD design or otherwise, users can look at it as a one-to-one model in a 3-D environment, with the ability to walk around it and experience it as if it was there in front of the user. Mirza said there is no limit to the amount of safe, training simulations that can take place.

“Virtual reality has a place in industry where we would start using all of those features and implement them in various applications,” Mirza said.

In the middle of the reality continuum is augmented reality. AR is defined as the mixing of the real world with the artificial world.

“So you exist in your real world, but you start getting information in the augmented world,” Mirza said. “It could be in the form of data. It could be in the form of virtual options which populate the real world.”

Augmented reality exists in smartphones using the camera to look up information. Users can plug in real-time data, check the status of equipment and provide instructions of what to do in the real world with real objects. Most of the higher-tech uses take place with headsets or specialized glasses.

“There are so many opportunities that can take place within augmented reality,” Mirza said. “For the industrial uses, this is the technology which is 10 times more likely to be used, rather than virtual reality. Virtual reality is good for certain applications, but you get cut out from the real world, and there are safety concerns in the industrial environment. But in augmented reality, you’re not cut off from the real world. You see the real world as it is, with enhanced information. And the uses for that in industry are phenomenal.”

The benefits of augmented reality in manufacturing include:

  • Immersive applications such as:
    • Creating a digital twin or virtual model for designing, maintenance, etc.
    • Adaptive visual guidance for training
    • Real-time monitoring
    • Design assistance
    • Enhanced customer experience
  • Remote design reviews – designers in different locations can review designs and parts in augmented reality, with the ability to “walk around” the design together.
  • Virtual line walkthrough
  • Ergonomics review and operator training
  • Early validation of prototype
  • Build up without tooling

While AR/VR use is growing in manufacturing, the gaming industry is still leading the way in developing future technology and is doing it at a reasonable price. At Oakland University, Mirza’s ARC is partnering with gaming companies such as Epic Games, which created Fortnite.

Knowledge of gaming technology is a strength of the future workforce.

Christopher Bala from LightGuide Systems, who joined Jason Price from Virtual World Innovations, and Matt Moy from RAVE Computers on the discussion panel following Mirza’s presentation called that effect, “the gamification of work.”

Bala said the AR/VR technology, plus the inherent knowledge of gaming technology by the future workforce will speed up the training process.

“Training, regardless of where it takes place, can be cut from days or weeks to hours,” he said. “The learning curve can be immediate.”

Don Gardner is a communications specialist for Macomb County Planning and Economic Development who specializes in writing about Macomb County’s business environment. Please visit for more information.