TRAVERSE CITY, MI – While panned as pricey and unnecessary in the consumer world, Google Glass is winning some fans within manufacturing at General Motors.

The automaker has been testing the technology, via two pairs of glasses, at its Orion Twp., MI, plant with the help of its Warren, MI, technical center.

The idea to use Google Glass within manufacturing was borne out of GM’s year-old innovation teams, Cathy Clegg, vice president-North American manufacturing, tells attendees at the first day of the 2014 Management Briefing Seminars here.

Four regional innovation teams are tasked with developing new ideas or processes at GM manufacturing.

“We kicked off the (North American) team in July, and it came up late in the year, so we’re working with it with team members (in Orion Twp.) and the engineers in Warren, and we’re just learning,” Clegg tells media following her presentation.

In a video Clegg shows during her presentation, an employee applies sealant to a door, just one of the tasks GM identified Google Glass is useful for inside a plant.

“For a production operator to have their hands free while they’re working is critical, so we used it with paint (and) sealing,” she says. “Some other ideas, although not in practice yet, have been (using Google Glass for) quality checks (and) long-Takt-time operations. If you can imagine lower volume, and a 15-minute (assembly-task) process, it’s very difficult for the production member, so we can scroll” step-by-step instructions in front of them.

GM also is testing, in a wider fashion, 3D laser scanning, a tool of civil engineers and anthropologists, to scan and store the layouts of its plants.

“We can use these scanners to scan the actual environment and not rely on a set of prints we have to keep up and paper copies,” Clegg says.

The laser scans are faster and more accurate than drawings, she adds, and the layout analyses that are created are useful for equipment installation or evaluation of how humans interface with processes GM has in place or wants to implement.

GM thus far has used the technology on 41 projects in 16 locations around the world, Clegg says.

Meanwhile, she is excited by the prospect of an 18 million-unit light-vehicle market in North America, which some analysts predict will occur in 2018.

“The prediction I think is great – it’s a lot better than 9 (million) and 10 (million units).”

GM is ready to meet the test of higher production volumes via some collaboration and innovation projects under way, Clegg says, at the same time echoing the comments of other Monday speakers by saying the auto industry lost a lot of skilled employees during the recession.

“We heard today some of the speakers talk about the skill sets that have left our state, and many of the communities in which our plants operate. So to get that back up – and get the machine back up and running again – was a challenge,” she says. “But I can assure you our team is up to the challenge.”

WardsAuto predicts 2014 North American light-vehicle production of 16.8 million units, with GM making up 20% of that figure, or 3.4 million, an increase of 2.3% from 2013.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com