When words may not be understood, how about a picture? Visualization tools can help overcome language and other communication barriers. By Drake Lundell, Associate Editor September 1, 2010 With workplaces growing more diverse and spread out across the globe, manufacturers are increasingly turning to virtual reality and other visualization tools to improve the flow of information and help workers make smarter and faster decisions.Such tools are an effective way to synthesize different data sources and make them available to a broader range of decisionmakers, especially when experience, skills, culture and language play a part in product decisionmaking. In the U.S. alone, the number of foreign born workers will increase from 12% of the workforce today to more than 20% by 2050, according to the Pew Research Center. Most manufacturing firms operate in increasingly complex environments. The density and complexity of technology are growing, and global manufacturing operations are becoming less vertically integrated to take advantage of skills and resources outside the organization. Both of these trends call for better sharing of information across skill sets, languages and national borders. Furthermore, companies in the U.S., Europe and Japan face a demographic challenge as aging workers retire, causing many organizations to lose expertise honed over many years. Advertisement Visual information adds value by connecting workers and corporate disciplines that, until now, have lacked a common platform for interaction. Note two examples: Koenig & Bauer AG, which manufactures large and complex printing presses, uses a geometric search engine. It enables design engineers to search the firm’s database of more than 220,000 parts to identify similar parts based on their shape. This saves money by increasing reuse of certain parts in new machine designs instead of creating new ones. And technology giant Intel has designed and operates a virtual world data center. The ability to view and interact with the center remotely saves the company a lot of time. And virtual hookups significantly reduce the need for travel by staff and clients.