This paper reports on an investigation into the proposed usability of virtual reality for a manufacturing application such as the assembly of a number of component parts into a final product. Before the assembly task itself is considered, the investigation explores the use of VR for the training of human assembly operators and compares the findings to conventionally adopted techniques for parts assembly. The investigation highlighted several limitations of using VR technology. Most significant was the lack of haptic feedback provided by current input devices for virtual environments. To address this, an instrumented object (IO) was employed that enabled the user to pick up and manipulate the IO as the representation of a component from a product to be assembled. The reported findings indicate that object manipulation times are superior when IOs are employed as the interaction device, and that IO devices could therefore be adopted in VEs to provide haptic feedback for diverse applications and, in particular, for assembly task planning.