Augmented Reality Reshapes Field Service

Written By: Gary Wollenhaupt
  • 8/11/2016

Before July 6, hordes of young people walking around staring at their mobile phones might have signaled the latest album drop, or a new type of zombie.

But actually that was the day that Pokémon GO debuted.

This mobile game, which tied into Millennial's nostalgia for the Pokémon franchise from Nintendo, also pushed augmented reality into the mainstream. 

Before Pokémon GO, AR was basically a punch line based on the failure of Google Glass. But Pokémon GO changed that. The app was accessible on just about any smart phone on the planet, and it overlaid the video game world of Pokémon with the real world, placing creatures like Pikachu on the screen along with sidewalks, city parks and coffee houses.

The gamification of augmented reality revealed just how quickly users could adapt to viewing a combination of digital and physical content, underscoring the disruptive potential for enterprise adoption of AR for many uses, including field service and Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) operations.

The application of AR in field service operations is potentially an absolutely massive game changer, Professor Howard Lightfoot of Cranfield University told Field Service News. Deloitte Consulting predicts that VR technologies will be rapidly adopted by enterprises in the next 18 to 22 months, with field service as an industry poised to benefit.

What's the ROI for AR-enhanced field service operations? Research from the Aberdeen Group indicates that 33 percent of service work orders require a second trip. Using augmented reality applications help eliminate the 37 percent of second trips required due to a lack of experience or information and reduce the 28 percent of second trips caused by wrong diagnoses.

The future for AR in field service isn't far off. At LiveWorx 2016, Caterpillar demonstrated an AR system for its XQ35 on-site portable generators, a product most commonly leased through its dealer network. In the demo, a user pointed an iPad at the generator, and the device displayed operating instructions overlaid over the image of the generator. In the future, animations could guide service technicians to perform specific maintenance steps. Users could easily follow the proper procedures and dealers can be alerted of maintenance needs as well as location and operation of the equipment.

Power of Visual Information

AR delivers multimedia content to reach different types of learners that make it a useful tool for a diverse user base. The majority of the population, about 65 percent, are visual learners and need to see what they are learning. AR devices on tablets provide the imagery that helps users understand and retain information. About 30 percent of the population are verbal learners, and benefit from hearing information, which AR technology can deliver. The final 5 percent are experiential learners and learn by doing. AR enabled devices can help users put their hands on equipment, an experience enhanced by technology.

Engaging a New Generation of Technicians

The booming use of Pokemon GO -- after a few days, it had more users than popular apps such as Twitter and Tinder -- revealed just how effective and addictive AR could be in delivering content. It's also the initial phase of training a generation of smartphone users how to engage with AR.

For the media-savvy Millennial generation the sharing aspects of AR may be the most attractive. For them, collaboration is simply a way of life. They'd rather take training, and deploy in field service tasks with information delivered via AR than in a paper manual that gathers dust on the shelf.

For example, a study with Army tank mechanics found that with AR systems guiding repairs, mechanics learned key activities about twice as fast compared to standard demonstration methods.

Field Service Effectiveness

Ensuring the right people with the right skills are in the right place is the largest cost for field service operations. AR allows a company to put the skills of the engineer or service tech on the ground without travel time. Users can assist with diagnosis and even take on troubleshooting and repairs. Or a less-skilled service tech could make an initial call, supported by the knowledge available via AR.

That's why Bosch Rexroth developed an AR-driven support program for remote technical assistance for industrial hydraulics. The customer's maintenance team connects via software on a smart phone, tablet or optional smart glasses, and works directly with an in-house expert from Bosch.

The service expert sees what the on-site operator sees through the camera, and video and audio sync perfectly even with low bandwidth. Smart glasses enable hand-free communication, and the expert can transmit drawings, gestures or additional instructions. However, most users are already familiar with operating tablets and phones, compared to head-mounted AR devices.

AR can power field service for a range of products, from complex industrial equipment like turbines or earthmovers to consumer-level products such as appliances. At any level, AR can improve two key performance metrics: first-time fix rates and average repair times. With new tools integrating with sensor data from IoT connected devices, enterprises have a new opportunity to deliver more effective field service AR solutions.

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  • Augmented Reality

About the Author

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is a freelance writer covering innovation in manufacturing, marketing, and sustainable green building technology.