Bringing Digital Technology to Frontline Workers

Written By: Nancy White
  • 9/22/2021
  • Read Time : 3 min
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In the past two years, there has been significant changes to daily life – and work – brought on by the global COVID-19 pandemic. The fact of the matter is many of these changes are here to stay.

There is a “new normal” facing everyone, and businesses have responded in varying degrees, from flexible work-from-home schedules to mandatory vaccinations to opting for a fully remote workforce.

However, if there’s one thing the COVID-19 pandemic has made abundantly clear is the vital importance of digital technologies. According to a McKinsey Global Survey of executives, companies have accelerated the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios has by seven years. This is a testament to the power and flexibility of digital transformation efforts – and the reality that with the right strategy, technologies, and partners, business impact can be achieved quickly.

In this post, we’ll take a deeper dive into the technologies that have (and will continue to) made an impact on a particular segment of the workforce: frontline workers.

Augmented Reality Empowers Frontline Work

Traditionally, digital tools have primarily helped knowledge workers – a minority in the global workforce – do their job from anywhere. The majority of the workforce don’t have that option. Their work is physical, in-person, and their success is vital to the success of a business.

Despite the impact these workers have on important metrics, like customer satisfaction and product quality, the tools available to this segment have been sparse, but quickly became a top priority when the pandemic impacted daily life with things like social distancing and travel restrictions.

While augmented reality (AR) was gaining momentum in enterprise-settings prior to the pandemic, adoption has soared since 2020. According to the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft saw a 44-fold rise in remote assistance use cases of HoloLens 2 in 2020 because of pandemic-related limitations.

Let’s walk through the different use cases for augmented reality for frontline workers.

Remote Assistance

Zoom, the video conferencing juggernaut, helps knowledge workers communicate effectively by creating a visual connection between colleagues. Augmented reality can do the same for frontline workers by enabling colleagues to see what the other is seeing and help them solve a problem in physical context. Watch this video for an example of frontline workers using Vuforia Chalk for remote assistance.

 

What makes Chalk effective is it allows both parties to see the same thing. In the video, the expert marks up the screen to convey steps in a process. Even when the user pans over the entire panel, the marks are anchored to the target – this is an example of the real world being a true canvas for information via augmented reality.

Digital Work Instructions

Word, PDFs, PowerPoint slides are widely used to publish information, instructions, and procedures. For those at a computer, it’s an effective way to share knowledge, concepts, and ideas. For the frontline it is far more efficient if information is presented within the context of the work they are doing. With augmented reality/mixed reality, frontline workers can view digital work instructions in the context of the work they’re doing, which helps employees do their job better and learn more effectively.

See this video of a BAE Systems employee using a Microsoft HoloLens with Vuforia Studio software to get step-by-step work instructions:

 


Knowledge Transfer

Millions turn to YouTube for how-to assistance with DIY and repair projects; however, there’s cognitive distance between what you’re doing with the how-to videos – it captures the foreground and background information at the same time.

With Vuforia Expert Capture, an expert puts on a wearable device and captures a digital record of the steps in a process. That content can then be edited and made available for delivery on a variety of devices (wearable tech, smartphones, tablets).

 


 

As COVID-19 continues to affect the way we work, these technologies, in particular augmented reality, are more essential than ever before to support frontline workers.

Yet, these digital technologies are just a start to what’s possible as we all navigate the new normal. There are greater opportunities to digitize frontline work in the not-so-distant future.

Physical Digital Convergence with Digital Twins

As digital technologies advance, there are more possibilities for digital to transform the physical, which includes products, people, places, and processes.,

Each one of these areas represents a dimension of frontline work. By thinking about each piece -- and how they intersect and work together (i.e. products and people work together on a process in a place), we can build a deeper connection between the physical and the digital.

PTC is actively working on the ways to leverage our suite of digital technologies to enable increasingly sophisticated digital twins. Below are a few examples of how these digital twins are being defined and brought to life:

  • With a new factory, we can define it digitally with technologies, like CAD, and for existing spaces, we can capture the physical space with technologies like depth-sensing cameras and photogrammetry.
  • Onshape, PTC’s SaaS-based CAD software, is enabling real-time collaboration, agile engineering changes, and seamless PLM integration within digital twins.
    Software, like Emulate3D by Rockwell Automation, can assist in programming automation within the factory, further driving the convergence of the physical and the digital.
  • Real-time digital twin of a physical space that captures not only a virtualization of the space, but movement of people and products within the space.

 

Spatial Computing Is the Future

Along with digital twin, spatial computing is the next-generation technology that enables industrial companies to understand how products, people, and processes relate to one another within a place. 

With spatial technologies, data streams from sensors, PLCs, and more are collected from the physical world, then monitored and analyzed in the digital world. This analysis produces valuable insights into what’s happening in the physical world – and with a better understand of how and why things happen, we can begin to predict what will happen, and adjust accordingly.

Sharing state-of-the-art solutions for industrial worksites, like AR worker analytics, spatial process definition and analytics, Heppelmann envisions a new way to optimize work within frontline spaces.

Harnessing multiple technologies, like augmented reality, IoT, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, computer vision, and more, to digitize a frontline workspace, companies will be able to optimize on multiple levels and drive efficiencies.

Digital Transforms Physical

PTC is uniquely positioned to help companies thrive, navigating today’s challenges, while preparing for what’s next. 

Tags:
  • Augmented Reality
  • Digital Transformation
  • Digital Twin
  • COVID-19

About the Author

Nancy White

Nancy White is a content marketing strategist for the Corporate Brand team at PTC. A journalist turned content marketer, she has a diverse writing background—from Fortune 500 companies to community newspapers—that spans more than a decade.