Actini designs, manufactures and installs equipment for the agri-food and biopharma sectors. A world leader with a presence in 65 countries, the firm had to face up to the lockdown conditions imposed almost overnight by governments around the world as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. An alternative approach had to be found quickly, because qualified technicians needed to be on site to install Actini’s equipment and provide training in its use.

Equipment for the agri-food, cosmetics, pharma and biotech sectors

For more than 60 years, Actini has been a key player in the biotechnology and agri-food sectors thanks to its expertise in thermal transfer technologies as well as in a variety of other processes.

In the food sector, the firm also designs, manufactures, markets and installs pasteurisation and sterilisation equipment for treatment of liquid food products such as fruit purees and juices, milk and dairy products, vegetable extracts and egg products...

In the biopharmaceutical sector, it designs, manufactures, markets and installs effluent decontamination units mainly for the vaccine industry and high security research laboratories.

Through its activities, Actini is an innovative French company with a resolutely international approach. The firm launched its efforts to win a share of foreign markets in 2004, when it opened an office in Thailand. It now has a presence in the USA, Canada, China and other countries.

Actini’s main production facility is located at Évian in France. With the firm now conducting 90% of its business in more than 65 countries, it is vital for Actini to maintain close relations with its customers and local representatives.

Custom-tailored equipment built with specific safety requirements in mind

Chalk1Actini’s Food and Pharma departments supply equipment for processing highly critical products which have to meet stringent requirements in terms of human and animal health as well as the environment. The safety challenges are therefore significant. The food products sector – for which Actini offers pasteurisation and sterilisation services – faces tough constraints related to heat-sensitive food products, active ingredients, and vegetable extracts.

The firm’s customers also include vaccine manufacturers as well as highly secure laboratories which handle germs as dangerous as Ebola and Marburg virus.

To respond to the industrial challenges facing its customer base, Actini has tailor-made each time-specific piece of equipment based on treatment and security. This ability to develop unique equipment is one of Actini’s key differentiators.

Maintaining operational efficiency

All equipment manufactured by Actini for sale to a customer undergoes two series of tests. Following completion of the equipment manufacturing process, the customer’s teams attend factory acceptance testing (FAT) to verify that the equipment meets their specifications. A second series of tests is then carried out at the customer’s premises, to validate receipt of the equipment and its connection to the site environment.

When travel came to a grinding halt because of Covid-19, Actini was faced with a major difficulty. The firm was no longer able to dispatch its technicians to customer sites, and neither were customers able to send their representatives to the Évian facility for factory acceptance tests. The situation was difficult, because the company was no longer able to conduct installation and commissioning activities at manufacturers’ premises.

It was vital for Actini to find an alternative solution to enable its technicians – who were no longer able to be physically present on site – to continue to provide preventive and corrective maintenance services for customers.

Augmented reality as remote customer support solution

chalk4For Actini, augmented reality (AR) rapidly emerged as the solution to the travel ban, enabling service for customers to be maintained, while also delivering a high level of satisfaction.

Actini had already identified PTC’s Vuforia Chalk solution before the health crisis. At the time, it had envisioned using the Chalk for maintenance and troubleshooting purposes. With this solution, an after-sales 4.0 approach became possible.

“Actini had already identified PTC’s Vuforia Chalk solution before the health crisis. At the time, it had envisioned using Chalk for maintenance and troubleshooting purposes, as part of an after-sales 4.0 approach.

However, the travel ban forced Actini to expedite their rollout of Chalk to meet commitments to a customer who was scheduled to have machines installed during the second lockdown. The only option was to provide support remotely.

Actini benefited from the unique offer launched by PTC during the Covid-19 pandemic, aimed at encouraging the use of augmented reality through its remote assistance solution. Keen to support companies during this difficult period, PTC offered Vuforia Chalk free of charge. The solution was an obvious choice: thanks to the fact that it is operational out-of-the-box, Actini was able to test it in advance. Other benefits included its compatibility with hands-free wearable devices from RealWear.

The solution’s real-time audio/video sharing capability allows a technician wearing a hands-free headset to connect with customers and guide them through the testing process, irrespective of their location. Actini’s technicians have the ability to annotate the customer’s physical environment and easily guide them step by step on tasks to be carried out with little to no ambiguity. The technician is also able to use Vuforia Chalk from a mobile device, tablet or desktop. .

The benefits of AR: operational efficiency, financial gains, brand image, etc.

Vuforia Chalk has boosted Actini’s operational efficiency while cutting travel costs and enabling the firm to demonstrate its responsiveness and agility.

Operational efficiency

Vuforia Chalk offers genuine interactivity. “This is particularly true during troubleshooting operations, or during training, which can be tiresome and time-consuming without AR,” says Alexandre Baud, Customer Service Manager at Actini. This capacity for remote intervention also leads to more efficient management of internal resources, with faster diagnostics and problem-solving, as well as time savings (particularly on travel) and increased availability.

Financial savings

In addition to providing effective customer support without sending technicians to the other end of the world, Vuforia Chalk delivers financial savings as well as substantial time savings. “Troubleshooting via Chalk gives a time saving of between 20% and 30% compared with a conventional video conference,” says Alexandre Baud.

The ability to identify the equipment in which a problem has been encountered, and point out the part to be repaired, while noting down practical information at the same time, removes many potential sources of ambiguity. Participants understand each other better, despite the language barrier, because they can see the same images at the same time.

Repeated travel by technical teams for the purpose of carrying out equipment integration and troubleshooting costs Actini 400,000 Euro per year. The use of augmented remote assistance allows the firm to reduce these costs.

Responsiveness and agility

Using the Vuforia Chalk solution also brings a competitive advantage in terms of the company’s brand image, by once again demonstrating Actini’s agility and innovation to its customers.

Before using the solution with a customer, Actini conducted a trial at its own premises. The test was passed with flying colors; Vuforia Chalk was able to function without issue, despite the low data rate of the connection available to transfer images and sound.

The solution is easy to use despite the state-of-the-art technology behind it. When customers need support or troubleshooting, Actini’s specialists point out, in real-time, the action that needs to be carried out.

This ability to respond to needs in real time at any location also allows the firm to work just as closely with customers as a competitor located in the same geographical area as the customers themselves. Actini is able to carry out work anywhere, with unmatched response times.

New use cases

Despite the fact that the Vuforia Chalk solution and augmented reality have provided tremendous assistance during the health crisis, Actini is not about to completely overturn its customer relations. Technicians will continue to travel to customers’ premises, as international exchanges return to normal. The company is convinced that physical proximity is a key component of customer relations. In fact, Actini continued to send out its technicians to work with customers during the pandemic whenever possible.

Actini is keen to capitalise on its experience with Vuforia Chalk, however, and is seriously considering developing new use cases. The solution is perfectly adapted to projects of a low level of criticality, particularly troubleshooting phases. The benefits of Vuforia Chalk are unmatched in terms of responsiveness and interactivity. “We aim to incorporate AR systematically into the way we handle support requests,” explains Alexandre Baud.

Thanks to its ability to ensure seamless mutual understanding, AR will also be used for acceptance and installation of laboratory units. “Actini is in contact with lab specialists. During troubleshooting sessions, we will be able to show them what they need to assemble or disassemble. They simply have to observe our actions to understand what has to be done. The solution is genuinely suitable for a very wide range of possible applications,” adds Alexandre Baud.

It will also be useful to equip representatives already present in customers’ countries with the solution, and with RealWear assisted reality devices, “so that they can be our eyes and ears,” continues Alexandre Baud.

The software can additionally be used for external communications, allowing virtual tours of the factory, highlighting the different phases of equipment manufacturing. Internally, the use of augmented reality is also a key factor in employee retention. “For our employees – who have an average age of 34 – it’s a real opportunity to work with cutting-edge technology on a day-to-day basis,” concludes Alexandre Baud.

The health crisis, which could have had an adverse impact on Actini, actually turned into a great opportunity. Thanks to Vuforia Chalk and augmented reality, the firm was able to avoid having technicians travel to customers’ premises, while maintaining high levels of service quality. The experience also revealed that AR offers unexpected benefits for competitive differentiation and employee experiences.

Actini is now aiming to develop new use cases to enable their employees and customers to benefit fully from this remote support technology.