How will the Rise of the IIoT Impact Jobs in Field Service?

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) promises to have even a greater impact than the much-hyped Internet of Things (IoT) as industry embraces smart, connected products to yield efficiencies and reduce costs throughout the supply chain. ARC Advisory Group reports that 30% of respondents are already actively using IIoT tools or investing in projects, and Gartner forecasts that 50% of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some element of the IoT by the year 2020.

The World Economic Forum report on the Industrial Internet of Things states that it is expected to transform industries including manufacturing, oil and gas, agriculture, mining, transportation and healthcare which collectively, account for nearly two-thirds of the world economy. Yet, as society evolves towards an integrated digital-human workforce, the Industrial Internet will redefine the new types of new jobs to be created, and will reshape the very nature of work.

As the IIoT creates new opportunities for economic growth and competitiveness, it will also have a profound impact on our workforce. Two of the many anticipated benefits of the IIoT include better predictive maintenance and the use of augmented reality for improved service. We’ll explore these two areas and the impact on today’s field service jobs. 

Predictive Maintenance

Predictive maintenance – that is solving problems before they become problems – is touted as one of the great opportunities of the IIoT. Caterpillar, the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives, has started to harness and analyze data from its equipment to help anticipate problems, proactively schedule maintenance, and manage their fleets more efficiently. Caterpillar believes its equipment dealers can capture anywhere from $9 billion to $18 billion in revenue each year by taking advantage of the technology built into their machines to “anticipate problems, schedule preventive and predictive maintenance and help customers manage their equipment fleets more efficiently,” according to an article in Equipment World magazine. 

Caterpillar explains they are using data analytics solutions to create a predictive maintenance mentality – delivering regular care before a failure occurs and a machine is sidelined. Caterpillar’s customers benefit from this approach with cost savings from reduced downtime.

But will service visits – and ultimately service jobs – actually decline due to predictive maintenance? Or, will they just be timed more efficiently, leading to service at the right times which will deliver greater value to the customer? Equipment downtime leads to loss of revenue for the customer of between 5 and 20 percent of its productive capacity. So, if predictive maintenance is planned and scheduled ahead, actual maintenance work will be required and equipment owners can plan for this in advance. 

ABI Research predicts that revenues from predictive maintenance and the IoT will grow at a rate of 22% CAGR, and will reach a market size of $24.7 billion by 2019. Therefore, advances in predictive maintenance may actually lead to an expansion in service jobs.

Augmented Reality

Another opportunity presented by the IIoT is augmented reality (AR), a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.

PTC recently presented how this would work at its ThingEvent, where customer KTM Motorcycles demonstrated fixing a motorcycle with the help of augmented reality instead of a manual. AR is used to overlay digital data onto the physical world with a rich, visual interactive experience that can reduce service time and help less experienced technicians understand what needs to be done. KTM anticipates more consistent levels of service, reducing the size of their massive manuals, and cutting translation costs because actions speak louder than words.

Field Service Business reports that a major concern in the industry right now is that a generation of experienced field service technicians is heading toward retirement age. However, based on research by the Aberdeen Group, younger “digital natives” will be able to effectively take their place with the help of technology. These new workers will rely on digital tools, collaborative technology, and mobile devices to help them in their jobs – therefore, augmented reality may be the ideal tool for the next generation of field service. 

Experts such as Professor Howard Lightfoot of Cranfield University feel that tools such as AR will attract millennials to the field of field service. His work is focused on using AR as a training tool, and he explains how knowledge can be shared via AR so that less-skilled workers can benefit from connecting and collaborating with experts.

More Jobs or Fewer?

Of course, no one can predict exactly what the IIoT means for jobs in field service. However, initial indicators show that the number of jobs may actually increase, and the introduction of digital technologies may attract new workers to the field.

According to the World Economic Forum IIoT report, the Industrial Internet will drive growth in productivity by presenting new opportunities for people to upgrade skills and take on new types of jobs. A vast majority of executives surveyed believe that the growing use of digital technologies in the form of smart sensors, intelligent assistants, and robots will transform the skills mix and focus of tomorrow’s workforce. 

Although lower-skilled jobs may be increasingly replaced by machines over time, the Industrial Internet will also create new, higher-skilled jobs that did not exist before. Technologies available through the IIoT will also become available to augment workers, and make their jobs safer and more productive, flexible, and engaging. 

Images by Lindsey G on Flickr (CC by 2.0)