A new TV, sofa, bed – bringing anything new into their home can be a risk. Will it fit? Will it match my décor? Will I still love it in six months’ time? This is especially true when you’re bringing in something you’ve never needed before. Stairlifts aren’t the standard home accessory – but when mobility is an issue, they’re an absolute lifeline. That doesn’t make it any less daunting for those having them installed for the first time. Knowing this, elevator company Stannah has brought in the help of augmented reality. Using a special app, the team is able to show customers exactly what their new stairlift will look like in their home, even down to the fabric type. The technology is truly amazing.
Stannah has been around for 155 years. Founded by Joseph Stannah in 1867, their roots were in the dockyards of London, where founder Joseph Stannah designed cranes and hoists for unloading ships and secured a number of patents for his inventions. They moved on from cranes, and from 1975 they developed their first stairlift product, which they are now, of course, most famous for.
The Stannah factory in Andover is split into two. One side is steel fabrication, so they have lasers, welding, and a paint plant. The parts move from there to the second part of the factory, where they assemble their chairs and carriages. The production line for the moving element of the product – the chair for the user, the carriage (which contains the drive assembly) and the footrest – is a continuous production line where they have a number of operatives assembling the products. At the very end of that product, they have a 100% test where every product is fully loaded to a payload and goes on a journey along a mini stairlift rail to ensure it’s both working correctly and is safe to go out to their customers.
The factory is very much the physical element of their business, but digital transformation also offers huge opportunity to build their customer base and support their customers. This is done via their AR application, Stannah Envisage, an application intended to be used by the sales advisor. They have been developing the app since 2012, so while it was groundbreaking at the time, it did have some challenges – particularly around needing to keep the tracking marker in shot. They had a QR code which the product was anchored to. If you got too close to this and it dropped out of view, then the product would disappear. If you got too far away from it when trying to compose a nice shot of the product and its surroundings, then the product would become unstable and slightly jittery – so utilizing ground tracking technology really adds a level of robustness and smoothness to the experience.
Augmented reality has moved on since 2012. The latest version of the app utilizes PTC’s Vuforia Engine and is completely markerless, which makes it a far more natural experience. It can get very close to the virtual stairlift to explain the features of the product and the controls – even looking at the surface textures of upholsteries – but it can also look at the equipment “in situ” so the customer can get a real appreciation of how this product might look in their home and how the aesthetics of the product, or the upholstery choices that they make, will sit alongside their home decor choices of wallpaper and carpets – and ultimately build their confidence in Stannah’s solution being the best to meet their needs.
The first step of the onboarding process is to specify the product. When the product is specified, you can move into the customer elements of the product where they can specify their own choices and start to have their input. The first of those selections is to choose the color of the rail. Next, they can choose from a number of different chair types. And finally, they can choose the upholstery options that they would like on their chair. So not only do you get a visual representation of how it looks in terms of its size and where it fits, you actually get to see the one you would buy. This is a much more tailored sales approach, and this is one of the big benefits. It really does allow the customer to see what their stairlift will look like within their home, which both helps build engagement and confidence in the purchase.
After configuring the product, the next step is to utilize the ground tracking engine, and they see some white dots appearing across the floor. And by just smoothly waving the iPad over the floor plane, the product will appear. It looks very vivid and real to life, and it’s exactly the right size in the right place. The beauty of it being markerless is that they can get very close to the product, so they can go in and start exploring both the controls and the function of the product, but they can also start to show surface textures. They can look at the texture of the upholstery up close as well as getting a long way away from the product and see what that product will look like in its environment. Once placed in a position, the sales consultant can try and sync the product into his natural environment.
The sales advisor has the ability to alter the angle of the rail so that it matches the angle of the customer staircase and alter lighting, so if there is a dominant light source coming in from one direction, the the product shadows can match it. Once they have the product virtually in situ, they can demonstrate functionality, so they can show it in its folded state – and it fully animates as well. They’ve tried to make the product as lifelike as possible, so the folding mechanisms fold the product at a smooth rate. They can also rotate the product so they can show the boarding position where the customer will get on or off the product, and finally they can travel it upstairs so they can go on a virtual journey.
Stannah has had some great feedback from customers, and those in the property can get reassurance about the product they’re buying. But sometimes the customer isn’t at home – they might be in hospital, and they may not be able to return home until the stairlift has been installed. One gentleman, who was in hospital, was presented with the Envisage visualization of his product by the sales advisor, who had been to the property to complete the survey and was visiting the gentleman to go through the quote. His first reaction was, “Wow, you’ve installed it already?” it was a fantastic response. Stannah’s mission is to provide independence by moving people and goods in and around their homes and buildings. The customer literally may not have been able to access the upstairs of their home for a period of time, and their products offer the customer both the freedom to access their home fully, but also to enjoy their home again.
Around 75% of the workers globally are out there on the front lines, working with their hands, solving problems, building things, and servicing products. Many workers haven’t had the tools to have access to the information that they need when they need it, so when they’re out there working with their hands, they’re working with often outdated methods when they’re training, when they’re upskilling themselves, like paper manuals, or procedures that are that are costly or outdated. In these cases, it’s a very time-consuming process to get up to speed to learn new procedures. And it’s really high cost. You’re going to see delays in critical procedures, you’re going to see downtime in machinery, and you’re going to see mistakes made that lead to scrap and rework.
Stannah’s Envisage app was created using Vuforia Engine, PTC’s market leading augmented reality solution. Vuforia is a suite of enterprise AR apps that enable industrial enterprises to improve the efficiency of their frontline workforce. The Vuforia suite uses augmented reality to address challenges, accelerate the learning process, reduce training costs, streamline knowledge capture, and create new procedures. In doing this, they can make the employees, the frontline workers, happier in doing their job by using modern technology to get up to speed and level up, keep them safer, and remain in compliance with their policies. When they have access to this information through augmented reality, that’s information in their field of view on the factory floor, or out on a service visit. They can be guided directly through tasks as they’re experiencing them, hands free. That’s a very powerful capability that can enable them to be much more efficient – and save money.
Stannah is using Vuforia as a visualization asset, but it also has a large part to play in the service and manufacturing industries as a whole. Augmented reality and Vuforia can really be deployed across the enterprise. There are use cases in engineering, service and manufacturing, and sales and marketing – just like with Stannah. What’s really interesting about Stannah is that they are leveraging the 3D information, the design information, for sales and marketing purposes. All of that same product data that was used to design and build the products is a scalable source of content that can be used for sales and marketing. As they’re talking with their customers, that gives them access to all the configurations and different product versions that their customers can purchase, so they can visualize it in the context of their physical environment.
That same paradigm is what makes augmented reality so important for service and manufacturing use cases – the ability to use existing product data for augmented reality. And when you use augmented reality for manufacturing, when you’re using augmented reality to supplement, to train, or in the process of an assembly procedure, you can derive pretty amazing results. You can take workers who may make several mistakes as they’re getting up to speed with a paper manual or a digital instruction manual, and when you provide them the information that they need in the context of the assembly that they’re looking to build on the factory floor, they can get through those procedures in less time and with significantly fewer mistakes –and that translates over to significant business gains.
There are a lot of different types of augmented reality content that you can provide to a frontline worker for a manufacturing or service use case. By connecting the digital thread with other product sources from PTC, they can display real time IoT data in the context of a physical environment in the context of a live and operating machine to provide information that’s time critical to the frontline worker. They can display content that is configuration managed, meaning it’s the actual content that is relative to the machine as built that the frontline worker is working on, that can be custom for all the variations of the machine that exist on the factory floor. And they can capture and produce AR content powered by the subject matter expert taking their expertise in the context of the job that they are doing, and then use that to train new frontline workers. And they do that in the context of manufacturing environments on the factory floor.
Thanks to JJ and to Charles for showing us around Stannah’s headquarters.
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This is an 18Sixty production for PTC. Executive producer is Jacqui Cook. Sound design and editing by Ollie Guillou. Location recording by Andy Jones. And music by Rowan Bishop.