Product companies know that equipment service cannot be dismissed simply as “the cost of doing business.” They recognize the vital role service operations serves as an integral part of the product lifecycle and as one of the more critical activities that influence customer satisfaction.
Furthermore, equipment owners for whom uptime and effective maintenance are critical to keep machines humming and production going, appreciate the value of top notch service and are willing to invest in developing effective and efficient maintenance personnel. Other organizations prefer to contract the equipment manufacturer or a third party maintenance organization to service their equipment and for the guarantee of smooth operation.
But all too often, both the manufacturers and equipment owners find it difficult to achieve the goal of delivering effective, efficient, and profitable service.
Most industrial equipment and machinery are becoming more functionally rich. New technologies, often a combination of advanced electronics and software, add to the technological and functional complexity of new products. As a result, operational and functional failures are more difficult and expensive to detect, troubleshoot, and repair.
Product manufacturers are continually changing product design to enhance its desirability and utility in narrower market segments. They accomplish this not only by creating new products that are sold in smaller volumes each, but also by incorporating functionality that is governed by software and can be configured during manufacturing, in the field, and even remotely to achieve better market and functional fit. This strategy results in many unique product variations for narrow markets and separate geographies. The result: product knowledge is accumulated in pockets scattered across multiple geographies and is not easily shared across the service organization.
While enhanced product quality and durability have an obvious positive impact on customer satisfaction and brand image, it can have an opposite effect on the field service organization. Fundamentally, the more reliable a piece of equipment is, the less experience technicians have diagnosing and repairing complex failures. This problem can be even more critical when considering the growing number of unique configurations and installations mentioned earlier.
Most of the industrial world is facing a widening gap in the availability of experiences and qualified workforce. Although well-educated and technology savvy, younger workers do not show interest in manufacturing and technical service positions and certainly do not have the real-world experience of their predecessors.
These trends create a burdening service knowledge gap.
Augmented reality (AR) technology is frequently touted as an effective technology solution to help close the service knowledge gap and minimize its impact. Indeed, AR seems like a natural fit for personnel performing intricate assembly, maintenance and repair jobs.
AR is used to annotate physical objects by superimposing, in real-time, virtual information from documents, databases and sensors to assist technicians in performing complex tasks. For example, the AR annotation layer could highlight a part to be replaced, identify special tools needed for the task, prescribe detailed work instructions, and display timely cautions about potentially hazardous activities and materials.
Sooner or later, every service technician faces an unfamiliar service incident that requires additional information and unique know-how. For example, a piece of equipment that was built and configured to a customer order. While the technician may have general knowledge of this class of products, additional information that focuses on the unique configuration and maintenance of the customized product is crucial. Using AR, this information is superimposed over the product’s layout and general information, aiding the technician in delivering more accurate, faster and safer repair.
In this context, AR should be viewed as method to deliver highly effective just-in-time training. It delivers just the right amount of task-specific and configuration-specific information. The service technician uses this information to augment prior general knowledge and apply it to the repair task at hand.
Aided by AR, technicians are able to handle a broader range of equipment types and maintenance tasks than before with less training. Consequently, the service organization is able to allocate its workforce more cost-effectively. Instead of dedicated resource pools to handle certain equipment or customer accounts, more technicians can handle more cases; thereby improving responsiveness and customer satisfaction.