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Why Field Service Managers Are Talking About Virtual and Augmented Reality

May 25 • Features, Future of FIeld Service • 5379 Views • 5 Comments on Why Field Service Managers Are Talking About Virtual and Augmented Reality

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Both virtual reality and augmented reality could have an important place to play in the future of field service writes Manuel Grenacher, CEO of Coresystems

At this year’s Mobile World Congress, the world’s largest mobile device conference and show, virtual reality and augmented reality were everywhere.

Aside from a photo of Mark Zuckerberg walking amidst a sea of oblivious audience members strapped into VR headsets, companies like Samsung, LG, and HTC were all keen to show off their latest VR gear.

Virtual reality isn’t just for video games. There’s been growing interest in the field service industry on how companies might take advantage of it.

Virtual vs. Augmented Reality

First, however, it’s important to step back and clarify the distinction between virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).

As their names suggest, virtual reality immerses the user in a completely virtual environment, while augmented reality keeps users in their existing world and simply enhances it.

Deloitte Consulting expects to see VR technologies rapidly adopted by enterprises in the next 18-22 months. And the company specifically cited field service as an industry that stands to benefit from them.

ABI Research makes the case for AR, noting that while virtual reality tends to grab the headlines, AR has one foot that remains in the “real world” and will allow more practical enterprise applications.

The research firm sees 2016 as a turning point for AR smart glasses, predicting that 21 million units of AR smart glasses will be shipped in 2020, with sales expected to reach $100 billion.

Both technologies could have serious benefits for the industry by improving the two key metrics that are important to all field service managers: first time fix rates and average repair time.

They can also benefit staff training and skills shortages.

The Case for VR and AR in Field Service

Field service engineers, wearing a special headset, for example, could be dispatched to a job where they could see the instructions or information about the product directly overlaid on it.

There would be no fumbling for a laptop or tablet; the information they need would be accessible with a flick of their head.

“With such detailed information available, this could even mean that field service companies could dispatch less skilled technicians into the field, while the more experienced engineers could stay at the main headquarters supervising and troubleshooting more difficult issues”

With such detailed information available, this could even mean that field service companies could dispatch less skilled technicians into the field, while the more experienced engineers could stay at the main headquarters supervising and troubleshooting more difficult issues.

In a pilot project with KSP Steel, a steel mill that produces steel pipelines in Kazakhstan, workers used a smart hardhat to safely access information when they needed it, without having to leave the production line and go back to the control room.

The control room data was projected onto the helmet’s visor, leading to a 40% increase in worker productivity and 50% reduction in factory downtime.

Managing Brain Drain

In an interview first published in Field Service News, Professor Howard Lightfoot of Cranfield University School of Management outlined what he saw as the biggest benefits to augmented and virtual reality tools in field service:

Said Lightfoot, “It could de-skill field service activity. There [are] parts of the world where you can’t get the right people. With augmented reality you can link them to a skilled technician back at the base who can take them through the process. Not with a manual and not on the phone, but he can actually see what they are doing.”

“He can overlay information for them and digitally point at things, like: That’s the nut, this is the one you turn. Don’t torque that one anymore than this.”

“Torque that one to this level. Undo that cabinet first, and make sure you disconnect this before you do that.”

Moreover, that skilled technician could be “back at base” thousands of kilometers away, reducing the cost of flying specialists out to every complex job.

NTT DATA, the Japan-headquartered telecommunications and IT services company, now uses the Vusix M100 smart glasses to allow continuous, remote monitoring of technicians in the field.

Senior engineers can share the point of view of a technician wearing the M100 Smart Glasses working on-site and can provide immediate instruction in real-time using an overlaid augmented reality marker.

Before using the smart glasses, NTT DATA needed at least two engineers at the work site to ensure quality control, resulting in higher operating costs, a heavier burden for senior engineer staff, and reduced productivity.

Training Techs

“The other benefit of augmented or virtual reality is its potential as a highly detailed, highly visual training tool”

The other benefit of augmented or virtual reality is its potential as a highly detailed, highly visual training tool. Just as children’s educators get excited at the idea of breathing life into history or science lessons that put students right into the environment they are learning about, field service managers are seeing how AR or VR could be used to train technicians or engineers on complex tasks or fixes.

Automobile maker, Ford, has recently added the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to its virtual reality platforms. It’s used with a shell of a car, where the parts such as the steering wheel and seats can be repositioned to match those of a prototype car. Other field service uses are for training technicians.

By giving engineers the tools to fix problems thoroughly and quickly, you can increase first-time fix rates and lower the average time it takes to fix a product.

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5 Responses to Why Field Service Managers Are Talking About Virtual and Augmented Reality

  1. emattstewart@gmail.com' Ethan says:

    A really entertaining article, I’m especially interested in the possible industry application. The 40% growth productivity is very impressive. I have been a witness at my work, how much cloud-based system brings more interactivity and productivity to business company. The industry application of VR and AR seems limitless.
    Do we have an idea regarding the cost of such equipment?

    • kris@fieldservicenews.com' Kris Oldland says:

      Hi Ethan,

      Thanks for your comment and I agree it’s a really exciting area.

      In terms of cost of equipment I think perhaps one of the most exciting points of the application of AR in field service is that it really should deliver considerable R.o.I in quite a short turn around as it has the potential to wipe off the cost of sending an experienced engineer to the far flung corners of the state, country world etc that he is needed.

      The cost of travel, accommodation not to mention the ‘dead time’ whilst an engineer is on transit are all significant factors in the total cost of a service call and AR does have the potential to reduce that with the experienced engineer ‘dialling in’ (for want of a better phrase) and passing on his knowledge to a local, less experienced engineer where needed.

      There are a couple of really cool companies in the space i’m a bit of a fan of at the moment – firstly there is US based Help Lightning who are doing some really cool stuff with what they are terming ‘mobile merged reality’ which I’ve seen running off of a regular tablet (There is a bit about those folks here http://fieldservicenews.com/the-best-of-both-worlds/) and secondly there is XM Reality who are based out of Sweden and they have done some really interesting work with Bosch that we reported on here http://fieldservicenews.com/augmented-reality-enables-bosch-rexroth-to-support-customers-around-the-world/

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment!

      • emattstewart@gmail.com' Ethan says:

        Thank for taking the time to answer me. I honestly don’t know much about this subject but I really learn a lot reading your article.
        It reminds me of another piece that I had read on a different topic. https://tractfile.com/2016/04/18/what-are-the-advantages-of-a-cloud-based-system-for-managing-my-contracts/
        Though, I have the feeling that the virtual and augmented reality will transform so much more the company’s strategy ( for outsourcing particularly ). You are right, the cost will be refunded really quickly without the dead time and the transport cost. I’m gonna take a look at the other articles, thanks.

        • kris@fieldservicenews.com' Kris Oldland says:

          No problem and thanks for sharing the article in your last post – I think your absolutely right in that there are parallels – I often comment that we are in a the eye of a perfect storm for technology and business with Cloud, Mobile, IoT, AR, VR, Mobile Printing and many more all coming to the fore at the same time!

          I truly think we will see a seismic shift in the way many companies operate within the next decade as a result!

          • emattstewart@gmail.com' Ethan says:

            I Honestly can’t wait for it! I like the idea of Storm technology; I might re-use your expression!
            All of this was very instructive, thanks.

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