How AR Can Help Manufacturers Offer Unparalleled Field Services
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BW SMARTCITIES
Research suggests that most manufacturers are facing increasing difficulty when it comes to staying ahead of the competition, based on only their products.

Field services are now more important in the manufacturing industry than ever before. Research suggests that most manufacturers are facing increasing difficulty when it comes to staying ahead of the competition, based on only their products. Therefore, service differentiation is critical to enterprises looking to reinforce market leadership in a highly dynamic landscape.

However, training service agents to become adequately specialized is a cost-intensive proposition. Also, “first time right” diagnostic of issues is critical in the manufacturing sector, meaning every agent must bring significant experience and expertise.

To reinvent their field service capabilities successfully, manufacturers must tackle thee following challenges head-on:

  • Go beyond time and locational barriers, delivering exceptional service levels anywhere, anytime
  • Accelerate the transfer of product knowledge and the understanding of maintenance processes to newly onboard service agents
  • Optimize training costs and improve field service ROI

Technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) can help to address these pain points. It aids in seamless collaboration between agents, while also amplifying training impacts. Let’s explore this in greater detail.

What is Augmented Reality?

At its core, Augmented Reality (AR) superimposes digital assets onto the user’s immediate surroundings. It can enhance the user’s interactions with content via animations, videos, written text, and audio elements, increasing engagement levels.

Consider Pokemon Go -- an AR gaming phenomenon that brought fictional creatures into the real world. Think of simulations fed to Ironman’s helmet by J.A.R.V.I.S. or, think of Microsoft’s HoloLens that enables mixed reality communication in business scenarios. Examples of AR are everywhere around us in both the fictional and the real world.

How is AR Relevant in the manufacturing Context?

In the manufacturing sector, AR-based applications would find several use cases, both on-floor, and on-field. On-floor uses may include worker safety, on-the-job training, and equipment maintenance, among others.

The possibilities on the field are even more exciting. A field technician can leverage AR to communicate with a remotely located expert. The expert projects a simulated video of the problem, guiding the technician through the resolution pathway. This would significantly increase customer satisfaction levels by cutting down the mean-time-to-repair (MTTR), as the expert doesn't need to be physically present on the field.

Service agents could also talk to themselves on a remote basis, covering a larger area during service delivery working individually instead of in teams. They can be assured that AR will help to speed up problem discovery and resolution, enabling access to inputs from any member on-the-fly. Essentially, technologies like these democratize the knowledge and expertise across field service veterans and to new recruits. As an added advantage, a small team can address a larger number of customer issues at the same time, improving ROI.

And the benefits of AR in the manufacturing field services is well documented. In 2017, an exclusive community of global service-centric businesses studied the feasibility of AR in a service enterprise. It found that 42% of industries would gain from live AR communication on the field. Not surprisingly, two-thirds of respondent manufacturers already have some kind of AR technology in place.

As workforces around the world become increasingly technology-dependent, adopting AR to become an "early mover" is the need of the hour.

Considering the technical side of things, an AR-based collaboration solution in manufacturing will comprise a smart glass apparatus mounted on the agent’s work helmet. This lets them initiate a “See what I see” video session with voiceover. The expert then coaches the service agent in real-time, fetches schematics, and co-annotates to convey the message. Not only does the agent have a higher chance of getting the job right, but they can also record the session for later access.

This will enable the following benefits:

  • Reduction in service resolution time and maintenance costs
  • Greater agent comfort, despite unfamiliar machinery and models
  • Real-time access to parts’ inventory, warranty records, and detailed service instructions
  • After-hours service levels achieved at regular SLA periods

AR is a Promising New Opportunity in Manufacturing

While AR has already been recognized as a key area of innovation in consumer electronics, it now time to introduce the same benefits in a professional setting. Manufacturers can unlock measurable improvements in performance by applying this technology to field service scenarios.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the publishing house.

Ajay Tiwari
Ajay Tiwari
Vice President and Global Head – Discrete Manufacturing & Aviation, Birlasoft
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