In a highly competitive environment, customer service is the key to success in any business. Uninterrupted and efficient services, particularly in the case of industries like manufacturing, telecom or energy, are critical. The maintenance of assets and critical equipment has a direct correlation to the provision of these services. And these two synergistic aspects of service and maintenance further impact the performance, productivity, product quality, and eventually, customer satisfaction. However, service and maintenance are also resource, time and cost intensive. Today, cutting edge, innovative and disruptive technologies such as automation technologies, Internet of Things (IoT) and augmented reality (AR)/virtual reality (VR) have enabled a paradigm shift in visibility, efficiency and profitability while maximizing uptime of critical devices and machinery.
The potential for augmented reality
According to research by Grand View Research, Inc., the global augmented reality market size was USD 17.67 billion in 2020. It is estimated to reach USD 340.16 billion by 2028, with a CAGR of 43.8% from 2021 to 2028. PwC estimates that AR and VR have the potential to boost global GDP by USD 1.5 trillion by 2030.
With the new normal setting in after the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for remote assistance and collaboration to improve workflow management is increasing. AR-based applications can help in tracking, identifying and resolving technical issues. In addition, the growth of smart phones, wearables, smart glasses etc. is enabling the adoption of AR for technical teams as well as customers.
AR and VR in field services
Imagine a scenario where a technician is responding to a customer complaint about a specific equipment. The L1 or L2 technician assigned is not necessarily the expert. They may have to refer to a manual, check with an expert or return for another visit after consulting with an expert in the organization. The expert may also need to be called upon to provide services if the problem is not resolved. All this takes up time and cost. With the help of an AR headset, the technician seeks the help of the expert. The expert, present at a remote location, visualizes the overlay of the equipment and guides the technician in real time to resolve the problem. The overlay can be made up of video or audio recordings, manuals or other information that can be made readily available to the technician on the job. AR has created a perceptual reality that the expert is able to visualize. This saves cost and time of multiple visits or employing higher number of experts. In turn, it also boosts customer satisfaction as the issue is resolved quickly with minimal interventions.
AR/VR platforms transform field services by enabling hands-free, offline/online viewing of workflow instructions for training, maintenance, and inspection. These applications enable novice workers to connect with a remote expert who can guide them in performing the workflow better. In addition, they can:
- Provide virtual insights of assets and devices
- Enable upskilling of the technician on the field, where they can undergo immersive training by collaborating with peers and interacting with machines and instruments
- Offer remote team collaboration with expert assistance – Guide the technical team wherever they are, for remote maintenance, troubleshooting and installation. Connect with an expert at the click of a button on their smart glasses
- Ensure hands-free troubleshooting - Work assignments and tasks including inspection procedures can be uploaded seamlessly and viewed by the worker real-time onto their smart glasses while performing their tasks
- Give seamless access to the knowledge base – Search for solutions to solve problems that are encountered frequently
For industries with high requirement of field services, the use of AR-based solutions offer several benefits – increasing worker efficiency, accelerating issue resolution time, reducing travel expenses and minimizing costs, and increasing the number of tickets handled.
Post the pandemic, the potential for AR has increased manifold. Social distancing and lockdowns have severely hampered field services. AR-based applications can help prevent physical interaction for service calls and training. They enable companies to diagnose issues remotely and deploy expert resources with AR-based applications only for complex in-person jobs, thus reducing the risk to the employees and customers. Companies can diagnose issues remotely to prioritize operations and reserve their expert resources for AR-assisted service to new technicians and more complex in-person repairs.
Research has indicated that with an average of around 84,000 service incidents per month, over 40% require an in-person, on-site dispatch to resolve. Augmented reality has reduced human errors and unnecessary calls significantly, for better and faster task performance. Yet, the adoption of AR remains untapped. The Strategies For Growth℠ 2019 Field Service Management (FSM) Tracking Survey revealed that only 13% respondents were using AR or VR in their field service operations, while about 34% were likely to incorporate the use of AR and VR in the next five years.
Benefits of AR applications across industries
With an evolving business landscape, shifting customer preferences and high competition, it’s easy to imagine how AR/VR technologies have found a place across several industries. And the use of AR is not just limited to field services. It has expanded to various other operations, reducing downtimes, improving services, reducing costs, and enhancing productivity. Let’s take a look at some use cases.
In the manufacturing industry, AR can ensure efficient operations by reducing production downtime, quickly identifying the problems and keeping all processes functional. A classic example is the aircraft manufacturer, Boeing, which has deployed AR to enhance productivity and reduce errors in their operations. The company uses several devices from tablets to Microsoft’s HoloLens to Google Glass, which help to keep workers hands-free with their eyes on the job. They have also leveraged Upskill’s Skylight software to reduce wiring time in some aircrafts by 30%.
In addition, AR is a valuable asset in training of employees in the manufacturing industry. While in person training is challenging in these times, there is also the element of safety while training for critical machinery. Deploying the use of wearables or tablets can easily help in training.
Telecom companies typically have towers and other equipment in remote areas. The use of AR can help in planning equipment inspections, which require highly skilled and expensive professionals. With the help of AR, the inspection can be carried out remotely, thus saving time and costs. In addition, AR-based applications can also be deployed to improve overall equipment performance with regular pre-determined inspections. Telecom giant, Vodafone’s Dutch arm, VodafoneZiggo, first piloted remote customer assistance technology powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and AR. Following this, Vodafone UK replicated the use of the AR platform, resulting in a 12% improvement in first call resolution (FCR) and a 68% improvement in customer satisfaction.
Field support is a critical service criterion for the utilities sector. However, there are several diverse use cases for AR across the utilities process value chain. These include: assessment and restoration during storms/outages, visual inspection of vegetation on their transmission and distribution lines, construction or new connection of underground gas pipeline, and seeking expert help or collaboration with other crew members during maintenance onsite. AR can significantly help in training novice technicians and help utilities overcome the challenge of an ageing and retiring workforce. AR devices have come a long way and now meet the intrinsic site requirements related to safety and environment - a critical need for utilities.
AR has the capability to completely transform the way healthcare is rendered. It can dramatically improve the quality of patient treatment, and enhance the performance of medical professionals. AR is not only changing the way doctors learn about the human anatomy, but also helping them diagnose patients more effectively by overlaying CT scans and other imagery onto a patient’s body. AR glasses allow surgeons to perform complex surgeries that once required monitors and endoscopic cameras. Mayo Clinic, the global leader in medical care has recognized the growth of new and disruptive technologies in the world of medicine. To address the unmet needs of patients, providers and the health care system, Mayo Clinic Cardiovascular Medicine formed the Virtual Reality Innovations Group. Researchers in this group explore the application of these innovative technologies to improve patient care.
Augmented reality has proven to be significantly beneficial in several industries. AR technologies in education have helped redefine learning methods, especially those for differently abled children. Museums are using AR-based applications to make the experience more informative and enjoyable at the same time.
The automotive industry has long been using AR. Back in 2015, Hyundai launched the augmented reality owner’s manual app. It was their version of the traditional owner’s manual, allowing consumers to use their smartphone or tablet to get information on repairs, maintenance and other vehicle features.
The use of AR for military training and combat exercises is well known. It is being frequently used to enhance training, provide situation awareness, and ensure safety.
AR and VR: The technology of the future
With COVID-19 and the limitations imposed by it, the adoption of AR and VR is accelerating. These technologies are rapidly changing the way we live and the environment around us. Their rapid evolution also means that they will perhaps be something completely different even 5 years down the road. Research has indicated that there will be approximately 2.5 billion AR-capable devices (smartphones and smart glasses) -- by 2023, and around 30 million VR devices (including mobile, standalone, console and PC-based). The growth in AR is expected to be higher, with its applicability across a wide spectrum of industries. Moreover, AR provides an overlay of features onto the real world, compared to VR, which simulates the environment. Nevertheless, the specific use cases for these two technologies have tremendous potential to enhance customer satisfaction, improve training quality, reduce manpower costs, and ensure safety of service providers.
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