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Augmented and Mixed Reality Provide New Opportunities for Field Service


The mass and wide-scale adoption of augmented and mixed realities is gathering pace across a multitude of industries. 

To define, augmented reality refers to the process of superimposing a computer-generated image on a user's view of the real world. Mixed reality is the merging of real and virtual worlds to produce new environments and visualizations. 

In the field service industry, this emerging technology can play a significant role in changing the way field technicians and the business collaborates to resolve technical issues, provide support and access documentation. Indeed, technologies such as AR smart glasses can overlay digital information (such as text, video or audio) onto human field of views, interactively and in real-time. ABI Research sees 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.

Optimizing Service Workflows

Mixed and AR technologies present strong use cases for the field service industry for optimizing service workflows. The ability to perform time-critical jobs thoroughly, quickly and first time around, by obtaining the right information from the correct source, is one.

Historically, service technicians had to sift through paper manuals or search their own memories to find a fix for complex equipment issues. This was an onerous process to go through and often resulted in a disgruntled customer. Today, however, Augmented Reality headsets provide technicians with the ability to communicate, collaborate and solve issues more efficiently. They could be dispatched to a job where they could see the service manual, real-time data and technical details about the product directly overlaid on it. There would be no need for a clunky laptop, phoning a colleague for assistance or contacting the back office for customer information; everything they need would be accessible with a flick of their head.

There is a big place for Augmented Reality in optimizing service workflows. However, deploying new technology takes careful planning to realize the full benefits.

Meter RepairEmpowering Less Skilled and Ageing Workforces

In mission-critical industries, such as construction, manufacturing and agriculture, ensuring that the service team captures knowledge and transfers it efficiently across the organization is a ‘must have’, not a ‘nice to have’. Asset downtime or system failure is not an option as it may result in entire projects grinding to a halt and monetary losses. Issue resolution needs to be quick and this is where collaborative video tools can best support a less skilled and ageing workforce.

Video collaboration with augmented peer-to-peer help is being designed and implemented to connect less skilled technicians with more skilled ones remotely. A technician with specific areas of expertise may reside in an office and virtually walk an apprentice through a service call, step-by-step. Markups can be made during a video call between an expert and field technician to visually show what needs doing and to be sure the field technician is clear about what to perform service on. The expert can draw a circle or arrow on a screen to highlight a specific area, eliminating costly mistakes.

There are parts of the world where you can’t get the right expertise for a job or flying out a specialist may prove too costly for a company. Augmented reality eradicates these concerns by allowing experts to take those of less skill through the entire process. Not with a manual and not on the phone, but they can actually see what they are doing.

iStock_000019869949_XXXLarge 72dpiMany technicians are performing this peer-to-peer help in ad hoc ways today; using tools like Facetime and Skype. This however has resulted in issues. For example, sending a facetime request to another technician can be very disruptive. It is also difficult for the technician requesting help to know who to contact and if they are available. Whilst the time spent by the expert is not often tracked. For organizations that want to successfully scale this technology, they need to consider how to integrate it more tightly into the service workflow.

As technicians age and a new crop of workers joins the business, it is imperative that the latter be able to leverage past knowledge. An ageing workforce is putting pressure on service organizations. The benefit of augmented or virtual reality is its potential as a highly detailed, highly visual training tool. Companies are recording repairs being performed on older pieces of equipment to be used as a reference by less experienced technicians. By utilizing augmented reality to make markups pointing to specific equipment details, service companies can create a searchable library using descriptive metadata, and hashtags for quick access. This is a great way to offer on-the-job training and avoids the downtime and loss of productivity associated with having the entire team come into the office to learn new techniques.  

Collaborative video tools not only provide the field team with the real-time assistance when solving complex issues, they also connect field service to the entire organization. Indeed, video content, such as markups and screenshots, can be captured by augmented reality tools and stored in a cloud. The stored data can then be tied with a work order and include valuable metadata such as geolocation, type of equipment, date of last service etc. If such data is centrally stored and can be easily accessed, it could be used for purposes like new technician training, proof of work and so on.

For more information on how you can look to roll out augmented reality across your field service operations, visit: