How augmented reality benefits remote maintenance for improved performance

Augmented reality (AR) is gathering momentum in the world of equipment servicing

By Anna Mazzoleni December 18, 2023
Courtesy: ABB

 

Learning Objectives

  • Gain a basic understanding of what augmented reality (AR) is, and how it works.
  • Learn the benefits to implementing AR for a manufacturing facility.

 

AR insights

  • AR is helping maintain competitiveness in a perpetually changing and demanding economic climate.
  • AR is fast becoming the new norm, impacting the way in which shopfloor operatives, service technicians and engineers interact.

Research shows that businesses are concerned about energy pricing and security, and the impact that this is having on their ability to compete, invest in people and reach their sustainability targets.

This is according to a recent Energy Insights Survey of 2,300 leaders from small and large businesses, which revealed that 92% of respondents believe the continuing instability of energy is threatening their profitability and competitiveness. It is also having a significant impact on the workforce with decreased investment in employees. They are also concerned about potential impacts of meeting their sustainability targets.

The priority for industry, therefore, is resilience. Operators need to build an infrastructure that is resilient to all geopolitical changes and be willing to adopt and integrate new technologies, such as augmented reality (AR).

For example, the likes of augmented servicing guides visible on the electrical equipment, boosts interaction and the ability for self-support, removing the need for an engineer to travel to the facility, which increases efficiency, reduces downtime and drastically cuts carbon dioxide emissions.

Figure 1: A mobile app provides information even faster and more efficiently with the additional support of the virtual assistant. Courtesy: ABB

Figure 1: A mobile app provides information even faster and more efficiently with the additional support of the virtual assistant. Courtesy: ABB

What is AR?

Unlike virtual reality, which replaces physical reality with a computer-generated environment, AR superimposes digital information on the physical world.

Through AR technology, operational information is presented in a completely new way — augmented in a person’s view of their real environment and acting as a digital assistant. But crucially, AR makes digital assistance interactive, more practical to absorb and easier to understand and act upon. In other words, its core capabilities are visualize, instruct and interact.

The technology has been around since the early 1990s, but it wasn’t until the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that it was more widely adopted. With international and domestic travel bans in place, operators needed to find alternative ways to carry out essential servicing and maintenance. And that’s where the quantifiable benefits of digital support technology using AR proved compelling.

AR has unlocked post-pandemic productivity by simplifying maintenance, reducing downtime costs and increasing equipment effectiveness via the quality of repairs and speed of resolution. It has also reduced the need to travel to site, but with an expert always to hand, albeit remotely.

Through innovation, we are now connecting remote live experts to real-life customer issues, wherever they are in the world, to reshape the way we interact with them and enable self-learning through first-rate support.

AR also delivers value, making procedures faster, smarter and safer, in a standardized way to facilitate knowledge retention and continuous improvement cycles. For example, remote factory acceptance testing now regularly deploys AR solutions encompassing audio, video, document sharing and live annotations by overlaying digital information onto the equipment operatives are working on, removing the need for customers to visit the manufacturing facility.

Figure 2: At the Dalmine manufacturing site in Bergamo, Italy, a technician uses augmented reality (AR) to troubleshoot systems. Courtesy: ABB

Figure 2: At the Dalmine manufacturing site in Bergamo, Italy, a technician uses augmented reality (AR) to troubleshoot systems. Courtesy: ABB

Solutions in hours not days with AR

Because AR applications work on a multitude of devices, it is no longer a restricted technology either. Even the Android and iOSmobile devices we use in our daily lives can provide the operational gateway to reducing downtime and increased efficiency.

The service expert gets real-time visual insight to the application, accessing chat, images or videos shared by the on-site engineer and in turn helps the customer troubleshoot by guiding through the service process with the aid of interactive tools that visualize and simplify the instructions.

Seeing is believing, of course and some recent outcomes show the value of AR in practice. Together with ABB experts the field service engineers of a leading pulp and paper producer now use Microsoft Hololens headsets imparted with AR technology containing repair strategies and guidance documentation — so that maintenance issues that would normally result in days of downtime for travel, troubleshooting and resolution are instead solved in hours.

Additionally, one of the world’s largest marine shipping operators needed remote maintenance to support problem-solving for its global fleet and reduce the impact of issues while at sea. Service support delivered through AR greatly extended the ability of onboard technicians to address failures they would have otherwise lacked the experience to diagnose and complete.

Specialists could identify issues from thousands of miles away and provide their maintenance crews with instructions to solve problems, thereby eliminating the need for reroutes, port stops and all the associated costs.

Figure 3: Technicians can learn how to troubleshoot and maintain systems without compromising safety. Courtesy: ABB

Figure 3: Technicians can learn how to troubleshoot and maintain systems without compromising safety. Courtesy: ABB

Connected tech

These AR solutions are available as downloadable apps from Google and Apple stores and use AR to overlay the instructions on real equipment to expertly assist customers quickly and efficiently.

Interactive troubleshooting using step-by-step tutorials can be accessed by customers 24/7 for fast and easily accessible guidance through the different steps of key procedures. Facilitating remotely guided repairs and replacement of critical components takes this a step further, because in addition to using live on-screen annotations and digital overlays in the engineer’s field of vision, it also allows taking pictures, as well as audio and video sharing capability and guidance via live text chat.

What’s more, a mobile app provides information even faster and more efficiently with the additional support of the ABB virtual assistant, which finds AR immersive guides, books appointments for either on-site or remote services and pulls together company and other related documentation in a single digital location.

The speed of resolution is tangible and therefore vital in minimizing potentially highly disruptive and costly downtime.

Value added AR solutions should integrate multiple data sources and collaboration tools into the same augmented environment, so that teams can collaborate much more effectively, regardless of their location and get virtually hands on.

As we continue to navigate the challenges of a constantly changing energy landscape, the adoption of AR will only continue to accelerate. This is because providing operators with the visual information needed to fix problems and issues is a winning formula for achieving ongoing improved efficiency, quicker and safer resolutions, plus enhancing asset life and performance.

Quite simply, it empowers end users and boosts positive and proactive interaction, so that for both parties service support is conducted in a faster, more optimized and sustainable way.

AR is very much a smart business reality.


Author Bio: Anna Mazzoleni is Service 4.0 global product manager for ABB Electrification Service. Mazzoleni drives the digital transformation of servicing through extended reality technology, which combines real and virtual environments with human and machine interactions to provide a faster, more efficient and more sustainable service support. Mazzoleni holds a master’s degree in management, finance and international business from the University of Bergamo, Italy that incorporated management and organization studies from Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany.