If you’re from a manufacturing background, you’re almost certain to be familiar with Industry 4.0. Apart from its reputation as cutting-edge technology for manufacturing and quality assurance, AR has garnered considerable attention in repair and maintenance scenarios, even outside the manufacturing industry, which served as its foundation.
Now, let’s examine why AR captures the imaginations of maintenance and repair managers worldwide and whether its disadvantages deter them from pursuing the initiative.
How does augmented reality work in repair and maintenance?
The primary function of an AR application is to simplify the life of a service technician by providing them with all necessary maintenance/repair data for a particular service case. The application accomplishes this by performing the following steps:
Step 1: Identify the equipment (or a problem with it)
Technicians use augmented reality applications installed on mobile devices or smart glasses/headsets to maintain the equipment. While smart glasses enable hands-free access to necessary data, mobile devices, particularly tablets, provide a wider field of vision and are more affordable.
Regardless of the device on which it is installed, the repair and maintenance augmented reality app utilises image recognition to compare the camera’s live feed to a large database of related images. This way, it automatically determines the equipment’s model or the source of the problem.
Step 2: Collecting pertinent augmented reality data about the identified issue/equipment
After identifying the equipment or issue, the app immediately accesses all augmented reality data (tips, scenario steps, voiced guide, etc.) associated with that model or issue. Nota bene: In the case of routine maintenance or repairs performed by an experienced technician who is confident in manually selecting the equipment/problem from the app’s menu, this step can serve as a jumping-off point.
Step 3: Real-time augmentation of camera feed with augmented reality content
The augmented reality app utilises image recognition algorithms to dynamically augment live camera feeds (with equipment in focus) with a variety of content types, including:
- Text and/or graphic elements (technical documentation and manuals)
- Video clips (see an example here).
- Three-dimensional objects.
Clearly, 3D objects and videos are the most effective visual aids, particularly when it comes to complex equipment manipulations. Simple text and images, on the other hand, can be extremely useful in less elaborate service scenarios.
Additionally, augmented reality apps provide technicians with a comprehensive list of actions (accompanied by animations or illustrations) that guide them through the entire service process.
Apart from the augmented reality functionality, maintenance apps may include an integrated video communication feature. Technicians can consult an expert via video call while demonstrating the serviced equipment using Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or any other VoIP messenger integrated with the AR app.
Additionally, the speech-to-text feature can be beneficial. It enables technicians to take notes during the service process without impeding it with a smartphone or notepad.
AR advantages in terms of repair and maintenance
Rather than spending considerable time investigating each complex repair case, you can use an augmented reality repair app to:
- Increase equipment uptime by reducing mean time to repair and improving the quality of maintenance -> significantly lower downtime costs.
- Increase your field service technicians’ first-time-fix rates -> eliminate operational costs associated with unnecessary travel.
- Reduce technician training time -> lower employee onboarding costs.
- Provide self-service repair and maintenance to your customers -> reduce associated operational costs and field service wait times.
All of these benefits naturally result in an increase in service quality and customer satisfaction, which can be leveraged to create a stellar competitive advantage with some marketing and sales efforts.
AR applications and challenges in repair and maintenance
Here are some companies that are already utilising augmented reality apps for repair and maintenance, along with the results they have obtained:
- Bosch – automotive repair (reported a 15 percent fix-time decrease for simple car repairs).
- ThyssenKrupp – elevator repair (reported a 75 percent decrease in service time overall).
- Huawei – repair of DC-to-AC solar inverters (reported a significant reduction in technicians’ cognitive load and a reduction in service time).
However, as amazing as these use cases are, implementing an augmented reality application is not without its challenges:
- Employees’ reluctance to adapt to such cutting-edge technology as augmented reality may slow app adoption, especially if you opt for smart glasses (but this is easily remedied with a motivation strategy and employee training).
- Preparing augmented reality content can take an inordinate amount of time and money, but you cannot skimp on it because, at the end of the day, your augmented reality application is only as good as your data. However, our 3D designers and business analysts have a few tricks up their sleeves for expediting the content preparation process (e.g., using computer-aided design data that you can get from your product engineering team).
As you can see, the magnitude of the challenges does not outweigh the benefits of an augmented reality solution. If you have any remaining questions or would like to discuss developing an augmented reality app for your repair/maintenance team, please contact me.