How Wearable Technologies Can Transform Field Service and Maintenance
IMT Staff posted on September 05, 2014 | 9620 views

wearable computers, maintenance, field service, techniciansWearable technology such as smartglasses hold great potential for raising productivity and turning the manufacturing environment into an immersive, interactive one. Such devices can ”augment reality” by providing shop managers and production workers streams of information about the real-time performance and condition of machinery on the factory floor.

However, while wearables on the production line represent an exciting prospect, they are also finding applications in such areas as maintenance, field service, and warehousing.

Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner says very few companies -- less than 1 percent in the United States -- have deployed smartglasses. However, the analyst believes the number could grow to 10 percent over the next five years.

Gartner says field service is the area that is most likely to benefit from smartglasses in the near term. In fact, Angela McIntyre, research director, estimates companies in that field could increase their profits by $1 billion annually through greater efficiency and cost-effectiveness brought on by the use of wearable technology by field technicians and inspectors.

How-to instructions and illustrations on smartglasses displays enable workers to perform tasks even if they do not remember all the procedures. Video collaboration with experts in remote locations results in faster repairs and saves the expense of flying an expert to the site to help. These collaborations can be recorded and stored as reference material for future jobs, as well as video evidence for use in disputes or investigations.

Hubert Selvanathan, principal at Waterstone Management Group, an advisory firm focused on serving the technology sector, sees a substantial opportunity in the maintenance function. “A lot of equipment is very complex,” he told ThomasNet News in an interview. “Sometimes maintenance workers have the schematics with them, but sometimes they just go with their intuition, which is risky.”

Wearable technology such as smartglasses can deliver detailed information to technicians on the spot. The technician can display schematics on a head-up display (HUD) in the user’s field of vision, eliminating having to look down on a control panel. “If they’re not sure where to connect a pressure gage or how to read a sensor,” Selvanathan said, “they can connect in real time with a maintenance supervisor or with a peer to get advice.”

Metso Corp., based in Helsinki, Finland, a diversified company that operates in mining, construction, energy, and pulp and paper, recognizes the potential value of smartglasses technology because of its considerable investment in facility maintenance and repair. Based on its own research, smartglasses could be used to make field service calls much more productive and efficient.

Mika Karaila, research program manager for Metso Automation, told ThomasNet News that the company has built a smartglasses prototype for maintenance and services tasks, using Vuzix's M100 Smart Glasses. The prototype is able to access cloud resources to call up a task list, pull in sensor data, and display a live trend from that data as a chart. The device can be controlled by gestures, using the index finger as a “mouse.”

A video by Metso portrays the concept, with a service technician arriving at a facility and his smartglasses displaying a list of tasks and equipment needing attention. An app provides navigation throughout the facility, bringing him to a machine that requires service, and delivers step-by-step instructions. The glasses deliver a live feed of data and operational information for the equipment. 

When he finds that he needs extra assistance, he uses hand gestures to call up the company phone directory on his HUD and places a video call with a technical support representative, sharing his field of vision with the remote specialist who helps walk the technician through his task.

Selvanathan of Waterstone sees some barriers to adoption of wearables, such as employee resistance to new technologies and difficulties with introducing innovations within organizations. However, he said, “The biggest question right now is, what are the use cases for wearables? Then, what are the ROI and economic benefits that can be derived from them?”

Read More at ThomasNet 

This article was originally published on ThomasNet News Industry Market Trends  and is reprinted with permission from Thomas Industrial Network.  For more stories like this please visit Industry Market Trends


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