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Augmented Reality Takes Field Service to a New Level

Field service technicians often work in cramped and inconvenient locations, and they don't want to go back and forth between the device they're working on and a service manual. In many situations, a better approach is an augmented reality display. It lets them view the equipment they're working on and information about it at a single glance. Field service promises to be one of the biggest growth areas for Augmented Reality (AR).

How AR Works in the Field

Augmented reality is different from virtual reality. It's a technology that allows viewing real objects while adding computer-generated information to the display. The most attention-grabbing versions use a headset, but it can use a tablet or smartphone to display the combined information.

The technician is still viewing the surroundings, including the device being serviced. The display superimposes information on the real-world view. It could include temperature and pressure readings, part numbers, and descriptions. Service manuals and diagrams might be available to view.

The tech can select the information using gestures or voice commands. One option could be to view a complex machine with its parts labeled. Other views could focus in on one part and show detailed information.

Integration with IoT

At a minimum, the AR device pulls information from a server that supplies information on the equipment under service. If the device has sensors and controls which are connected to the IoT, then a lot more interaction is possible. The device will report its own make and model number, automatically bringing up the information needed to service it. This saves the technician the trouble of finding and reading labels and requesting information based on them.

The technician can observe the device parameters and see how they change with the running of tests. If the equipment is part of an integrated system, readouts from other components will help to find exactly where the problem lies.

Networked sensors will play a role in alerting service managers to problems. If a sensor reports a reading outside the acceptable range, it can issue an alert to check the equipment.

Remote Assistance

Augmented reality can save on trips to the site. A camera and sensors can provide a remote view of the equipment with data readings, letting a technician determine whether there's a problem and what type of repair will be necessary.

A technician at the site can call in assistance, letting a specialist see the same view and send additional information or make recommendations. In some cases, the customer may be able to make the repair with the help of a remote guide, saving a trip.

Training

AR will open up many opportunities for training field service people. Views of equipment with basic information superimposed will let them familiarize themselves with its operation. They can observe a service procedure in progress, with on-screen labels explaining each step.

The Challenges

The equipment needed will depend on the situation. Headsets provide a hands-free experience, which is valuable in some settings, but they're the most expensive option. In other cases, an off-the-shelf smartphone or tablet will do the job less expensively. In some environments, a ruggedized device may be most appropriate.

AR works best with connected (IoT) equipment that can provide data about itself. It will take time to replace older devices with new ones that provide more information about their status, and AR will achieve maximum usefulness only once this happens. It won't be an overnight change, but as new-generation equipment is deployed, it will provide broad opportunities for new field-service technology.

Technicians will need training in the use of the AR devices. Once they see how much easier the technology makes their job, they'll be eager to learn.

Some exciting demonstrations of combined IoT and AR technologies are now available that show exactly how AR works. This technology is about to transform field-service management. To Learn More, Contact www.servicepower.com

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