Augmented Reality: A Service Solution?

It’s a nightmare scenario: your generator won’t start at a critical moment. You check the fuel. You test the spark plugs. Could it be a clogged carburetor? You call the service contractor but they won’t be there for hours. What do you do? Instead of reading the manual and rolling up your sleeves, today you could try holding up your tablet or smart phone and letting augmented reality (AR) not only diagnose the problem but guide the repair.

A handful of heavy equipment companies including Caterpillar, Rolls-Royce, and Siemens Digital Factory are testing AR programs to support equipment repair and maintenance. We wonder: could it offer a more efficient service solution?

AR is an information-enhanced version of a real-world experience. Sensors gather data and transmit the information to a software platform that interprets and displays it on top of a real-world view. This creates a reality enriched by a digital layer.

Imagine if just by aiming your phone at a piece of equipment you could see the engine temperature, levels of vibration and pressure, and electrical output displayed on a dashboard. With augmented reality, operators and technicians in the field have immediate access to maintenance resources, machinery data, and step-by-step part-replacement guidance. They can overlay a 3D model on a piece of equipment or a diagram of the internal components in order to understand the machine’s inner workings.  

Caterpillar has been experimenting with an AR solution for its on-site portable generators. According to Engineering.com the company’s proof of concept gives visual directions of how to perform diagnostics, machine maintenance, and comprehensive safety checks.

And beyond efficiency, studies show that AR technology could improve the accuracy of technicians. Boeing and Iowa State University recently asked test subjects to assemble an airplane wing using a 50-step process. One group was given traditional paper instructions, another a PDF version on a tablet, and the third group a tablet with a camera view screen and instructions in an animation overlay.

The study revealed dramatic differences in performance. The AR group completed the task 30% quicker than those reading instructions from paper or a tablet. Furthermore, those using paper instructions made 8 mistakes on average, the tablet readers made 1, and those using augmented reality made 0.5. AR increased both the participants’ efficiency and accuracy.

And it seems that there are thousands of potential applications across different fields from training activities and design processes, to digital diagnostics and machinery repair.

Could AR technology be the future of heavy equipment maintenance and service? BE_bug_web

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