We continue to chronicle the use of Augmented Reality (AR) technology by a wide range of enterprises which are increasing productivity, accuracy, and worker satisfaction. On the consumer side, AR is seeping into apps we use every day. Google Maps’ AR update, for example, is a huge and visible improvement that uses AI, computer vision and geolocation to anchor devices within inches of their physical location. AR is now frequently showing up in advertising as well.
Not surprisingly, the companies serving the enterprise market are growing in number and size, including public companies like Microsoft and PTC, the large consultancies like Deloitte, Accenture, and McKinsey, and startups with their own AR development and delivery platforms like REFLEKT, Ubimax, Scope AR, Atheer, and Upskill. They work as both consultants and vendors, guiding clients in implementation and leaving them with proprietary tools (a source of recurring revenue) so they can update their AR apps themselves without having to do coding.
“Use case adoption and customer business goals have shown that industrial enterprises are starting Augmented Reality projects internally, often piloting one or two use cases within their operations or service functions to prove value before expanding AR initiatives. Companies universally recognize the importance and benefits of adopting ARfor their internal use. In today’s business climate of razor-thin operating margins and mounting economic pressures, the race for efficiency is starting to receive a nitrous boost from AR,” said Mike Campbell, EVP for Augmented Reality at PTC in a 2018 company White Paper.
According to ARtillery Research, by 2022 the global market for enterprise AR applications is estimated at more than $14.2 billion dollars. “We all agree that AR has the makings to boost enterprise productivity. The question is when. Typical organizational inertia slows things down, but momentum will build to a tipping point around 2020, which will be followed by accelerated adoption. We saw the same thing with enterprise smartphone adoption,” said Mike Boland, Chief Analyst, ARtillry Intelligence. “Every single company in this space says the same thing: the sweet spot for enterprise AR is assembly, warehousing, repair and maintenance, and remote experts.”
In the fall of 2018, Microsoft shared a report it commissioned from Harvard Business Review. “The findings in the report are fascinating,” said Lorraine Bardeen, General Manager, Mixed Reality Workplace at Microsoft. “Among a great many observations, we learned that 87 percent of respondents are currently exploring, piloting, or deploying mixed reality in their company workflows. Similarly, 68 percent of respondents believe that mixed reality will play an important role in helping to achieve their companies’ strategic goals over the next 18 months.” According to the report, most of the companies surveyed have some certitude that this new technology will help them improve training, productivity and customer satisfaction. By using mixed reality (MR) to enable remote assistance, data visualization, sales, collaboration, inspection and repairs in diverse business verticals, companies can yield significant savings (i.e. profits) by augmenting their workforce.
Many large companies today have a Chief Innovation Officer, whose mission is to discover and invent new methods to improve the business process. Generally, these executives are closely aligned with the CTO. Typically a proof-of-concept (POC) is developed so key stakeholders can participate and evaluate. A pilot is serious business and is generally in a segregated piece of the workflow that functions alongside current methods, and its results are closely watched. It is critical the devices merge seamlessly with the company’s technology and security protocols. The Innovation team must stay ahead of the curve, establish relationships, and become conversant in their own processes so they can follow the most promising leads. Everything starts with a whiteboard and they bring to the inside what they have learned on the outside.
Outside integrators are device agnostic. They choose the hardware that’s right for the job. Often it’s as simple as using a smartphone or a pad. If workers need their hands free, monocular microdisplays like Google Glass and the Vuzix M-300 are popular for their ease-of-use. Boeing uses AR in a number of its plants (the use case is below), and the diversity of devices used is surprising and instructive.
Three other things everyone says about Enterprise AR are (1) foster bottom-up innovation; your workers know what is inefficient better than you do, (2) start small, and simple. Don’t blow everything up and, (3) be methodical when implementing. Proof-of-concept, pilot, then implement. Fostering bottom-up innovation takes time and education, one highly measurable step at a time.
This is the practical side of AR, and it’s where the money is right now. Much of this is not technically Augmented Reality, it’s Assisted Reality because it does not involve the camera or any combination of the real and the virtual. Still, Assisted Reality on Google Glass is a baby step toward mass adoption. Like the personal computer, it starts with the military, flows through the enterprise, and reaches the apex of its development for the consumer.
To better understand how companies are using AR in their process, we’ve gathered a number of case studies that illustrate specific, low risk/high reward instances of AR implementation in the workflow.
PWO — Efficient Remote Support (Ubimax)
As a specialist for lightweight metal components and subsystems, the Progress-Werk Oberkirch (PWO) operates as a global development and production partner in the automotive industry. PWO approached Ubimax in order to help improve the communication between workers and experts. Issues on site needed to be remedied with expert assistance, but the time and cost of travel between the expert’s location and the site proved challenging. By utilizing xAssist, a Ubimax Frontline software, PWO were able to receive real-time assistance, hands-free with the use of smart glasses. Via video transmission, the remote expert sees exactly what the worker sees on site and interacts through on-screen annotations. This allows him to better understand the overall context and provide specific troubleshooting instructions. The live support through smart glasses enables the worker to start repairing simultaneously with guided assistance, thus minimizing further problems. By using xAssist in combination with Vuzix M300 smart glasses, costly and time-consuming downtimes can be avoided at PWO. Furthermore, due to the connection to the server, PWO can document errors and consider them to be included in future maintenance plans. Using the xAssist employees feel empowered to problem-solve and improve their daily work processes.
Schnellecke- Logistics Sequencing (Ubimax)
Schnellecke Logistics site in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, sequences the required small and large parts for automobiles directly at the plant so that the right parts for the vehicle variant being built are always available just-in-time and just-in-sequence. Previously, this was done on the basis of long paper lists. The process was time-consuming, slow and error-prone. Schnellecke Logistics opted for the Ubimax Frontline AR platform with the xPick application combined with Ubimax’s wrist-worn RFID reader, xBand. This enables multi-order picking for up to 24 vehicles simultaneously. The paper lists were replaced by electronic displays in the form of Windows 10 Professional-based tablets. The mobile tablets are operated in holders on the trolleys to be loaded. The implementation of the project took only four weeks to prepare and two weeks to roll out locally and saves approximately 20% of the time thanks to the optimized information supply. It also reduces the picking or sequencing error rate to almost zero, particularly through the step-by-step guidance along the process. Both the removal and storage of parts on the trolley are confirmed RFID- based by the xBand, which ensures error-free results and making the labor-intensive quality control now obsolete.
Aris MD uses diagnostic images (DICOM) to create 3D visualizations of patient anatomy, displaying it over the patient so surgeons can see a patient’s unique individual internal makeup. This allows surgeons to make fewer mistakes related to anatomical variances (the differences between each person’s individual anatomy) and improves efficiency in the operating room. In addition to visualizing patient anatomy, ARis MD’s automated segmentation technology allows images to be separated into individual organs and parts without the need for a radiologist to manually mark up images, and without the use of 3D modeling techniques.
The use of Augmented Reality for diagnostics and surgical applications is very compelling; bringing images traditionally viewed in 2D slices to three dimensions allows for organic viewing and more intuitive understanding. This takes the burden of reconstructing three-dimensional images off of the diagnosing physician and allows them to instead focus solely on making a diagnosis. Aris MD lets physicians visualize imaging in real-time without pre- or post-processing, making for faster and more effective diagnosis.
Bupa is an international healthcare group serving 32 million customers in 190 countries. In this use case, Bupa’s challenge was to improve the Fire Warden training at their care homes in the UK. Currently, they found delegates disengaged from the importance of the course and the trainers disliked delivering the training session. The challenge was to create an engaging practical experience that got delegates out of their seats and physically moving around the care homes in a simulated fire situation to assess the evacuation needs of the residents. The solution needed to be easy for the trainers to access and set up in a wide range of different buildings. This experience consisted of a number of posters withzapcodesthat were placed around the care home. Delegates would scan these codes and follow on-screen information to make decisions and move to the next room.
To make the experience more challenging and to introduce some mild peril, a fire alarm sounds throughout, and time is limited to two minutes with the phone vibrating every 10 seconds, to remind the user that time is running out. The success of this campaign was measured on the emotional reaction of the delegates and the impact this had on the training effectiveness. According to Bupa, the results were “outstanding”. Not only did the AR experience fulfill their goal of getting people out of their seats and moving around the building, but it energized the training sessions and made delegates much more engaged, encouraging active learning through doing and thus aiding memory recall. The time limit also injected a bit of competition between the delegates.
Setting up the training in multiple care homes was simple. The fact that it did not require any additional hardware, other than the delegates’ own devices, was highly valued by the trainers.
Cannondale, a global leader in cycling equipment, is gaining a competitive advantage by offering PTC’s Vuforia AR solutions with several of its bikes. The AR experience created in Vuforia Studio provides service instructions and marketing information for the benefit of both customers and bike retailers. Customers and dealers can use the 3D in-context instructions to streamline the service of bikes. Bike dealers can showcase features, help with service and parts inventory replenishment, and provide Cannondale brand messaging to customers. The AR experience also provides a key voice-of-the- product feedback loop for the Cannondale team, in addition to differentiating the service experience.
BAE Systems (PTC)
As a global defense leader, BAE Systems is dedicated to solving complex problems using innovative technologies. Because of the immense popularity of its Hybrid- rive buses — demands for the company’s battery cells had increased by 350%. BAE realized it needed to accelerate their battery assembly process to reduce the backlog and deliver to customers on time. As such, BAE used PTC’s Vuforia Studio to cost-effectively create immersive Mixed Reality Experiences for Microsoft HoloLens to accelerate the assembly of complex battery cells for their HybriDrive buses. Using Vuforia Studio BAE was able to leverage existing CAD data and animated sequences from PTC’s Creo Illustrate, subject matter experts created immersive 3D MR work instructions, increasing throughput by 50% and reducing training time by 30%.
AGCO is a global leader in the design, manufacture and distribution of agricultural equipment. Due to the massive size of its equipment, AGCO’s training practices have been severely limited. It is physically impossible for them to bring the equipment into a classroom for hands-on training. GSI captured photos of its equipment and created PowerPoints to explain key parts and processes. Each training class was a week long and AGCO typically trains 200–300 technicians a year. Using PTC’s Vuforia Studio, AGCO leveraged its exist- ing 3D models to create immersive, step-by-step Mixed Reality content for Microsoft HoloLens. These easily consumable training and installation experiences improved comprehension and reduced training time by 60%.
Leybold — MAINTENANCE APP (RE’FLEKT)
Manufacturers of complex industrial machinery often face two main challenges with their customers. First, how can they effectively educate their potential customers on key technical differentiators that separate their products from their competitors? Machinery is often too large to bring to a customer, too expensive to dismantle, or too complex for a simple explanation. How can the manufacturers support customers in a cost-effective way that maintains machinery and increases uptime without involving expensive specialists? The Leybold Maintenance App solves both these challenges by empowering Leybold customers to visually explore the components and features of its TURBOVAC 350–450 I/IX line. In addition, Leybold customers can learn how to do a bearing exchange through an easy to follow step-by-step guide in AR-allowing inexperienced users and technicians to maintain pumps on their own.
Every second counts in a car accident. In November 2013, Daimler launched the MB Assist app for smartphones and tablets to provide rescuers with immediate digital rescue information about the vehicles involved in a crash. Emergency services and first responders have since been able to scan QR stickers located on the vehicles to digitally view the location of potentially hazardous internal components (such as fuel lines and high voltage connections). After 2 years of successful implementation, Daimler improved the visual representation of structural information by using Augmented Reality to project 3D visualizations of internal components of every Daimler manufactured from 1990 onwards directly onto the crashed vehicle.
Unilever (Scope AR)
Unilever is a British-Dutch consumer goods manufacturing and distribution company with worldwide operations. Over the next 5 years, Unilever will lose over 330 years of collective experience as an aging workforce retires. This draining of expert knowledge will have increasing impacts. Their average downtime is very costly and continues to increase across twenty different service areas. Scope AR’s Remote Assist technology enables inexperienced workers to access experts using on-demand visual communication, and share their view with a remote expert. Unilever is quickly able to demonstrate a significant improvement and knowledge distribution, 50% reduction in downtime and a 1,717% direct ROI relative to the cost of Remote AR.
Lockheed Martin (Scope AR)
Lockheed Martin is an American global aerospace, defense, security and advanced technologies company. Using Scope AR’s WorkLink Augmented Reality platform, they are able to greatly improve efficiencies and save time on the shop floor for multi-billion dollar space programs. They have seen a 35–50% reduction in overall technician time, a 90–99% reduction in time to information, and an 85% reduction in the overall time needed for training.
Prince Castle (Scope AR)
Prince Castle is the leader in holding, steaming, toasting and smallwares technology. Their customers depend on contractors to perform equipment maintenance and repairs. Using Scope AR’s Remote AR telepresence application, they are able to have contractors service the equipment in a much more efficient way. They have vastly reduced equipment downtown and support costs and now have a first-time diagnosis success rate of a 100%, a 50% reduction in service trips needed and a 50–85% reduction in labor costs.
This story was drawn directly from my upcoming book, Convergence, How The World Will Be Painted With Data, being released on March 12, 2019.