In a recent interview, Brian Ballard, CEO of Upskill, introduced me to the company's Skylight software platform, which helps companies like Boeing manage their own AR applications. Ballard says just about everyone in manufacturing and warehousing is planning to use AR on a multitude of tasks, using the device best suited to each task, from a humble tablet to the sophisticated HoloLens. Wearable devices like the humble Google Glass, a monocular microdisplay, leave workers' hands-free and keep their eyes on the job. "The time saved falls straight to the bottom line," Ballard explained. He told me Upskill helped Boeing reduce wiring time in some aircraft by an impressive 30%. That could save millions, per jet. We had to look into that.
Fred Edman, Manufacturing Research & Development manager for Boeing brought in Upskill to advise them on AR implementation because of the company’s existing connections to the U.S. Air Force. They liked Upskill’s work so much, they invested in the company. Boeing and Upskill share the same device-agnostic approach; the common thread is Upskill’s Skylight software, which allows the factory to build apps for devices without coding or support.
Paul Davies, Boeing Research & Technology engineer, says “wiring is a pain point.” It is extremely complex and time-consuming, both in production and inspection. In Everett, Washington, where Boeing makes KC-46 Tankers and 767 Freighters, the HoloLens is increasing speed and accuracy of wiring, saving the company millions of dollars. They had previously used tablets to guide the installation of wiring harnesses throughout the aircraft. Boeing also utilizes the HoloLens’ locate features, which helps workers find and replace temporary fasteners used in the fabrication of different parts. The resulting efficiencies have helped the company produce more aircraft at a faster rate.
“AR implementations take a long time,” Edman told me, “The pilots are long, and we measure results carefully before proceeding.” He involves his colleagues in IT because it is critically important that any new device work within the company’s security infrastructure. Edman’s group works across the whole company but is outward facing. Like any innovation officer, his job is to understand the cutting edge of the market and find technologies, AR and non-AR, that help their unique production process. Mundane instances like pin insertion are almost gamified for workers. The results are extraordinary. Not all workers adopt the new system, and Boeing doesn’t force these changes on its high performers. Younger workers acquire mastery much faster.
"Some workers have trouble adjusting at first, but whether it takes a day or a week," said Ballard. "They ultimately embrace it because it makes their job easier and safer." Boeing was so impressed with Upskill's work, and their Skylight enterprise AR platform, they invested in the company.
"We have first-hand experience on the value of Upskill’s Skylight platform and believe the company’s technology will sharpen and accelerate our pace of progress on key growth and productivity efforts, while we help evolve and enhance Skylight through real-world manufacturing applications,” said Steve Nordlund, vice president and general manager of Boeing NeXt, the division that incubates and builds new seamless mobility solutions and the next-generation ecosystem that will bring flight closer to home.
This story is a subchapter in my upcoming book, Convergence, How The World Will Be Painted With Data, to be released on March 12, 2019.
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