CTS attended this year’s LiveWorx event in Boston to hear from some augmented reality pioneers who discussed their early endeavours to create business value from the highly promising technology

Augmented reality (AR) technology is here now, and companies of all shapes and sizes are utilising it to change the way work gets done and to drive better outcomes for themselves and their clients. According to Tom Mainelli of IDC service-based organisations should be among the first to embrace this new technology or they could face near-term disruption of their business. “Beyond the service elements within a wide range of enterprises, we also see strong interest in AR inside of companies that have specific needs around knowledge transfer and training, sales and marketing, and manufacturing,” he says. “When you sum these major groups together, the result is that a huge number of companies are already using AR.”

According to IDC’s Worldwide Augmented and Virtual Reality Spending Guide, in 2017, companies spent more than $3.6 billion worldwide on AR hardware, software, and services, and that number is set to grow to more than $8 billion in 2018. While most companies were still in the early stages of testing, a surprisingly large number of them were already moving from proof of concept into pilots, from pilots into the early stage of deployment, or from early stage deployments into late-stage deployments

“AR technology is exciting because it brings real-world benefits to organizations left out of the digital transformation wave,” Mainelli adds. “Why? Because in many cases, the job to be done, the process to be revised, or the knowledge to be transferred requires at least one foot in the physical world and one foot in the digital world. AR helps bridge this gap by bringing digital assets into the real world — content viewable on mobile devices such as smartphones as well as using headsets that let workers engage with the content hands free. The result is that in the space of a few years, companies stuck with using paper based processes, that are dealing with aging expert populations, or that have been looking for ways to iterate more rapidly in manufacturing have found the tools they need to move into the 21st century.”

PTC’s offering in the market is the Vuforia AR Enterprise Suite that provides industrial enterprises with a powerful new way to publish work instructions, transfer expertise, provide hands-on training, and deliver remote assistance. “Our mission at PTC is to change how the two billion front line workers do their work, to deliver increased productivity both of the worker themselves, as well as the machines that they’re working on,” Hillary Ashton, executive VP/general manager AR, PTC says. “To reduce scrap and re-work, or waste as we call it, and to improve worker safety in compliance with standard operating procedures and regulations. That’s really where we’re focused from an AR standpoint.”

Once in a lifetime opportunity
Santa Clara, California-based GlobalFoundries will deploy AR headsets and software using Vuforia software, which can do things like superimpose animations on AR glasses so that a worker can see precisely which valve to turn on a complex piece of machinery.

According to DP Prakash PhD, global head of innovation at GlobalFoundries AR presents an opportunity of a lifetime. “In 1960s the IBM main frame came along and changed the game from there on, followed by the internet and the iPhone, and so on,” he says. “Taking all of that, those kinds of shifts are what we have today. I believe will create an exponential flow for innovation. This is going to change every part of every industry that’s on the planet.”

“We are transforming every part of our workflow through the use of innovative technologies, including augmented reality. The AR platform, which integrates point solutions, is a game-changer on this journey. Vuforia Expert Capture, for example, has quickly helped us set a new global standard for creating best-in-class SOPs to accelerate training and reduce variability at the source. With successful results already achieved from our initial roll-out, wherein we’ve seen up to a 50 per cent reduction in training time, we look forward to capitalizing on other Vuforia-powered transformation initiatives in the future.”

Something old, something new
When you think of companies that are on the cutting edge of AR a traditional heavy engineering firm such as Howdens would probably not spring to mind. For over a century, Howden’s global engineering business has focused on providing customers with industrial products and quality solutions that help multiple sectors improve their everyday processes; from mine ventilation and wastewater treatment to heating and cooling.

“I love telling this story because it’s an incredible story of transformation, transformation and consistency at the same time,” Maria Wilson, global leader data driven advantage, Howden, says. “We’ve taken so many new technologies to the world throughout this century and all through our existence.”

About five years ago, much like other OEMs Howdens started feel the pressure to get on the industry 4.0 bandwagon. “This is the reality of the big industrial players, when you hear something and you don’t know what it means, you just put it in R&D,” Wilson says. “That’s pretty much how we started.

“Our leadership team recognised that industry 4.0 is coming, they didn’t really understand what that was about, so it landed in the R&D department. For about a year and a half, we tinkered. It takes a lot of bravery from the leadership team to say, ‘We don’t know how this is going to have an impact on our profit or loss line, but you guys need to figure out how to move forward.’ We tried a few things.
“We quickly decided that we needed an IoT platform that would see beyond the limit of digital enablement. We tried a few platforms before Thingworx, but none of them could actually step up and provide an IoT platform that’s easy to use, doesn’t intimidate the mechanical engineers and has a natural flow of the user experience. It was the obvious choice for us.”

“When we had found a partner that gave us all of these, what we realized is that we’re looking at it from a relatively narrow angle that we didn’t really have the big vision of the piece yet. That’s when the leadership team became involved again. My advice would be that you cannot go into digital transformation without having a vision, and your leadership team committed to that vision.

“Our leadership team is 150% behind our vision, and our vision that nobody knows how to design and manufacture the equipment better than us. What we don’t know is how to develop machine learning algorithms. What we don’t know is how to create an incubation lab where people can play with artificial intelligence. This could be intimidating because digital is all about loose concepts. Our vision became clearer when we said we wouldn’t need to worry about that. The idea of us digitally transforming is that we could create more customers more value, more value to our customers, and that’s when it became clearer.”

Wilson says that for them AR is a journey and it is hard for me to say where it will end. “We’re using AR in our factories, we’re using AR to create smart work construction that are deployed in the factory for our workers, for service location engineers in the field, as well as for self-enablement for our customers. We’re using AR in the part design process. Our engineers today, typically the kind of engineers that are used to looking at a 2D drawing today, they’re looking at a 2D drawing, and they see the holographic projection of that factory and it’s the most impactful transformation in the design process that we’ve ever seen.”

Expediting retail repair
For Fujitsu in the UK the use case was apparent from the start, to expedite service and repairs at it retail sales infrastructure including tills and pin pads. But for David Taylor, technical consultant Fujitsu it has been an interrupted journey to AR. “I’m very much a technology geek at heart,” he says. “My personal journey with AR started around 1996 when I some of the low-quality early offerings. It took an awful long time for me to sort of re-engage with the technology. In 2015, when I joined – what we call the innovation hub within Fujitsu, we had free reign to look at any technology that we thought we could turn into a business advantage.”

For taylor the challenge was to understand how customers felt about AR and the technology behind it. “Understanding how they felt about the wearables and how the wearables interact with different software, and how people themselves interact with that piece of hardware was what we needed to understand,” he says. “The main feedback from customers was that the device must be hands-free and had to work offline, which was obviously going to be quite a significant jump for us.”

Another key consideration was time to market. “We decided to wait really until the market and the technology developed to a point where we could start ticking a lot more of those boxes,” Taylor explains. “When Vuforia launched the use of object recognition capability we grasped it at that point because we could start doing object recognition offline because we don’t need to use markers anymore. We can roll out software on multiple devices and on different platforms. Therefore, we realized then at the point we could start investigating and focusing on the content creation piece as well.

“Our retail customers have lots of problems with basic things such as till systems or pin pads that fail, or some minor networking components that fail. So, by being able to tie together the AR software capability and understanding the problems our customers are having, we realized that we should be building the generic tools that allows us to be able to provide support to those customers on site. It allowed us to be able to repair and tackle the problems they see on a day to day basis.

“If there’s a problem with the pin pad, the traditional process would be to be pick up the phone and contact our service desk to request either a swap or engineer visit. The software allows the individual to quickly capture the object into pin pad, the pin pad is recognized, and that end user without any training at all will be prompted to select the particular workflow which relates to the issue that the device that has failed. They are then taken through that AR process without ever needing to contact our service desk or call out an engineer and trying to resolve that problem themselves.”

Providing power on demand
Aggreko started looking at both AR in the spring of 2018 for training and development. “We recognised the benefits because it’s immersive, it’s engaging, there was excitement, people were really got excited participating in it,” Walter Davis, head of talent and learning applications Aggreko says. “There hasn’t been anyone who we’ve put through our experiences that wasn’t really excited and smiling as they did it.”

For the Aggreko learning teams, ease of deployment is critical. “We don’t have a lot of programmers and we can’t heavily invest in customisation,” Davis explains. “We need to have something that we can package quickly and consistently and that we can easily manage on our own. If we want to re-use some our existing resources and upscale them. Again, we didn’t want to hire programmers or specialists for specific roles. We wanted to upscale some of our existing roles.

“After we looked at a few products last year, we realized PTC stood out as having a click-to-deal platform that really appealed to us. It was really comparable to other tools that are attractive from a financial point of view, whether they were moving from Photoshop for graphics, or they were moving to a more structured client-centric tool like Storyline or Adobe Captivate, it had a very similar experience on the user interface click-to-deal, drag and drop. We started our journey with PTC probably around last fall, and we’ve moved past the concept and the pilot, and are now working towards our first roll out.”

Taking a step back to look at the evolution of AR technology in recent years, it is clear that AR is poised to have a breakout year. Research and analysis show that industrial enterprises are exiting the awareness phase and are working quickly to integrate AR into their digital transformation strategy to optimize their workforce and beyond. Market analysts’ forecasts predict that industrial augmented reality has the potential to create significant economic disruption and impact.