Wearable Technology: An All-In-One Answer to Field Service Challenges

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What is wearable technology?

Wearable technology encompasses a variety of versatile digital devices that can be worn on the body, embedded or contained within clothing, and even tattooed onto the skin.

The leading benefit for companies adopting wearable technology for their workers is straightforward, in that handheld devices are replaced by tools like smart glasses, freeing service experts to use their hands in complex or risky work situations.

Deloitte has called wearable technology a “workforce superpower.” According to the firm, technological advancements such as augmented reality (AR) are improving the viability and utility of wearables. Hardware, also called smart glasses and AR headsets, is becoming “smaller, lighter, and more affordable.” As a result, these devices form an increasingly irreplaceable part of an enterprise’s Internet of Things (IoT). In fact, one study even suggested that half of manufacturing companies around the world would embrace wearable tech by 2022.

With all this in mind, what are the benefits of incorporating AR wearable technology into service operations?

Furthermore, how can companies decide on the most advanced wearable platform that gives them an edge?

The rise in popularity of wearable technology

In 2020, SightCall partnered with The Service Council to gain insight into the capabilities, needs, and desires of field service organizations all over the world. Our survey concluded that field service technicians overwhelmingly agreed that the products and equipment they work with on a regular basis had become more complex since they first began their careers. Customer and management demands have intensified, adding both mental and physical pressure to what is often a stressful job to begin with.

Responding to these concerns, numerous companies are looking closely at tools that simplify technician processes, removing redundant steps from their work to create more time for the completion of productive tasks.

The COVID-19 pandemic is expected to push wearable technology spending to nearly $82 billion in 2021 alone. For businesses joining this trend, specific reasons for turning to wearable devices include the ability to enable quicker and more immersive training experiences, a considerable benefit for time and cost-pressured companies bringing in new technicians, and even upskilling existing workers.

Less experienced technicians and engineers can use a wearable to access AR and AI-powered visual assistance that guides them through new repairs and complicated work orders. Another reason is that these AR tools are also capable of creating safer environments on factory and warehouse floors. Given their ability to overlay pivotal information directly onto a worker’s field of vision, the use of tools like smart glasses means less of a need for digital devices that are held, a feature that will be explored in greater detail below.

What are the benefits of wearable technology?

When it comes to technicians being able to rapidly and safely diagnose, inspect and resolve work orders in complex environments, while also using a platform with superior integration capabilities, products like RealWear and Vuzix provide an ideal answer. SightCall’s integrations with these AR headset technologies turn the traditional field service model on its head, making expertise in the field available to the field remotely.

RealWear is an industry leader for voice-operated headset computers and assisted reality wearable solutions to help people improve safety and increase productivity at work.

Vuzix is a leading supplier of AR headsets or smart glasses and other products for the consumer and enterprise markets. The company’s products include an array of personal display and wearable computing devices, offering users a portable, high-quality viewing experience, solutions for mobility, wearable displays, and AR.

Hands-free software solutions enable businesses in sectors like energy, manufacturing, and automotive to gain instant knowledge with a remote mentor, document navigation, industrial internet of things (IoT) visualization, and digital workflow solutions, empowering and connecting their global workforce.

The operational advantages for using both solutions are myriad. Here are eight of them.

Benefit 1: A reduced paper trail

More wearables mean a decreased need for paper. Important documentation like product manuals and documents are able to be shared through live video, allowing companies to both reduce their carbon footprint and bolster their record-keeping capabilities.

Benefit 2: Hands-free Augmented Reality Capabilities

Augmented reality (AR) powered visual assistance blends the physical and digital worlds to create an environment that empowers workers to handle even the most intricate and challenging tasks. Digital work instructions are placed onto real-world objects to provide the guidance and expertise needed to service critical equipment.

Benefit 3: The added benefit of live, real-time AI insights

Field service organizations can use artificial intelligence insights to enhance their workforce’s skills and increase efficiency.

For instance, deep-learning computer vision can aid field maintenance by identifying products and equipment, diagnosing problems, and disseminating feedback. From there, these insights can be processed in real-time with an AR headset or wearable device like RealWear or Vuzix.

Benefit 4: Safer working environments

Technicians handling dangerous, onerous, or heavy equipment, those working in high-pressure environments, or experts navigating remote locations can all be kept safer with their hands-free to engage with the world around them. Headsets provide a particular benefit when they are working by themselves versus with a team of technicians.

Benefit 5: Reduction in job errors

Besides eradicating paper checklists, wearable technologies place relevant information right in front of technicians, stopping workers from relying on memory. They can automatically log incidents and issues in real-time from their smart glasses.

Benefit 6: Decreased training time

Junior technicians can be brought up to speed quickly with immersive field training – and hands-free becomes even more hands-on. When wearing an AR headset, the student quickly becomes the apprentice and can learn how to make repairs by performing them with remote guidance.

Benefit 7: Increased productivity

Technicians using AR wearables are freed up to perform higher-value tasks, with the ability to digitally pull product information and repair history, access maintenance documentation, and obtain technical instructions allowing them to automate and streamline work orders.

And with the addition of digital process automation (DPA) to provide step-by-step instructions for how to collect data and complete complex field service tasks, these benefits to productivity become even greater.

Benefit 8: An ideal partner for digital process automation

The definition of digital process automation is the use of technology to optimize workflows by automating processes within them. With the help of standardized, step-by-step guidance, including detailed instructions and checklists, technicians and service workers can complete tasks with no ambiguity or confusion.

The path to completing a field service work order starts well before anyone is dispatched from the service provider’s office or warehouse, with the collection of preliminary job information that the technician needs to resolve the issue accurately and quickly. And sometimes, the situations or equipment involved may be more familiar to seasoned professionals, but less so to new technicians. Service technicians might arrive at a job site to find that specialized equipment or expertise is needed, necessitating multiple site visits and added delays for an already anxious customer.

Other risks exist along the path to issue resolution. Some legacy systems involve pen and paper note-taking and recordkeeping, which means that technicians whose hands are engaged in a repair or maintenance task need to periodically stop what they are doing to take manual notes, prolonging the site visit, or rely on their memory after an exhausting shift. This is a scenario ripe for costly mistakes.

By contrast, digital process automation empowers technicians and experts to provide quick and actionable solutions. The result is improved enterprise performance and less errors that traditionally prevent businesses from achieving their best results.

AR wearable technology goes even further in minimizing errors and drawing out automation’s benefits, for more effective and safer resource use.

Use cases for wearable technology

Case study 1: Global mining company realizes more efficient field services

A world-leading mining company provides essential equipment, systems, and solutions used by companies worldwide, extracting the fundamental minerals needed to develop modern infrastructure, technology, and consumer products.

Supporting work in more than 140 countries, the company harnessed digital transformation to support service centers and manufacturing facilities all over the world, working toward greater sustainability, while providing exceptional customer service at the same time. Their goals were to minimize unplanned maintenance downtime while increasing safety for technicians working on powerful mining equipment. With SightCall providing AR-powered visual assistance, the company can now connect its on-site field technicians directly with experts in the factory, whether to troubleshoot, triage, or initiate repairs – all completed in a matter of minutes.

During the support process, on-site technicians often need to have their hands free, and as such, SightCall’s support for RealWear smart glasses was crucial.

SightCall performs well on this assisted reality wearable device even in low bandwidth areas, which was a key requirement for technicians working from mining sites all over the world. The ability to store data from SightCall sessions directly into client case files in the company’s Salesforce CRM, including troubleshooting steps or necessary replacement parts, also proved important to transform its service offering.

With wearables and remote visual assistance, the manufacturer can more effectively deploy necessary expertise in any environment, giving instant help to their technicians and the mining clients and operations they support. And since the company implemented SightCall and its technology suite, the average resolution time for support has been reduced from two days to just two hours.

"Being able to have a data analyst look at the machine in many cases provided an easy fix, saving hours of downtime. Using SightCall increases safety, sustainability and satisfaction while reducing risks and drastically reducing downtime."

- Head of Service Operations

Case study 2: A lifesaver in field services

A leader in industrial safety equipment holds more than 75-years of experience offering customers all over the world specialized equipment in the areas of explosion protection, fire protection, and pressure relief.

This company manufactures and services safety components for business-critical machines and processes. In the past, it had used a complex web of legacy systems necessitating expensive technician training, longer response times, and siloed data.

Over the past few years, the company began its digital transformation with Salesforce’s Customer 360, to streamline quoting processes and connecting data, before partnering with SightCall to launch a virtual field service system. With lives depending on its precise expert support, the company needed a robust visual assistance solution that could integrate seamlessly with its Salesforce systems and support processes remotely.

During a two-month period of rapid prototyping, the company used a team of service engineers and technicians to walk through real scenarios and give feedback on what they needed to be successful to the engineers and design team. SightCall was deployed in just 48-hours, immediately increasing efficiency, cutting training times, and increasing both customer and technician satisfaction.

As virtual support continues to evolve, the company is positioning itself to be at the cutting edge. The accuracy of AR measurements, with wearables for remote precision, allows for quoting new projects without the need for a truck roll. The company can also remotely train new workers or upskill existing technicians on-site, with the benefit of immersive learning experiences, and easily walk them through repair processes.

Junior technicians can join a session alongside their senior counterparts, with both using wearables, to see best-in-class support in action. This enables the company to onboard and nurture internal talent in real-world settings while providing excellent service to their customers. Faster virtual processes and seamless data tracking have yielded benefits at every level, and across every aspect of the business.

While all the above proved highly beneficial during the rapidly changing COVID-19 crisis over the past two years, the client has embraced these solutions as a long-term change, envisioning that remote field service will continue to be the norm across the company.

Choosing the right partner

Much in the same way Deloitte identified, wearable technology use yields a number of “superpower” results. From more financially and environmentally efficient operations to safer and more effective workers, these are powerful tools to move enterprises forward.

All these benefits, of course, are as much about the partner chosen as the technological features themselves. The SightCall-RealWear integration works with any Android-compatible wearable device, augmenting technicians with hands-free visual assistance that cuts costs and improves fix rates and accuracy.

If you’re ready to learn more about what wearables can do for your field service organization, contact us today to request a live SightCall demo.

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