What Do Pokémon Go and Service Lifecycle Management Have in Common?

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Augmented Reality (AR) became a physical reality earlier this month when Nintendo launched its Pokémon Go application. This is the first example of a consumer based, augmented reality application that can be downloaded free on any Android or iOS device.  According to Vox Examiner, “Pokémon Go is a game that uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when you are in the game and make Pokémon “appear” around you (on your phone screen) so you can go and catch them. As you move around, different and more types of Pokémon will appear depending on where you are and what time it is. The idea is to encourage you to travel around the real world to catch Pokémon in the game.”

Many analysts believed that consumer applications for AR would not hit the market until 2017.   Nintendo was ahead of schedule.  Pokémon is taking the world by storm and fueling the market for  AR applications, a market that Digi-Capital reports will reach $90 billion by 2020.  Goldman Sachs estimates that 60% of the AR market will be driven by consumer applications, with the remaining 40% of the market attributable to enterprise usage.

In case you have not been paying attending to technology trends, AR provides a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment and then augments (or supplements) this view with computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.  The technology functions by enhancing one’s current perception of reality.  AR improves  users’ experience by enabling them to interact and learn from whatever they are observing.

Prior to the launch of Pokémon Go, AR applications where limited to the enterprise market.  I saw an example of a real-world-use case for AR at PTC’s LiveWorx ’16 last month in Boston.  At this conference and exhibition, PTC provided a proof of concept of how AR can be utilized within the context of Service Lifecycle Management.  In conjunction with their customer FlowServe, a leading manufacturer of pump and valves for process industries, PTC demonstrated an integrated solution which provides users with a better experience when it comes to operating, maintaining, and managing centrifugal pumps.  Sensors on the pump identify when an anomaly is detected.  Using AR, a virtual representation of the machine is placed on top of the device to expose the root cause of the problem.  AR is then utilized to identify the exact steps that need to be taken to resolve the problem.

By implementing AR solutions, companies can expect to realize significant improvements in key performance indicators related to Service Lifecycle Management.  For example, AR can help equipment operators anticipate and/or avoid machine failures and thus increase equipment uptime.  AR can also facilitate repair processes, thereby reducing both repair time and downtime while improving first time fix.  In addition, AR can improve the learning curve of novice field technicians, enabling them to become more proficient in diagnosing and resolving problems.  Furthermore, the contextual knowledge that is made available through AR enables equipment owners to make smarter decisions about operating the equipment, which  in turn can help extend the equipment’s life.

These results are only possible if field service technicians embrace AR and actively utilize it.  How likely are technicians to embrace this technology? This of course is the big question on people’s mind.  One scenario is that AR adoption will be very high, so high that technicians will become dependent on it.  The implication is that technicians will lose their domain expertise and be unable to resolve problems without it.  This could pose a challenge if for some reason the AR interface is not working properly and the machine still has a problem that requires resolution.  This outcome can be avoided through ongoing education, training, and skill-assessment drills.

A more likely scenario is that adoption rates will occur gradually.  Although technicians may embrace the use of AR in consumer applications, they may have some resistance to using it in a technical environment.  This is because AR requires technicians to modify their workflow and perceptions of themselves as problem solvers.  Technicians have been conditioned to rely on their own experience, intuition, and “tribal knowledge” to solve problems.  AR changes that basic premise.  Technicians will have to remember to activate AR applications when they are in the field and rely on the information that is presented to them to complete the task at hand. They’ll also need to become proficient at analyzing and acting upon the information they observe.  These activities are not second nature and may take some getting used to for veteran technicians because it represents a different way of working and a challenge to their conventional way of thinking.  Companies that want to leverage the value of AR can overcome these challenges by managing technicians’ performance against key performance indicators (KPIs).  They can observe who on their team is using AR and evaluate the impact on performance. They can in turn incentivize and reward good performance as well as identify who needs more training and coaching on the use of AR.

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3D Printing and The Digitization Of Field Service

3D Printing

This blog post has been reprinted with the permission of Field Technologies Online.

3D printing has received a great deal of attention by the media in recent months as this technology is rapidly being adopted in a broad array of market segments. Also known as additive layer manufacturing (ALM), 3D printing creates items using computer-aided design (CAD) and then builds them by adding thin layers of powder, melted plastic, aluminum, or other materials on top of each other. 3D printing requires fewer traditional raw materials and produces up to 90 percent less waste then traditional manufacturing. As a result, 3D printing is less costly. Furthermore, 3D printing enables companies to compress the supply chain and cycle time associated with bringing products to market.

The Role Of 3D Printing In Field Service
Indeed, 3D printing is a hot market. According to Canalys Research, the global market for 3D printers is estimated to reach $20.2 billion by 2019. This represents a sixfold increase from 2014 when the market was only $3.3 billion. Fueling this growth is the fact that 3D printers are becoming more affordable and mainstream. Given this trend, it is no wonder that the field service industry is quickly developing use cases for this technology. One example is Siemens, which uses 3D printing to make replacement parts for gas turbines. Rather than waiting weeks for an ordered spare part to arrive, Siemens can print the part and ship same day. As a result, Siemens has lowered repair time by 90 percent, which means less downtime per customer when it comes to gas turbines.

Another use case that has been proposed involves equipping service vans with 3D printers, permitting field engineers to print replacement parts on demand. This may not be practical or feasible. Many companies are moving toward variable workforce models and cutting back on company-owned vehicles. Even though 3D printing is faster than traditional manufacturing, it still requires a lot of time to print certain types of parts. This means that service calls would be extended, leading to longer customer downtime and lower productivity for the field service organization (FSO). 3D printing is also not a one-size-fits-all solution and can’t print complex parts. 3D printers vary according to the types of additive manufacturing methods employed, the types of materials utilized, and the size of the product manufactured. Unless all replacement parts have the same specifications, an FSO would need to install multiple printers in each van, which would add to the balance sheet and overhead expense structure of FSOs.

Despite these shortcomings, the concept of pushing the 3D printing closer to the customer and shortening the supply chain is very compelling. To capitalize on this idea, UPS has launched a full-scale, on-demand 3D printing manufacturing network. This network will leverage UPS’ existing global logistics network by embedding the On-Demand Production Platform and 3D Printing Factory from Fast Radius in 60 of UPS’ U.S.-based The UPS Store locations. UPS will also partner with SAP to build an end-to-end offering that marries SAP’s supply chain software with UPS’ on-demand manufacturing and global logistics network. This will simplify the production process from parts digitization and certification, order-to-manufacturing, and delivery. Now UPS’ customers can manufacture parts in the quantity they need, when they need them, and where they need them.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this solution is that instead of trying to force innovation (i.e., 3D printing) into our traditional way of thinking about spare parts management (i.e., in-house parts networks), UPS has turned service parts logistics into an on-demand economy business a la Uber. Under this model, the value for the FSO is not in the physical assets it manages (e.g., parts, 3D printers), but in the digital assets (e.g., designs, drawings, etc.) it owns. Eventually, developments in nanotechnology will enable 3D printing of all types of parts, even complex ones like microprocessors and capacitors. This creates the potential for FSOs to transform themselves into asset-light businesses. As a result they can deliver a better return on investment, lower profit volatility, greater flexibility, and higher scalability, things that weren’t possible a few years ago. UPS is of course an early entrant to the on-demand market for 3D printing. Look for more companies to offer similar solutions in the near future.

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