Augmented Reality State of the Art 

An Identification of Key Players 

ar-1

Considered to be one of the most defining technologies of our times, Augmented Reality(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. AR improves users’ experience by enabling them to interact and learn from whatever they are observing.  Deployment of AR tools within a field service environment can have a measurable improvement on key performance indicators (KPIs) related to quality, productivity, and efficiency such as Mean Time to Repair, First Time Fix Rate, and Mean Time Between Failure.

The implementation of an AR solution requires integration of multiple components which must all function together to make the solution work.  First there is the viewer technology. Most often this takes the form of Smart Glasses or a mobile device such as a tablet or smart phone.  Next is the application which allows the device to read what the field service engineer (FSE) is seeing live and produce the additional content whether it be sound, video, graphics or GPS data.  In addition, many AR experiences rely on video from the onsite FSE to a control center or remote support personnel with special information or skills to assist the onsite FSE in completing the job.  Often the communication is done using a mobile device such as a smart phone or tablet.

In this blog we examine some of the key players in the AR space who have developed both use case scenarios and actual solutions for maintenance and field service environments:

APX

APX’s Skylight is an AR enterprise platform which integrates with smart glasses or other wearables.   It allows field service engineers to receive in-view instructions and obtain remote assistance with video from a central control center. It also has the ability to capture information at the onsite location and receive live data feeds to aid in field service.

AR Media

I-Mechanic is an AR application for smartphones that enable consumers or mechanics to perform maintenance on automobiles.  In addition it can provide consumers with useful information on closest auto repair and parts stores.

Epson: Moverio- Augmented Reality Glasses

The Moverio product uses sensors to provide onsite 3D Augmented Reality assistance while detecting issues and seeing images of what exists inside the components.  Additionally it provides one way video to a “control room” providing other resources for the onsite technician to successfully complete repair. One of the use cases for the Moverio product is the inspection and repair of HVAC systems  on cruise ships.

Fieldbit

An AR software platform allows for both 3-D overlay of information and remote instruction/collaboration with experts using video and smart phone technology. It also provides the ability to catalog issues and capture technical information enabling users to log and track reasons for equipment failure. Fieldbit is currently being used in maintenance of Print Equipment Manufacturers, Medical Equipment Manufacturers, Utility Providers, and Industrial Machinery.  Fieldbit recently partnered with cloud based, field service management software vendor ClickSoftware  to deliver faster, more effective field service repair resolution once the workforce arrives on site.

iQagent

iQagent is a mobile-based AR application for plant floor maintenance.   It scans QR codes to provide maintenance related information such as process data, schematics, and other resource.   It can be customized to read an individual organizations data and information from its database.

Microsoft

HoloLens – AR glasses which can be purchased as part of a commercial suite allowing for customization for enterprise use.  Current partners include Volvo, NASA, Trimble, and others.

NGrain

NGrain consists of a suite of AR applications including:

ProProducer –  platform to create virtual training simulations;
Viewer – companion to ProProducer to view and use the virtual simulations;
Android Viewer – allows access to content created using ProProducer from Android devices;
SDK – allows building of 3-D imaging to provide AR experience including both surface of objects and what is inside and underneath.

NGrain has also developed a number of industrial applications for its AR suite of products including but not limited to:

Consort – for inspection and damage assessment;
Envoy – providing real-time updates and information to field service engineers and allows communication between technicians;
Scout – Use Case – Aircraft Repair shop floor – real time visual analysis with Floor Manager oversite improving efficiency.

PTC

ThingWorx Studio is an AR offering developed by PTC for use in Industrial Enterprise. It combines the power of Vuforia, an AR platform, with the ThingWorx IoT Platform. These technologies offer new ways for the industrial enterprise to create, operate, and service products. For example, this technology can be used to monitor machine conditions in real-time and provide step by step instructions on the operation, maintenance, and repair of these machines.

Scope AR

Scope AR offers several applications to facilitate an AR platform within a field service environment. The Worklink application allows 3-D images and instructions to pop up on mobile or wearable devices thus enhancing the FSE’s ability to get information on site. To see a video click here.

Remote AR  allows onsite technicians to interface with remote support personnel, sending video feed to allow for collaboration and assistance to the onsite maintenance team. To see a video click here.

XMReality

A Swedish company whose product, XM Reality Remote Guidance, allows onsite technicians to use video to connect to a central control center to receive visual instructions from qualified technicians with the information on how to fix the onsite problem. Their products include Smart Glasses, a Guide Station from which to provide the remote assistance, a tablet, interface with mobile phones, and a heavy duty casing for Microsoft Surface Pros to be used in the field.

Although the AR market is in its early growth stages, the vendor landscape for these solutions is already quite vast.   We anticipate that more vendors will emerge while others evolve into more robust solution providers as the market continues to mature. There are of course many other applications for AR as well outside of field service and maintenance such as retail, consumer, building and more.  We hope that you will join the conversation and let us know about your experience with these and other companies in this marketplace.

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A Blueprint for Big Data Logistics

New_York_Panorama_2013

 

How can big data help reverse logistics?

This is a little like asking “How can duct tape help in an emergency?” According to Blumberg’s Law of Big Data, the answer will be unique to every problem that calls for lots of data. No list of applications can hope to be comprehensive, and no generalization can provide detailed guidance for each case and industry. But that doesn’t mean that a list of generalizations isn’t worth making.

In our last post about big data, we told you that our job is to help you build bridges from the problems you have to the data you need. So let’s draw a map. The challenges found in reverse logistics form an organic whole…not unlike the neighborhoods of Manhattan. And some of those neighborhoods need bridges to the sprawling datasets and powerful analytics that have just recently emerged. Here we imagine a branch of commerce that never sleeps as a City that Never Sleeps, and connect the Big Apple to big data.

Brooklyn

Elegant, austere, mathematical, and once the only game in town, the study of service supply chains could reap huge dividends from big data. The quantitative tools of chaos, fluid dynamics, and traffic theory can be used to model the flow of goods and currency in forward, reverse, and their confluence. Where the conceptual framework of an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or Supply Chain Management (SCM) system meets modern data collection and storage, there is an inviting playground for data scientists. Logistics experts from every specialty can now reach out and touch the crisp contours of service flow as they evolve minute-by-minute. With help from operations research, consultants can design safeguards against bottlenecking, turbulence, state transitions, and other logistical nightmares that can arrest normal service for days on end. Big data can also resolve long-term rate distributions with greater precision, allowing firms to make homeostatic adjustments and keep service delays within tolerance.

Triborough

Quality control in reverse logistics is a different animal. It’s not a true field like its manufacturing namesake, but the busy crossroads of a few nameless subfields. What unites them is the goal of recovering value on resale goods…at a lower cost than making them from scratch. Quality control in forward logistics has its hands full churning out a uniform, working product in the controlled conditions of a factory. If your products come from the messy world outside factory walls, you’re going to need more hands. Who can say exactly what an item may have been through before its warranty was up? Maybe a malicious eight year old took it apart, stole the hard drive, replaced it with its weight in dirt, and then lovingly reassembled the product before polishing the screen. The only way to quell such paranoia is to perform every test that the industry can offer – in other words, to replicate the US healthcare system on returned products. The name of the game is detecting tiny but consequential probabilities, and making testing protocols that reflect them. For that you’ll need lots of data.

GW

The science of long-distance shipping costs should take Manhattan’s longest bridge. When companies pay for shipping, they have created a thorny optimization problem, in which the cost of building and running maintenance centers offsets the cost of longer shipping distances…to a point. Both parameters are bound to evolve with the size and geographic distribution of consumers, and may be abruptly reset by the closure and creation of mailing routes. In the war rooms of service management, big data will provide plenty of actionable intelligence.

Queensboro

Like Manhattan and Long Island, forward and reverse logistics are too rarely integrated. Where auditing and other conventional probes fall short, product flow in forward and reverse supply chains can monitor product screening and satisfaction. Robust baseline measurements for the magnitudes and ratio of forward and reverse product flow can serve as a performance index for front-line screening. With enough data, deviations from baseline can be a real-time window to the effects of reorganization and new service protocols. Similar metrics could pave the way for a revealed preference analysis of product features.

Manhattan

The tension between customer satisfaction and short-term revenue calls for a subtle feat of engineering. If you match the rate of salvageable returns with the rate of resale, you eliminate free replacements, but at a greater risk of issuing faulty products. If your resale standards are uncompromising, resale may not cover replacement, and if a dynamic bottleneck forms at testing and repair, those may become sunk costs – insult to injury! Long-term, conditional rates revealed in big data analyses can control for these risks by setting a time range on testing and repair – lower bound to limit defects on resale, and upper bound(s) to keep repair congestion syndrome at bay.

Eager for details? Get in touch for a consultation, and we’ll see how seizing the data can make you an industry power broker.

 

Thou Shalt Not: Reverse Logistics Sins in the Tablet Industry

moses

 

“Moses then turned around and came down the mountain. He carried the two covenant tablets in his hands….When he got near the camp…he hurled the tablets down and shattered them in pieces at the foot of the mountain….The Lord said to Moses, ‘Cut two stone tablets like the first ones. I’ll write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke into pieces.'”

That’s right: Moses started reverse logistics for tablet repair. We doubt his CV needed it…

We also doubt he would recognize the field today. Tablets are a bit cheaper and have some new capabilities – though turning to sand, summoning angels, and melting faces are not (yet) among them. The market has also grown; archaeologists find it far simpler to locate modern tablets, and most tablets are, in fact, easier to have delivered if you don’t live on a mountaintop.

Above all, manufacturing firms are not almighty, and that’s what makes things interesting. Tablets don’t do well when hurled to the floor in anger, but inconveniently, most returned tablets have not been. Yet any manufacturer who plans to stay in business must swiftly process every tablet returned under the warranty, maintaining efficient product flow for resale, repair, and disposal options – to say nothing of replacement. And any manufacturer who plans to thrive must look under the humming hood of customer service, and check that the engine doesn’t waste fuel. The tablet industry has gone from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye, and shows no sign of slowing, but with that kind of speed comes unpredictability, and tablet repair is already associated with distinctive logistical problems.

Put simply, explosive growth means outgrowth. Take the scarcity of regional maintenance facilities. A behavioral economist might say that the cost associated with building them is more certain, tangible, and discrete than the cost of shipping without them – which is nonetheless higher. This may help account for an industry-wide failure to drive down aggregated shipping and facility costs, by investing in far-flung sites for cleaning, screening, and repair. What’s clear is that the customer base for tablets has outgrown the maintenance infrastructure, with expensive consequences.

Market size has also outgrown screening efficiency. The combination of high model turnover and overwhelming choice belies an immature market, and the result is a high return rate from “buyer’s remorse.” Many support organizations routinely incur avoidable costs from inefficient testing and repair, usually through a third party service provider (3PSP).

Weak front-line screening and diagnostics represent a third revenue sink. Though robust technical support boosts customer satisfaction and limits frivolous transit and testing costs, the tablet industry has been head-scratchingly slow to catch on. Industry standards that were ubiquitous in the “PC era” are still percolating. Until the tablet industry heeds the unwritten commandments of screening and diagnostics, it will be smitten again and again by its reverse logistics supply chain.

These inefficiencies are easier discussed than solved. You may even be tempted to smash your iPad in frustration, or to mail it to California so a 3PSP can check whether it’s been smashed. We recommend taking a few deep breaths, and tuning in to our upcoming posts from Blumberg Advisory Group on the tablet industry. We’ll give you our take on how companies everywhere can optimize forward and reverse logistics velocities, hold down costs, and face the future in top gear.

 

Trends and Challenges of Tablet Computers – Part 1

Tablets

The tablet computer industry is positively booming nowadays. Since Apple unleashed its first iPad onto the world in 2010, more consumers than ever before have been trading in their clunky PCs for tablets, thanks to their sleek design and portable convenience. In North America alone, between 2012 and the end of 2014, tablet shipments will have nearly doubled to almost 120 million shipments from 104 million. And by 2017, over 320 million units will have been sold. When an industry grows at such a staggering rate like this, it’s crucial to choose a repair vendor that will keep forward and reverse logistics running at a smooth, steady pace–which will impact the business’s bottom line.

A major issue the tablet computer industry faces right now is that utilizations of both in and out-of warranty tablet service models are highly inefficient from a reverse logistics standpoint, which often results in a bump in cost to get those returned models back onto retail shelves. Everything from front-line customer support to an inefficient test stage to the simple issue of the repair facility’s location affects the overall cost.

A great deal of these issues stem from the return policy on these tablet models. There’s a surprisingly high return rate for tablets: 5% to 10% of new tablets sold in North America will be returned to the retailer. Buyers are usually given 15-30 days to return a tablet, even once the box has been opened and someone has turned on the device. Thanks to this generous window of time, buyer’s remorse shoulders most of the blame for these returns. Most of the time, tablets that are returned because of simple buyer’s remorse don’t come back to the retailer with any significant defects. Unfortunately, these near-perfect tablets get cycled through to the reverse logistics supply chain when they don’t need to be, which is where the trouble begins. Of all the tablet returns, about 30 to 40% are No Fault Found (NFF), and 40% have some sort of minor cosmetic damage. That last 20% are the units that actually have issues with the board or screen and require more extensive repair. Because of this, OEMs often decide that the price of the repair isn’t worth it compared to what the defective unit could gross them when sold for scrap value.

Basically, about 75% of tablet returns don’t need to be sent back to the manufacturers, or their Third Party Service Providers  (3PSPs), to be tested and refurbished. Because they only need minor cosmetic fixes or are otherwise fully functional, they can be easily repaired, repackaged, and put back into the inventory. At the moment, manufacturers and 3PSPs are running unnecessary diagnostics on far too many of these returned tablets. And then there’s the matter of extra time and money spent to transport the defective tablets to and from facilities. Too many tablets have to travel long distances for issues that could have been resolved locally.

The burgeoning tablet repair market is too valuable to operate in such an inefficient way. Retailers, manufacturers, service providers, and consumers are all being affected. But there are ways to address these issues. Stay tuned for my next blog post and later, a link to my upcoming whitepaper on the topic, in which I’ll outline the results of a multi-tablet testing system, discuss the characteristics of a good tablet computer 3PSP, and explore the IT infrastructure of a particular vendor.

Reverse Logistics Sustainability 201: Green is Lean

As I mentioned in my previous post, the “Greenification” of Reverse Logistics is a critical opportunity. While going green traditionally was viewed as an expensive transition with little ROI, today the tides have turned quite a bit. Currently, green initiatives can be seen as wholly beneficial – saving time, money, and the environment in one fell swoop.

I want to discuss how implementing green processes in reverse logistics can in fact create a tighter, leaner, and more cost-effective reverse pathway. In fact, going green has tangible benefits for many key areas of the reverse logistics process, including the following three.

Returns Prevention and Reducing NFF

Studies indicate that consumers would rather do business with a “green” company, but that they aren’t willing to pay significantly more money for that benefit. As I mentioned in my previous post offering possible solutions for No Fault Found, one potential solution could be to improve the returns process by including the consumer more – something that is often neglected by retailers who would prefer to limit customer involvement as much as possible for fear of aggravating them and sacrificing customer satisfaction. I posited that a little disclosure might go a long way, tapping into consumers’ sympathies by indicating reasons why certain information was necessary.

The implementation of green initiatives is the perfect time to put those ideas into practice. Recall that consumers would rather do business with a company they perceive to be environmentally conscious. Customers are looking for businesses that are attempting to lessen their carbon footprint, and are sympathetic to the need to eliminate wasteful practices. Reduction of NFF returns is possible if there are consumer incentives involved in returns policies.Preventing returns has obvious benefits to the reverse supply chain, including lessening the burden of excess volume.

Logistics

Some of the ways businesses can optimize their reverse logistics pathways are actually the same ways to go green. Relocation of warehouses and repair depots can help significantly cut down on time spent in transport, fuel consumption, and carbon emissions. One centralized regional location can reduce fuel consumption, cutting costs while improving the impact on the environment.

Additional beneficial areas include customer satisfaction (locations closer to customers enable expedited service and returns) and improved turnaround time. Faster resolution to problems promotes customer satisfaction.

Repair, Reuse, or Liquidate

When an item is traveling along the inbound pathway, some major decisions need to be made. The OEM needs to consider the revenue potential of selling items as repaired or refurbished units or disassembling them for scrap.

Disassembling items can yield an abundance of usable parts, which can be saved to eliminate the time and money it takes to repair future distressed products. A good strategy must be implemented to address the usability of parts, forecast need for spare parts, and determine the necessary treatment for those parts to be used most efficiently.

Of course, this optimized efficiency of parts contributes to a lessening of eWaste. Discarding less useful parts immediately and saving the most useful ones helps to reduce the amount spent on finding the necessary parts for repairing/refurbishing later products. As an added benefit, lower parts inventory improves warehouse energy use and emissions.

Companies have a unique opportunity now to optimize their Reverse Logistics pathways. Supporting initiatives to “go green” means bringing new efficient practices and cost savings to a much-needed facet of business.

To learn innovative ways to optimize your Reverse Logistics pathway, talk with the experts at Blumberg Advisory Group.

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Reverse Logistics Sustainability 101: Greenification

In an ideal scenario, retailers and manufacturers would only experience the outbound pathway of a product. In the real world, the inbound pathway is a major component of business, and optimizing your reverse logistics pathways can result in massive resource savings.

Environmental awareness is nothing new for the manufacturing industry: factories are notoriously seen as polluters, and even the most conscious manufacturing processes consume resources. In the past, environmentally-conscious procedures were taken on as a burden – resulting either from external motivation (requirements imposed by new regulations) or internal ones (feeling a sense of obligation to helping, or at least not hurting, the environment). “Greening” was cost-prohibitive, and often didn’t provide much benefit from a productivity standpoint…until now.

The tides have changed. Currently, “going green” has just as many internal, operational benefits as it does external, societal ones. In fact, it is no longer seen as a burden, but instead as a potential competitive advantage. Green processes that were once exorbitantly cost-prohibitive to implement are now cost-effective, and their benefits are far-reaching. An improved community standing is an intangible result, but the money you’ll save and productivity you’ll reap are very real indeed.

This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned how the reverse logistics pathway is one that’s ripe for optimization. But sometimes, the route to optimizing can be difficult to choose. Which processes will you focus on? What is the most lucrative change you can make? How much will it cost to implement X, and how much will it save you – and how long will it take for those savings to come in? Which of your most-used processes is contributing least to your productivity?

Market research is still key in making those decisions. Clear, accurate, and relevant data is and always will be critical for making the right choices. But the choices are still abundant, and still difficult to select. If you narrow your sights by deciding to focus on “greening” your processes, you make the specific pathways easier to choose.

The design and operation of supply chains has traditionally been based on economic impact: what will cost the least to operate and cause the most profitability? Even technological advances take a back seat, because their expense is often outweighed, at least in the short term, by the money they’ll save. But environmentally conscious procedures are different. Implementing green practices in your supply chain can improve the quality and reliability of products, improve your operational productivity, cut costs via energy efficiency, and improve the overall performance of your products. Clearly, this offers rippling effects like less returns, easier fault diagnosis of those returns, and major cost savings down the line.

Manufacturing and transport are the biggest contributors to waste, pollution, ecological disruption, and depletion of resources. This means it’s the perfect focus for sustainability. With such great opportunities for improvement, choosing the “greenification” of your reverse logistics pathway could give you a huge competitive advantage – economically and socially – and help to improve your standing for the long term.

To learn more about optimizing your reverse logistics pathway, visit Blumberg Advisory Group. With years of experience working with OEMs, retailers, 3PSPs and more, Michael Blumberg is your best choice for comprehensive analysis and a strategic solution.

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