“The future starts here” – four cases of industrial AR in automotive manufacturing
The hottest new digital tech in the automotive space is not the electrification or automation of vehicles. It is not, actually, sensors or analytics in production facilities. Instead, it is augmented reality (AR), brought to life on voice-operated wearable computers, and sold as connected worker solutions.
In terms of digital pyrotechnics, augmented reality is delivering industrial change at the sharp end of manufacturing, now – on the production line, and on the bottom line. Automotive manufacturers are using industrial AR solutions for remote maintenance and fleet management, in particular.
Just ask US firm RealWear, which makes so-called “smart glasses for industry” – in a hard-wearing, voice-operated, Android-based, head-worn computer called the HMT-1, along with software for the experience. It has a bunch of testimonials lined up to tell the tale, from the likes of Groupe PSA, Toyota, and Volkswagen.
These are summarised below, along with its work with Renault Trucks. RealWear says its HMT-1 device is simple to set-up, easy use, and comfortable to wear. The company has a bunch of partners making software applications for its hardware, as it is deployed in a range of use cases.
But, actually, the automotive cases, presented below, are of a type: each is about remote work and guidance, between the shop floor – whether on the production line in factories or the garage in dealerships – and resident experts, armed with visual guides, commentaries, and years of experience.
A quick word from Renault Trucks before we get started – just because it zooms-out, and neatly captures the blue-sky vision. “The possibilities to transform the way we work with this technology are far-reaching, from hands-free inspections and voice activated report writing, to creating live step by step instructions,” it says. “The future starts here.”
Factory workers for Groupe PSA have logged more than 10,000 hours on AR headsets in the last two years. The French firm – which owns Peugeot, Citroën, DS Automobiles, OPEL, and Vauxhall – has made RealWear’s HMT-1 headset available in 80 per cent of its factories to date, with plans to expand in the future.
Adoption has been swift, says RealWear. The HMT-1 head-gear, which clips into a hard hat and works well in noisy environments, has been adopted by technicians in factories in France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Slovakia, Russia, Morocco, India, Argentina, and Brazil.
They are using the HMT-1 with remote visual guidance (VRG) software from HPE to conduct real-time two-way video conference calls with remote experts at other factories. Groupe PSA has been able to simplify assembly processes, reduce downtime, and improve the mission-critical tasks, says RealWear.
Guillaume Calfati, who leads “digital experiences and creative excellence” at Groupe PSA, comments: “Our fleet of HMTs was seamlessly integrated within our existing processes and passed all safety compliant requirements without question. We will continue to expand our HMT-empowered team with big plans ahead.”
Renault Trucks is using AR to guide dealerships in the UK to speed up after-sales service for fleet customers. More rapid repair times mean more trucks on the road, and fewer in the garage.
Renault Trucks’ solution, called Optiview, combines the HMT-1 head-gear with software from Canadian industrial AR solution provider Librestream. Technicians at fleet dealerships can contact technicians at head office for real-time guidance with a few simple voice commands.
The solution also supports two-way sharing of documents, images, and videos, as well as noise capture to help with visual inspection. Renault Truck says the initiative marks “a new era” for the firm, “where wearable AR and voice commands become the norm in our workshops and out in the field”.
Derek Leech, the company’s service market and retail development director in the UK, said: “The headset is the ideal wearable choice for technicians, giving them the support of the technical team right when they need it to speed up diagnosis and repair on complex issues. This technology will improve the efficiency of our dealer network and our customer service, resolving issues more swiftly.”
In Germany, Toyota has achieved a 20 per cent saving on field service costs by using AR based connected worker solutions from RealWear and German AR software firm Essert Digital. “With AR support, we can better decide when a field service is really necessary,” says Toyota.
Achim Koch, product quality manager at the company, comments: “This increases the availability of the experts, improves the support of our dealers and increases customer satisfaction. The goal in the first year is to reduce 20 per cent of field service through the augmented support software. Each of these missions costs us about 1000 euros, as soon as a significant sum comes together.”
Toyota has identified additional use cases, as well, says RealWear. It is planning pilot projects in its European production plants, for maintenance, repair, and operations, as well as in its warranty processing division.
In the UK, Volkswagen Group has combined AR hardware and software from RealWear and Atheer, to deploy a ‘remote expert live support’ (RELS) system to connect technicians at Volkswagen retail dealerships to experts at its head-office in Milton Keynes. “They become connected workers in an instant,” says the US firm.
The Atheer software gives access to technical information, rendered on the RealWear headset. Dealerships can get real-time guidance from remote experts when they run into problems, access critical doc, and get refresher courses to ‘gen-up’ on new components, systems and models.
The point is the car industry is modernising fast, with roll out of electric vehicles – and autonomous electric vehicles down the line. Volkswagen expects to have 22 million electric vehicles on the road during the next decade, and 70 new models.
The company is already enhancing the layout of its service bays in the UK, and investing in new skills training programmes for sales experts and technicians. To an extent, today’s expertise will be yesterday’s know-how, and staff will need to retrain. Industrial AR systems provide a smart facility for that education process.
Metin Tahsin, technical support manager for Volkswagen UK, said: “RELS enables our technical service centre to support Volkswagen’s innovative new vehicles with industry-leading customer service, reliability and safety. We have seen the power of AR and believe it will be a major driver to transform the way we service and maintain the millions of new Volkswagen vehicles that will hit in the road the next few years. And we value Atheer’s partnership and the power of the Atheer platform in making this a reality.”