Into the Reliable Yonder: Exploring AI and AR in Field Service Management
Decades from now, how might the combination of AI and AR help field service management achieve operational excellence 2.0?
The industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) has sparked the imaginations of business leaders in asset-intensive industries and challenged them to picture a world quite unlike their own.
But the IIoT is just the infrastructure that allows users to collect, quantify, share and visualize big data across sensors, equipment and mobile tools, not necessarily the means to process, analyze and act extraordinarily on the information therein. For that, tomorrow's industry will require resources like artificial intelligence and augmented reality technology.
Artificial intelligence applies to any computer system capable of doing the things only a human can do. Within the realm of EAM, these tasks would include noticing equipment deficiencies based on preprogrammed limits and executing actions in response. Augmented reality, a cousin of virtual reality, is the visualization and overlay of computer-generated images over real-world environments by way of a screen or a headset.
AI and AR may feel wholly abstract and intangible for traditionalists in the industrial sector, but their arrival is a watershed moment for efficiency and asset reliability. Why? Let's demonstrate how these technologies could enhance field service management, arguably the industry that gave rise to the IoT as we know it. Decades from now, how might the combination of AI and AR help field service technicians achieve operational excellence 2.0?
Condition-based, proactive maintenance revolves around letting the lifecycles and criticalities of machinery dictate repair. Field service has, for a while now, relinquished such control to sensors and deferred to their good judgment. After all, it's more cost-effective than scheduling regular check-ups on remote equipment that might not even have anything wrong with it.
Extrapolating from there, field service technicians of tomorrow will rely on AI for everything. EAM solutions like IBM Maximo and Infor EAM can already run advanced diagnostics on connected assets before ever involving technicians. Furthermore, this technology can describe in length the location and extent of failures through intuitive visualizations. The difference will be in delivery: all downloaded immediately to a device – perhaps an AR headset – where a technician can see firsthand and in real time how bad things are and how much worse they can get without intervention. With time, Watson will expand on this forward momentum
See asset functionality like never before with augmented reality.
So don't call it a notification – it's really a head start.
"One in four field service providers resolve a majority of their requests remotely."
Field service experts know service requests don't always require a "house call." In fact, a recent study revealed many field service providers – about 1 in 4 – resolve a majority of their requests remotely. Without question, those businesses spend remarkably less than their competitors who have to account for the costs associated with dispatched workers.
The decision-making power of AI will make the deployment of field service technicians as optimized as possible, mainly by cutting out the need for dispatch personnel. Instead, computers will assign field work based on myriad variables, schedule work orders based on criticality rankings and even confirm availability of the resources required to remedy these situations. That means fewer back-and-forths because of missing data or tools, as well as more information at the onset
AI-powered AR will forever reshape the relationship between the repairperson and the repaired. Thanks to the enhanced visual context augmented reality already affords, the sky's the limit on what technicians will be able to perceive with this technology in the coming years, not to mention the manual work it can effectively eliminate.
For starters, advanced imaging capabilities and the lightning-quick relay of pertinent real-time information will do away with time wasted with trial and error. Moreover, how field service trains technicians will change as well. Take a 2009 "task localization" study performed by Columbia University that found trained mechanics finished work faster with help from augmented reality than with other supplemental digital tools. They were also more personally satisfied with AR, an endorsement if ever there was one.
Consider if these test subjects weren't as highly trained as they are. Under the right conditions, AR could also act as a training solution that reduces the incidence of costly mistakes and supports fledgling field service technicians as they acclimate. Behind them, they would have the full force of all their employer's actionable data funneled right to their fingertips – or eye sockets as the case may be.
And that's really the benefit AI and AR bring to enterprise asset management: Not only the power to access this wealth of information but also to harness and distill it all down into a single maintenance professional. With smarter deployment of resources, field service management and every industry tied to it will, almost invisibly, preserve equipment excellence and end-user satisfaction in the most cost-effective manner yet.
Eat your heart out, George Jetson. The future is here to stay.