by Mara Ortner
Two solutions that make machine maintenance and troubleshooting more sustainable. But which is the right one for my business? Machines have to undergo maintenance otherwise production might grind to a halt—a scenario that can have a substantial financial impact and is unfortunately often the order of the day. It can take time before a technician can be on-site and get the machine up and running again, and if the facility is abroad, this could be days. On top of the costs of production coming to a standstill, there are also the travel expenses and considerable CO2 emissions to consider. Integrating remote assistance is one way for a company to avoid long downtimes and the associated costs. I’ll explain the types of remote assistance available and their benefits in this blog.
The term remote assistance describes the remote support of employees in their everyday work through video calls. When unexpected issues come up, remote assistance is an efficient and fast solution to resolve the problem on-site without having to wait for a trained technician to come and help. In the past, this was often done via video calls with the expert technician, but trying to explain the problem and then also the solution often runs into problems as some parts are difficult to describe and the employee often only has one hand free.
This is why the use of head-mounted tablets (HMT) or mixed reality smartglasses are starting to come into their own. They enable the employee to have both hands free and the expert can see exactly what the employee can and therefore give more detailed instructions on what to do. Among the solutions we offer are the HMT-1 from RealWear and the mixed reality HoloLens 2 smartglasses from Microsoft.
Left: Remote assistance with HoloLens 2.
Right: Remote assistance with RealWear HMT-1.
On top of saving time and money, and reducing CO2 emissions thanks to fewer business trips being made, remote assistance using RealWear HMT-1 or HoloLens 2 offers even more benefits. Both solutions have integrated cameras that transmit what the employee can see to the expert watching at the other end of the video conference. The additional displays mounted within the glasses allow information to be shown directly next to or in the field of vision of the employee. In addition, the expert technician can draw attention to critical parts of the solution by marking them, considerably accelerating and simplifying the process. New staff can also join and receive training.
RealWear offers a solution with assisted reality whereas HoloLens is a mixed reality headset. This means that RealWear has an additional display directly below the eyeline that displays relevant information within the field of vision.
HoloLens, on the other hand, shows the wearer virtual three-dimensional objects superimposed on to the field of vision, which can be blended with the real world as required. Spatial tracking keeps the object in the position it was placed even when the wearer moves around.
Using Microsoft Dynamics 365 Remote Assist, the expert can place markers in the real world, which also remain in exactly the same place thanks to spatial tracking until they are removed. With the RealWear solution, however, markings cannot be placed in the real world. Only through the use of e.g. HPE MyRoom as a video conferencing system is it possible for the experts to set markers remotely, but only as a static image, which the user on-site then sees in the display.
Remote assistance for maintenance: The on-site employee (right) is wearing the HoloLens 2; a technician (left) is following remotely using Teams.
Another difference is in how the expert sees what is happening on the ground. The RealWear solution has a camera mounted to one side of the head, which means that the technician’s view is slightly different from that of the employee, who has to turn their head to ensure both parties have the same angle. With HoloLens, the expert has nearly an identical view as that of the employee as the camera is mounted in the centre.
Both devices can be operated hands free using voice commands which is especially useful when both hands are needed for using tools or operating the machinery. With HoloLens 2, it is also possible to use gestures to control what is happening.
HoloLens 2 primarily supports the Microsoft-own collaboration platform Teams, while RealWear can be used universally which means it can be linked up with Teams, Webex, HPE My Room and other tools.
RealWear cannot compete with HoloLens from a technical point of view, but it is much more robust and also waterproof, making it ideal for use in particularly tough environments such as building sites or other outdoor use. The HoloLens display is relatively fragile and sensitive and is therefore better for indoor use, but can be folded up so does score well in terms of ergonomics.
There are also big differences when it comes to battery life with that in the HoloLens lasting only 2-3 hours, but the one in RealWear for 9-10.
At just under €4,000, the HoloLens is nearly twice the price of RealWear, but is in a league of its own thanks to its multiple technical possibilities.
RealWear’s durability means it is used very often in the manufacturing, oil, gas and car industries as well as in telemedicine. In other words, RealWear isn’t affected by dirt and knocks and is therefore ideal for use with heavy narrow machinery and also outdoors. HoloLens is used in the healthcare industry, but also increasingly in manufacturing and retail stores.
Before implementing a remote assistant solution, we recommend answering the following:
Implementing remote assistance at a company is complicated and needs to be carefully considered and we are happy to support you with our expert knowledge during your decision making process. In an initial discussion, we will give you comprehensive information on the various possibilities and then talk through concrete use cases for your company. We want to leverage our knowledge and experience to create the best possible concept for you. Alongside RealWear and HoloLens, there are numerous other possibilities to support running processes through virtual or augmented reality.
Even when the initial investment is quite high, the solutions will very quickly pay their way. If you compare costs of purchasing the solutions with those caused by production stoppages and travel costs, the investment will quickly pay off.
Another positive aspect is that of sustainability as there will be plenty of business trips that can be avoided thanks to remote assistance.
If you are finding it difficult to imagine what remote assistance could look like, visit our Digital Workplace at Bechtle Karlsruhe and try out both solutions and experience other use cases.