Remote assistance, a well-known concept in the IT-world, is now redefined by the combination of internet and wearable devices as a new tool for the deskless worker. Smart glasses particularly have the ability to let a field worker collaborate hands-free and in real-time with a distant expert. This ‘smart glasses enabled remote assistance’ has 4 major benefits for the industry: speed, efficiency, safety and knowledge sharing.

What is ‘smart glasses enabled remote assistance’?

Remote assistance and remote support are terms commonly used in the IT world. They refer to IT tools and software that allow an IT expert or support representative to connect to a remote computer from their consoles and work directly on the remote system. The aim is to solve a computer problem from a distance without physical presence of the IT specialist. Speed and efficiency were the main drivers in the development of remote assistance for IT.

The fast development of mobile technology and connectivity has triggered a completely new meaning of remote assistance. The connected world has made information readily accessible and interaction instantaneous– anytime, anywhere. This also applies to industry. Meanwhile, the smart wearables/smart glasses industry has reached a proven maturity level, offering companies a range of devices to support mobile workers. Smart remote support is one of the building blocks in the industry transformation and will specifically be oriented towards the deskless workers.

So in an industrial context ‘remote assistance’ means hardware and software tools that enable deskless workers in the field (technicians, operators, health care workers, warehouse workers, etc) to connect in real-time through video streaming with an expert(wherever the expert is on the planet) who can help him/her by looking at the same problem and giving instant advice and help. This can be done using smart phones, tablets or smart glasses.

Realtime collaboration facilitated by smart glasses

Smart glasses have a great advantage over smartphones and tablets: the ability to go hands-free. Smart glasses have integrated audio and video capabilities. The remote expert can connect via live streaming and see what the on-site operator is doing while tackling a problem using both hands. With today’s powerful cameras and even zoom lenses on the new generation of smart glasses, it’s as if both the field worker and the expert are in the same room, even when they are miles away form each other. Smart glasses enabled remote assistance will be a real game-changer in many industries.

The 4 benefits of smart glasses enabled remote support

#1. Speed

The current dynamics in many industries demand quick responses to any possible issue that may arise on the shop floor, in the warehouse or at the assembly line. This is where one of the undisputed advantages of smart glasses enabled remote assistance lies: the expert can help in real-time by commenting, giving advice, zooming in on details and asking the operator to do certain things on-site. The real-time feedback makes it possible to try out different solutions, diagnose and eliminate problem causes and work with 2 persons on the same problem. The result is obvious: minimum machine downtime or process delay.

Not only are problems solved faster, there is also the time gained by the expert who doesn’t have to travel all the time from one problem site to the other. The expert can spread his precious time to help more operators instead of losing time in traffic jams or spending time waiting to take the next flight.

#2. Efficiency

Improving productivity, by eliminating waste, is a key objective in any manufacturing company, and especially in companies that operate according to lean manufacturing principles. Of course, improving requires measuring. Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is a universally accepted metric for measuring the productivity and is defined as the product of Availability x Performance x Quality.

Using smart glasses with a remote assistance solution to support distant operators and deskless workers, companies have managed to improve their availability, performance and quality rates.

- Improving Availability

The availability rate represents any downtime losses. Maintenance technicians, guided in real-time to solve problems at capital investment infrastructure, directly within their line of sight, are able to improve both the speed and quality of their maintenance and repair work. Operators can perform complex or rare set-ups and changeovers guided by a distant expert faster and with less mistakes, reducing the amount of process adjustments needed. These are just a few examples of how smart glasses can help minimize downtime and increase availability.

- Improving Performance

The performance rate represents any speed losses. The availability and accessibility of vital information supports greater overall productivity, enabling workers to do their jobs with first-time-right quality, and resolve any issues quickly and efficiently, all while keeping their hands free. Simply reducing the amount of rework can already have a very positive impact on the performance rate. Making sure machines are set up properly and according to the correct process parameter settings is critical as well for optimal quality and performance (i.e. production speed). All of which can be supported by remote assistance solutions on smart glasses.

- Improving Quality

The quality rate represents any quality losses. Lack of compliance with standardized work procedures can lead to increased quality defects, cause significant complaints, returns, and claims, and possibly even have catastrophic consequences. Better than any other tool currently available, remote assistance and digital work instructions on smart glasses support standardized work, significantly improving first-time-right setups and first-time-right production activities, resulting in dramatically reduced scrap and rework.

(source: Smart Glasses on the shop floor: ROI assessment based on OEE improvement, Gemba Systems, white paper 2018)

#3. Safety and health of the operator

Smart glasses hold two unique advantages over mobile technology (smartphones and tablets) in an industrial context. The smart glasses embedded cameras perfectly capture the wearer’s perspective when establishing a video streaming session for remote assistance. You-see-what-I-see is not a marketing slogan but a reality.

Moreover, they are the best devices when you need both hands on the job or to work safely. Imagine a maintenance engineer on an offshore drilling platform or high up in a wind generator, performing a complex maintenance task while having a real-time streaming session with a highly trained expert on the mainland. He can communicate with the expert via the built-in microphones and video camera, he can zoom in on details, using voice commands and at the same time perform certain actions on the equipment he is maintaining. With his eyes focused on the job and both hands available to do the job, his safety is guaranteed to the maximum. Remote assistance is the safest way to collaborate in real-time with a distant expert.

#4. Knowledge sharing

Manufacturers are facing a shortage of skilled workers. Retiring workers, economic expansion, and a widening skills gap are all contributing factors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average tenure of a new worker in manufacturing is just 5.3 years. The hardest positions to fill are typically the ones that have the biggest impact on performance. Technical positions such as controls engineers, skilled operators, technicians, and machinists, are critical to expanding operations and improving productivity. These are also the positions that require the most training and investment.

However, companies are struggling to train and cross-train people fast enough, to achieve the kind of labor flexibility needed in today’s increasingly complex low volume - high variety environment. Smart glasses enabled remote assistance can guide a young or less trained operator through a complex or rare task when needed. This is shortening the training time and at the same time guaranteeing that work is done the first-time right.

Another use case of knowledge sharing is streaming of an operator at work to a class room of students or young workers who can follow the work of the expert and learn how certain tasks are done. An example of this is a surgeon streaming a complex medical procedure in the operating room, while students or assistants are following in another room.

Published on Sep 26, 2019