Improving Your Maintenance and Field Service Processes with Wearable Technologies

Author: John Soldatos
Category: Enterprise Maintenance and Reliability

The introduction of wearables devices and technologies in the enterprise maintenance field provides workers with rich cyber-representations of their tasks, including visual instructions that increase safety and productivity.

The benefits from the use of wearables in industrial maintenance and field services processes are becoming more popular as they are increasingly proven to be valuable in various research initiatives and pilot deployments.

The interest in wearable technologies has rapidly grown in the last couple of years. This is reflective of the ongoing digitization of industry, which provides richer digital data sets and facilitates the integration of wearables devices in enterprise maintenance processes.

Much of the research data from this niche confirms the importance of wearables in the near future of enterprise business activities.

In a Forrester research survey, 68% of business decision makers perceived wearables as a priority for their firm, while ABI Research considers field service as a primary application domain for wearables. Furthermore, major consulting firms (such as Accenture) include wearable computing in their industrial solutions portfolio. And high-tech startups providing innovative industrial wearables products and services continue to emerge.

Augmented reality solutions integrator Upskill, demonstrated a 34% time saving in completing wiring insertions for a wind turbine based on the use of smart glasses. The respective productivity increase is a result of faster access to maintenance instructions, when compared to conventional paper and pencil methods.

The basics of wearable devices

As most of us already know, wearables are small electronic devices, which comprise one or more sensors and are associated with clothing or worn accessories such as watches, wristbands, and glasses.

Wearables come with some sort of computational capability, which enables them to capture and process data about the physical world. In several cases, they also provide the means for presenting data in some type of display.

The most common types of wearable devices that are used in the industrial space include:

These different types of devices provide a host of useful functionalities for field service and maintenance, including:

Wearables-enabled maintenance scenarios

With so many wearable devices and functionalities at hand, there are endless possibilities for using wearable technologies to improve maintenance processes. While many different scenarios are possible, benefits and efficiency improvements fall typically in one of the following two categories:

1. Provision of enriched information about the maintenance task

This takes advantage of virtual and augmented reality information to help workers complete their tasks. There are direct and tangible benefits in employee productivity, wrench time and enhanced safety.

In most cases, the delivery of enriched information can benefit from the integration with some knowledge management system, which provides information about how to best complete a task within a specific maintenance context.

Overall, wearable devices enable workers to access a wealth of relevant information and documentation in a timely and context-aware fashion. At the same time, this information can be presented in an ergonomic and user-friendly manner via their HMD wearable device.

2. Improved communication and interaction between workers and devices

Wearables facilitate communication between maintenance workers, which increases safety and productivity, while reducing service times as well. Field workers can take advantage of wearables devices in order to communicate field information and inquiries to maintenance engineers and other members of the workforce.

Communications are fast and context-aware, as they can include the both workers’ status and information about the surrounding environment. Information can be transmitted not only in textual form, but in multimedia format (i.e. audio, video) as well.

The combination of the above functionalities can support many different scenarios such as:

With so many possibilities at hand, the deployment of wearables technologies in maintenance is not simply a matter of selecting and deploying the proper technology. Rather, it is about designing the proper wearables-enabled maintenance process that will optimize safety and productivity in order to meet tight turnaround schedules and operational deadlines.

In most cases, this requires some reengineering of existing maintenance processes, including changes to maintenance steps and integration of wearables with business information systems (such as asset management and knowledge management systems). This reengineering is more critical for optimizing ROI (Return on Investment) than the wearable technology per se.

Barriers to wider adoption of wearables in enterprise maintenance

Despite the benefits and market potential of wearables technologies for maintenance, their adoption is still in its infancy. In order to ensure a graceful and accelerated adoption of wearables, industrial organizations should lower the following barriers:

In the coming years, digital technologies will revolutionize maintenance processes. Wearables technologies will certainly play a key role in this digitization landscape, since they can deliver tangible productivity and safety improvements.  

The successful deployment and adoption may be key to improving profitability and efficiency. This digital transformation can also be a competitive business advantage and crucial to continued business viability.

You should certainly start exploring profitable business cases, including the technologies and process reengineering required to deliver them. Most important, perhaps it's time you start embracing wearables technologies as part of your overall digital transformation strategy.

Author: John Soldatos

John Soldatos holds a Phd in Electrical & Computer Engineering. He is co-founder of the open source platform OpenIoT and has had a leading role in over 15 Internet-of-Things & BigData projects in manufacturing, logistics, smart energy, smart cities and healthcare. He has published more than 150 articles in international journals, books and conference proceedings, while he has authored numerous technical articles and blogs posts in the areas of IoT, cloud computing and BigData. He has recently edited and co-authored the book “Building Blocks for IoT Analytics”.

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