Field service management

AI, augmented reality, IoT: finally, a reality in the field! Is it because of the health crisis?

The times are changing! The health situation is accelerating the adoption of technologies that are transforming working practices. IoT, AI, augmented reality… Discover how to take the optimization of your installation, scheduled maintenance and/or emergency repair operations to the next level.

Certain technologies attract a lot of comment well before their application takes tangible form in companies. This is the case with Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT) and augmented reality (AR), all heralded for years now as “revolutions”, but without making it as mainstream phenomena.

The sustained health crisis we are going through is creating a realignment: it is accelerating the integration of these technologies which – especially in the field service management field – is creating new opportunities for companies to:

  • rationalize and optimize the organization of visits and on-site calls,
  • enhance technicians’ skills while protecting their health,
  • increase their service level while satisfying their customers.

Remote monitoring and visits of the installed base

Remote monitoring is not new, but it has long been reserved for critical or sensitive installations, mainly for cost reasons. This obstacle is gradually disappearing: on the one hand cameras and remote monitoring systems connected via the Internet have become both affordable and easy to install; on the other hand, the IoT enables almost any item of equipment to be fitted with chips/sensors making it “intelligent” – namely able to transmit information about its environment and operating status.

Companies maintaining machines or installations connected or remotely monitored in this way can permanently put their installed base under a high level of surveillance and favor preventive maintenance. This approach enables them to:

  • detect, using data uploaded in real time, any anomaly presaging a breakdown, abnormal wear in an essential part or deterioration in performance;
  • immediately intervene remotely if the malfunction is due, for example, to a configuration or firmware problem;
  • incorporate sites where a problem has been identified in the technicians’ short-term schedules, having regard to the degree of urgency, risk incurred and expertise required;
  • shift scheduled but non-urgent call-outs to optimize technicians’ routes, at no risk;
  • develop contractual e-visits, with or without the customer, to replace certain on-site visits to avoid unnecessary movements (equipment exhibiting no anomaly) or to refine the pre-callout diagnosis;
  • reassure customers whose installations/ machines are showing no signs of a problem by regularly sending them reports certifying that their equipment is operating correctly.

Approaches that catch on during a crisis

Those of GEOCONCEPT’s clients who have adopted these remote supervision and call methods have benefited from them since the health crisis began, confronted as they were with their field technicians’ availability problems. For example:

“Many of our installations are equipped with remote surveillance and IoT. We set up e-visits that made it possible to remotely monitor the installations’ operating state. If we detect any variance from normal operating parameters, we can trigger a corrective on-site call, ensuring the installation is always operating as it should. Customers have been very receptive to this method of 24×7 supervision, and this is a favorable time for the system to be adopted by more customers.”

– Patrick Hourqueig, ENGIE Solutions

“We have a specialist cell equipped with monitoring and remote-control tools. We have upgraded the security of these IT tools so that technicians can work from home. This activity has progressed significantly since the crisis began and, as it can be extended to other customers, it should continue to increase.”

– Jean-Paul Canonne, Mettler Toledo

Obviously, these call types are not improvised! In addition to equipping the sites and devices, these remote supervision and e-visit tasks need to be integrated as such into the technical teams’ work planning. They can be devolved to dedicated cells or directly allocated to maintenance technicians. Everything points to the latter increasingly dividing their time between a physical field presence and sedentary work dedicated to data analysis, to managing alerts, to diagnosis and, wherever physically possible, to remote repair – with or without the customer’s assistance.

Better calibrated calls thanks to AI

The challenge facing all field service management organizations is to maximize their technicians’ working time and the number of customer calls completed. Previously, historical activity analysis made it possible to calculate the average duration of each call category (installation of such and such a model, drop off, replacement of such and such a part, inspection visit…) and to incorporate these parameters in the planning tool to generate achievable individual schedules – or at least considered to be so, which is often belied by the reality on the ground…

We can now take this a step further thanks to artificial intelligence, which has found its way into route planning and optimization tools. Specifically, we are talking about data models capable of calculating call and travel times with far greater accuracy, and no longer based on averages alone, but on more extensive data:

  • exhaustive list of the tasks to be performed during the call, derived in particular from information captured during the diagnosis/pre-diagnosis made over the phone or by video conference
  • call site characteristics (accessibility, ability to park, upper floor without lift access, narrow staircase…)
  • required skills and effective level of experience of the prospective resource (knowledge of the installed model, number of similar troubleshooting or repair operations already performed by the technician…)
  • contextual information and external parameters such as weather forecasts or the traffic situation.

The automatic factoring in of these data by the optimization engine and the use of machine learning results in:

  • Bespoke timetables for each day and each technician, with call durations appropriate to their respective skills and level of experience; this avoids overly busy days for a newbie technician or one who has just been trained on a new model, as well as the stress associated with not arriving at the scheduled time and seeing delays snowballing as the day progresses.
  • Dynamic inclusion of experience gained over time in calculating durations;
  • Communication to the customer of a more accurate arrival time and call duration – two crucial items of information, both in terms of customer satisfaction and compliance with service level agreement (SLA) undertakings.

The number of calls completed within the allotted time will be higher if the technician’s mobile application tells him the equipment, spare parts and tools he will need for each call. He will then be able to prepare his vehicle for the day using checklists enabling him to ensure he has loaded everything he needs.

Augmented reality is finding its way into the field

It is putting it mildly that the diversity of the installed base is a challenge for technicians. Ranges are changing, technicians are regularly trained to install and maintain new models, but customers still have the old ones and young technicians are unfamiliar with them… Augmented reality is a way of mitigating these difficulties by providing the technician with step-by-step visual and contextual help from his mobility tool (smart phone or tablet).

Faced with hardware with which he is unfamiliar, or an operation he has never performed alone, the technician uses his mobile application to scan the QR code on the equipment to be repaired. This QR code triggers the launch of the augmented reality application, which superimposes on what is within the camera’s field-of-view all the available information on the item of equipment it has recognized:

  • reference data (model name, date of installation and last visit, previously replaced parts…)
  • operating indicators transmitted by the equipment’s IoT sensors (fan rotation speed, temperature, fluid level…) and deviation from the normal state
  • a clickable list of the steps to be performed to complete the procedure.

Each step is associated with content that the resource can activate on his screen, or not. For example, if the first step in the procedure is to disconnect certain connectors, an arrow will indicate the location of the connectors in question and a short video clip can be launched to show the resource what he needs to do. Once each step has been completed, the technician ticks it off and the following step is displayed, and so on until the report has been completed, the sending of which marks the end of the procedure.

More than ever before, the incorporation of augmented reality into field applications enables technicians to do everything within one interface. It accelerates the acquisition of practical knowledge, promotes the technical personnel’s independence and versatility – while helping them to comply with the procedures ensuring both the equipment’s and their own safety, verifiably so, because all these actions involve validation.

A few years ago, everything described in this blog was still largely in the realms of science fiction. That is no longer the case, at least with GEOCONCEPT! Introduce your field service management teams to a new operational reality: discover our solutions!