By Brian Albright, Field Technologies
Boeing has launched a new venture capital division, and made one of its first investments in a field service technology company.
In April, the company announced it would invest in Upskill, a Washington, D.C., based company that uses smartglasses and augmented reality (AR) to enable field service and manufacturing innovation. GE Ventures also participated in the Series B funding round. Both Boeing and GE are Upskill customers.
"Upskill is serving massive customers, who need an industrial AR application platform capable of scaling across their global workforce to drive agility and competitive differentiation," said Brian Ballard, co-founder and CEO of Upskill. "This capital will help us accelerate production and grow our engineering and customer solutions teams to support rapid increases in enterprise wearable deployments globally."
Boeing’s new HorizonX VC arm was created to invest in early-stage technology companies. "The Boeing HorizonX team will build on Boeing's advanced technology and depth of aerospace expertise in design, development and manufacturing while bringing in outside perspectives and leveraging the speed and agility of a wide range of companies and research organizations," said Greg Smith, Boeing’s CFO and executive vice president of corporate development and strategy. "As part of our company strategy to accelerate growth and productivity, we intend to be flexible and move quickly to identify technologies, business models and market opportunities that hold the promise of creating and delivering more value for our customers and other stakeholders."
The Upskill solution uses AR technology to improve productivity, quality, and safety in the manufacturing, field service, and logistics markets. Boeing has worked with the company for two years to evaluate its technology.
Boeing is currently deploying Upskill’s Skylight with AR glasses in several locations nationally to support a variety of applications at its manufacturing plants, maintenance and repair facilities and in distribution. According to the press release: “In one pilot, conducted in a wiring harness assembly operations facility, results showed a 25 percent improvement in production time and improved first-time quality.”
GE, meanwhile, claims a 46 percent increase in warehouse worker productivity during a first-time use of Skylight at a GE Healthcare MRI manufacturing facility. In a pilot at GE Renewable Energy, a technician reported a 34 percent productivity improvement while installing wiring into wind turbine top boxes. The solution also enabled increased production quality, better utilization of employees, and faster training for new seasonal workers. According to the company, seven different GE business units are working with Upskill.
"Upskill offers innovative products that GE uses and finds valuable, which means we can pass onto our customers' efficiencies within their own operations," said Ralph Taylor-Smith, managing director for GE Ventures. "With Upskill, we can also support our Brilliant Factory strategy by offering technology that puts data to work in a transformational way, enabling workers to be more agile and effective in their jobs, be it in the factory, the warehouse or in our field service operations."
Upskill was formerly known as APX Labs. The company has also received investment funds from Salesforce Ventures. Salesforce has previously indicated it saw potential in using smartglasses in field service applications.
"Upskill was a priority investment for our newly formed Boeing HorizonX group, as it puts into action our desire to harness innovative technology to drive efficiency, reduce cost and improve quality in our manufacturing as well as clearly having broad application and growth potential across industries," said Steve Nordlund, vice president for Boeing HorizonX. "We have first-hand experience on the value of Upskill's Skylight platform and believe the company's technology will sharpen and accelerate our pace of progress on key growth and productivity efforts, while we help evolve and enhance Skylight through real-world manufacturing applications
Upskill claims triple-digit revenue growth, according to a Reuters article.