By Nils Arnold, Co-founder and CEO of ADTANCE
Companies across the globe have been forced to rethink how to conduct field service and support this past year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and social distancing mandates. Sending service technicians to a customer site in another state or continent to build, test or repair a machine has been impossible in many cases. As a result, companies have come to rely heavily on remote field service and support technologies and techniques.
But remote industrial service can be challenging for both the technician and customer if they are not able to view the same part of a machine at the same time. One of the most valuable approaches to remote service is real-time multi-camera video fieldstreaming, which is transforming and augmenting many aspects of field service and support.
The ability to ‘see what the customer sees’ in real-time, but without going to the customer site, eliminates costly travel expenses, dramatically speeds up time-to-service, and substantially increases the throughput of field technicians who can now service more customers in less time. Service and support jobs that once took days, weeks or months to get started at a customer site, can commence in minutes or a few hours.
Multi-camera video streaming can improve remote service and support by enabling simultaneous multi-angle views that facilitate improved collaborations between technicians, consultants, and clients with varying roles and expertise. Technicians can effectively construct, diagnose, service and inspect equipment from the safety of their homes or anywhere there is an internet connection.
Recent advancements in video streaming support technology have made it possible to employ all types of cameras, from sensor-driven smart phones and tablets to inexpensive stationary surveillance cameras and even cameras on flying drones and underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). Technicians can position camera angles all around the outside and inside equipment to instruct onsite workers as though they were onsite too. Alternatively, scores of stationary cameras can be placed around equipment, and technicians can transition between views as necessary.
This multi-camera setup can be protected by Elliptic-Curve Cryptography (ECC) technology to ensure all streaming data communications are secure. In addition, all the communications between the cameras, smartphones, tablets, etc. that are stationed in and around the machinery are encrypted to further protect data center security.
To understand how these capabilities can apply into real-world scenarios, here are four examples of how companies are using multi-camera video fieldstreaming.
100% Remote Machine Assembly
In the manufacturing sector, machines are typically built and tested at the manufacture site, then re-assembled at the customer site. Traditionally, customers traveled to the manufacturer to ensure the product meets their standards. Then the machine is taken apart, shipped to the customer and re-assembled at the customer site. The re-assembly process requires highly skilled service technicians to go onsite to rebuild the machine. During the pandemic, many companies were prohibited from visiting manufacturing sites and sending technicians to customer sites. Remote assembly was not seriously considered due to the complexity of the machines and difficulty guiding the builders when technicians could not see what they saw. By using multi-camera video streaming technology, remote technicians can effectively instruct customers how to assemble equipment – even large, complex machines – directly at the customer site.
For example, a company that builds 48 foot tall blown flat-line machines that produce plastic film to secure products such as pallets of soda, worked 100% remotely with their customer to assemble their machines. In this case, the company used dozens of inexpensive stationary cameras to deliver views of the machines from every angle. Remote technicians were able to see everything necessary to direct onsite employees in the particulars of constructing the machines. Although the desire to complete these jobs remotely was driven by the travel restrictions pertaining to COVID-19, this method will deliver significant cost and time-saving advantages for companies post-pandemic.
Accelerate Invoicing with Remote Equipment Testing
Machine testing is a critical aspect of customer service and support across industries. Multi-angle streaming video enables testing of even the most complicated machines to be completed remotely, which can not only speed repairs, but also accelerate the sales process. Again consider the manufacturing sector, where tests prior to the sale of equipment are normally required. These tests are called Acceptance Tests: one when the machine is completed at the manufacturing site; the other after it is shipped to the customer’s site and reassembled there.
Invoicing for the machine generally hinges on the completion of the Site Acceptance Test at the customer site. During the pandemic, these types of tests have been delayed, which in turn delays invoicing. But by using a multiple camera video streaming approach, customers can remotely view and test equipment as though they are onsite; manufacturers can do the same thing for the second evaluation.
Remote Service Maintenance Offers New Revenue
Servicing equipment assets with multi-camera field support is a particularly compelling use case offering the same advantages of remote access: speeds time-to-services, lowers costs and reduces downtime. It’s also applicable to any type of equipment, from nautical constructs to land and aerial ones. In all these examples technicians can remotely service equipment by viewing it from various angles and guiding onsite employees. This camera-driven approach is effective for physical complexities on both the outside and inside of machines.
Manufacturers can place cameras around and inside machines to check or monitor working parts that require maintenance. This visibility is not only perfect for servicing machines, but also for predicting when respective parts or systems will require maintenance. It facilitates custom optimization images of how machines should look and operate, which helps maximize productivity. Manufacturers can also charge customers for these remote capabilities, generating additional revenue.
Improve Inspections Using Drones and Underwater ROVs
Scheduled or insurance-related inspections are yet another area that can significantly benefit from the time and cost-savings of multi-camera video streaming. Video streaming technology can also minimize or eliminate certain types of manpower necessary to conduct inspection.
Take the example of evaluating the underside of a watercraft for insurance purposes, which typically requires removing ships from the water to assess these areas. For larger craft, this is a very cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive process. If even the slightest detail is omitted, the process has to be redone - doubling time, costs, and energy. A more cost-effective and efficient approach is to use multi-camera fieldstreaming from underwater Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs). The ROVs can simply go underwater and visually depict all parts of watercraft with a multi-camera video approach. This is another emergent example of how remote video streaming access is simplifying many facets of fieldwork.
Additionally, this approach can be used to demonstrate regulatory compliance. Regulators can access these real-time video streaming feeds online to review whatever aspects of equipment that are required. They can direct companies to perform any application to ensure equipment complies with standards.
A Silver Lining: Opportunity to Modernize Field Support
As these use cases demonstrate, it is no longer necessary to conduct field service and support in-person to produce effective results. Multi-camera video streaming can access any variety of equipment and other physical assets with the flexibility of deployment options and camera angles to ascertain—and work on—the same information gleaned from doing this activity onsite.
Although many of these use cases were inspired during the COVID-19 era, companies who have implemented them have gained a myriad of new approaches to field service that saves time, money and is safer for workers – even post-pandemic.
About the Author
Nils Arnold is the Co-founder and CEO of ADTANCE, an international After-Sales Service technology platform provider for industrial and mechanical engineering organizations as well as manufacturers in the automotive, chemical, oil and gas industries.