Augmented Reality is the computer-aided expansion of the perception of reality. It applies digital information to the real world. Data glasses or smartphones can expand the environment in real time with visual images, videos, texts, etc. Examples are the IKEA Place app, which allows you to place furniture virtually in your own home, or the Pokemon Go app, which brings finding Pokemon to the real world. The importance of augmented reality is beyond question. The strategist Michael E. Porter also illustrates the relevance of augmented reality in the service area: «After sales service is the function with huge potential for augmented reality by showing predictive analytics data generated by the product, visually guiding service technicians through repairs in real time, and connecting them with remote experts who can help optimize procedures.»

Challenges for plant and machine builders

Central European machine builders have a good reputation internationally. A large part of this image is based on the customer promise of high machine availability and the associated good and fast service offer. Many manufacturers export up to 90% of their machines. The majority of these machines are in constant use, as a machine downtime leads directly to a loss of sales for the customer company. In addition, service is becoming increasingly important in order to keep the competition in emerging markets at bay. Often, problems of understanding between customers and the employees of the provider lead to non-billable service costs. In addition, there is the increasing number of people who grew up with smartphones and who expect corresponding service offers. One challenge for mechanical engineers is dealing with customers in countries with less understanding of service, such as China. In the field of mechanical engineering, augmented reality is at an early stage of development: studies suggest that augmented reality applications in service (repairs, maintenance, customer service) are far behind in the ranking with only 1%.

Potential of augmented reality in system and machine service

Augmented Reality has enormous potential in machine and system service. Especially in service, it is crucial for success to provide a lot of information (system history, spare parts database, information about known problems and solutions, etc.) quickly and easily to service employees and customers. In addition, maintenance work can be supported by displaying information about a device to the technician, thus saving them the time-consuming search in repair manuals. In addition, augmented reality can provide the user with information directly from sensors in the systems and machines in real time. Michael Porter explains the importance of augmented reality as follows: We live in a three-dimensional environment, but most of the data is stuck on two-dimensional pages and computer screens. This gap between the real and the digital world limits us in making the best use of data. This restriction is lifted with augmented reality, in that digital data and images are faded into our real world and displayed superimposed on objects.

Chances and risks

Opportunities and risks have to be assessed when it comes to augmented reality. In industrial service, it plays a major role to provide service employees with a lot of information “in one view”. This is where augmented reality can create a real benefit. The goal is to be able to offer a similar support for machines with Augmented Reality, as professional printers do with a print jam. This means that the user should be guided through a problem solution in the augmented reality application using digital instructions. However, augmented reality applications also involve risks. To date there are no standards in this area. The implementation of augmented reality has long-term consequences for companies in the area of ​​data processing, for example in terms of the type of data, data quality and data integration. In addition, the risks in the area of ​​the possible loss of intellectual property must be carefully assessed. In addition, machine builders act as make-to-order manufacturers, which can make the use of augmented reality more difficult.

In summary, one can say that augmented reality offers enormous benefits in machine and system service and will be indispensable in the future. You can minimize the existing risks by choosing a provider with very high data protection guidelines.

– By Michael E. Porter and James E. Heppelmann, Why Every Organization Needs an Augmented Reality Strategy, In: Harvard Business Review November–December 2017, 46–57
– KPMG & Present4D, Neue Dimensionen der Realität, 2016