Remote recovery: not just science fiction at ABB

ABB has already been carrying out remote monitoring for some time, but remote recovery using augmented reality takes it one step further.

This allows young service engineers to enter the field faster, while experienced service engineers can make better use of their expertise. The result? The customer is helped faster!

Volvo Cars Ghent has over 500 ABB robots in production, with hundreds of cars being produced in Ghent daily. Any kind of failure is expensive and must be kept to a minimum. Therefore, it is essential to find a solution to every problem that arises as quickly as possible, preferably without an ABB employee having to go on site.

To tackle this challenge, ABB joined forces with Viu More, a company that supplies digital equipment that allows specially trained Volvo technicians to communicate hands-free with an ABB service engineer. Both have hands-free smart glasses or a tablet. They set up a video chat in which the ABB service engineer virtually ‘looks over the shoulder’ of the Volvo technician. It is also possible to give the best possible remote support via chat, voice, and augmented features.

Viu More and ABB’s approach responds to a number of evolutions in the industry and the labour market. Customers demand faster response rates; and errors are less tolerated. Meanwhile, companies are feeling the effects of an ageing population,, resulting in a large labour force outflow of older and experienced profiles, while there is a war for talent on the labour market. It’s hard to find new employees and when you do find them, they often lack the right training for a specific niche.

Instructional video

The pilot project in Ghent looks promising. After evaluation, it may be decided to offer the service to other customers and for other applications. The benefits are significant: the expert does not have to travel to the site and repairs are carried out much faster. Young service engineers can be assisted remotely by a more experienced colleague. That removes a lot of stress from the people in the field. They are no longer alone; if they cannot find the solution, remote help is available.

Another advantage: the support call is answered. This allows the technicians themselves to take another look at the repair afterwards and learn from it. In time, this will create a complete database of instructional videos on how to solve problems. The faces of the technicians are not shown, just their hands and the notes they make on the screen.

Viu More also ensured that the information from the Powertrain ABB sensors are integrated into the platform in real time. When technicians perform repairs, they can assemble an augmented dashboard on their laptop which contains all the relevant information about the defect.

The power of people

The secret to success, however, doesn’t lie in all that beautiful technology, but in how the ABB service engineers and Volvo technicians deal with it. The better they perform their job, the greater the success. It is an illusion to believe that you can fully robotise people by equipping them with technology. The founders of Viu More come from the process industry and know very well how things are on the shop floor.

That’s why Viu More ensured they’d meet with the people on the shop floor from the very beginning of the project. Viu More and ABB remedy any resistance that inevitably arises during an improvement process by setting up small pilot projects in which approximately ten employees are involved, so that the success can be demonstrated before the project is rolled out throughout the organisation. What helped with this project was that both Viu More and ABB were already Volvo suppliers and could challenge and complement each other. Both companies are also convinced that the traditional customer-supplier relationship no longer exists. It’s now about collaborating, both between multinationals like ABB and Volvo and  smaller players like Viu More.

The secret to the pilot’s success lies in its simplicity. People are not overloaded with technology. It also helps to focus on processes that are already running fairly well. Last but not least, employees are gradually becoming convinced that the system will not cost them jobs, but will make their work easier. The system helps to keep the workload manageable to everyone, so that employees can be retained as much as possible. And fewer people in traffic jams being able to help the client faster and pick up the children from school on time because you don’t have to visit the client yourself; it’s hard to see how anyone could be against that!

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About the author

Herwig De Vadder

Service Manager Robotics at ABB in the Benelux. Herwig holds a Master’s degree in Services Management from Vlerick Business School. He’s been with ABB since 2012.
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