Digital transformation is changing the way a company interacts with customers and manages its internal processes in the digital world.
Thinking digitally within the company saves time and money – but this is not always easy to implement. We will discuss digital transformation using maintenance as an example. Whether an industrial revolution or multi-stage digitalization: Companies have always had to face up to technical and social changes, adapt and innovate.
While computers, notebooks, smartphones and the Internet are widespread and companies are making things faster and more efficient, they need to catch up in terms of digitalization: According to a survey of senior IT managers in the DACH region, 45 percent of those interviewed stated that digitalization is not sufficient or is not advancing quickly enough in their respective companies.
But what exactly is digital transformation and how does it affect your company? Where are innovative technologies heading and how can they be sensibly integrated into day-to-day work? In this article we explain how you can advance digitalization in your company in line with measurable goals.
What digital transformation means today
While digitalization is a process that changes analog to digital, digital transformation means thinking digitally: Processes are completely rethought and implemented on the basis of the digitalization that has taken place, ideally with people at the heart of the process. Perhaps the most well-known example of digitalization is the switch from paper to digital documents and archives. Here, in the B2C sector, customer expectations play a particularly important role: For instance, anyone who does not offer straightforward online ordering and complaint procedures today will ultimately be left behind by annoyed customers.
In the B2B sector, fast and efficient processes are also very valuable. Here too, paper is being replaced by digital documents; apps are replacing inventory lists and making them interactive. Cloud computing eliminates the need for your own server farm and directly reduces your own IT costs, for example within the context of integration and HR.
However, many small and medium-sized enterprises are already reaching their limits in implementing these basic digitalisation strategies. Usually they lack resources: A complete switch to good collaboration tools and cloud computing applications is first of all a question of cost. From when and how will communication software be profitable? How quickly will employees be able to work with it?
Will there be a delay in the roll-out? Does the new technology require intensive training or will it be intuitive to operate? In many cases there is a lack of experience and conclusive reference cases. In addition, staff at small and medium-sized companies generally have a significant workload. Who should be guiding you through and driving forward the digital transformation? And which technologies really make sense for your specific use case?
From the Internet of Things to Mixed Reality
The Internet of Things is perhaps the most common application of digital transformation. Here, processes do not necessarily have to be extensively adapted, instead there is a direct added value through the automation of data acquisition, for example by means of sensors. Using appropriate software, companies bundle and (often automatically) evaluate machine status data, stock levels or even customer information.
Digital transformation is changing the way how things communicate with each other, thus creating intelligent and efficient supply chains. Adapting workflows with supporting digital technologies saves time and provides flexibility. If, for example, the specialist technician uses augmented reality to connect directly to the system on site, without having to be physically present (keyword: remote assistance), then technical problems such as a control box failure can be solved in much less time than is usually the case.
Technology specialist PTC reports real time savings of 30-40 percent through virtual work instructions, for example when installing batteries. Installation times for large systems can be reduced by a whopping 60 percent with AR and training times for employees can be reduced by 50 percent. AugmentIT is an official PTC partner for software solutions such as Vuforia and Chalk.
The future of digital transformation therefore lies not only in the collection of data and automated evaluation. Augmented and mixed reality can directly support staff members in action. It saves time and reduces the error rate when individual and real test steps are provided with digital tips, or when important elements are visualized through AR glasses or tablets (e.g. piping in walls or components in a closed machine).
Digital transformation using maintenance as an example
Inspections in small companies are still carried out on the basis of seemingly endless checklists. In countless, confusing rows a mere X indicates whether or not the machine’s condition is OK. Traceability falls by the wayside, the amount of work involved is considerable and errors are frequent.
Depending on the complexity and sensitivity of a test series, experts are often called upon. If they are not available because of illness or, most recently, because of a pandemic such as the coronavirus, there is a risk of delays. Transferring the responsibility for processes to other employees is also not always easy. Such slow and inefficient processes cost companies a lot of money. You can do better!
Next level of digitalization: Augmented reality
Augmented reality (AR) is the umbrella term for the extension of reality using digital objects, highlights, notes and much more. The real environment can be observed through a smartphone, tablet camera or the lenses of AR glasses, while digital content is projected to reality on the screen or display. This can range from simple arrows and instructions to complete graphical overlays, interactive buttons or collaborative support applications.
Why should a company go for AR? Instead of continuously comparing a test document or manual with the test object, the necessary comparison information can be projected directly onto the real object using a smartphone, tablet or AR glasses. This ranges from current real-time data to the target state of object elements to fully animated assembly processes. Particularly practical when using AR glasses: Users have their hands free at all times and need not constantly switch between instructions and application area.
The first step towards implementation in your company: Analysis
- Which areas in my company could benefit from digital support?
- What is the current status of data collection for maintenance or approval processes?
- What are the current costs?
- What is the potential for the respective process to be augmented by digital data?
- How long will it take to achieve cost savings and how high are these expected to be?
In order to be able to answer these questions, it is necessary to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages. For this purpose, it makes sense to accurately document the process to be transformed.
- How many steps are needed to complete a process?
- How long does each step take?
- Which and how many resources must be used for this purpose?
- Which technology can make digital transformation particularly efficient?
Subsequently the advantages of the planned technology must be elaborated and the time and cost savings must be estimated. Even conservative approaches clearly show the potential of digitalized and augmented inspections.
The inspection of a large filling machine involves three steps: the identification of the overall condition (function, configuration parameters, error messages), the identification of refilling requirement (e.g. filling material or packaging) and the identification of wear (cables, gripper arms, filling necks). Testing with an analog checklist takes one employee up to three hours, depending on the size of the system: Each individual checkpoint must be analyzed, tested and checked off. On average, an additional three-quarters of an hour is added to each checking process for corrections or administrative work, including completing paperwork or manually transferring information to a digital system.
Using a digital checklist, however, the status is checked off and simultaneously documented visually with photographs at the touch of a button. The traceability of test results is thus significantly better than, for example, when using analog means. In addition, checkpoints cannot be overlooked or skipped without this being note in the system. There is also no need to retrospectively transfer the results to digital systems.
If three hours of traditional testing cost €400, and forty-five minutes can be saved by using efficient AR solutions, the effective saving is €100. This accumulates whenever a certain process has to be repeated. If our example process had to be applied twice a week, the annual saving would be around €10,400 – for a single inspection process.
However, digital transformation is only just taking off and will save time and money in downstream processes: If problems occur, an appropriate digital classification (“Not OK”) can automatically trigger the ordering or execution of maintenance work. In this context, companies can use AR systems, for example, to indicate the steps for dismantling to a staff member, issue an order for spare parts (if necessary), and provide visual support for reassembly.
Components are not forgotten or incorrectly inserted. For example, if testers are unavailable due to the coronavirus, colleagues can take over the inspection process because it has been defined in great detail with visual support and digital logging. Each individual work step is clear-cut, traceable and documented. This also allows new staff members or stand-ins to be quickly trained. These benefits must also be included in the analysis and cost calculation.
Introduction, Process Optimization, and Efficiency Enhancement
Humans are creatures of habit and it’s often difficult to change common routines. This is why continuous use is important, especially in the introductory phase, so that the benefits are quickly apparent. Once success is evident and the system is more intuitive than before, adapting disruptive technologies will be much faster and smoother for staff members. As soon as a digital process has been set up, a supervisor oversees intensive staff training and monitors consistent application. Above all, it is important to eliminate inhibitions associated with the use of the new technology, to break with habits and to make the advantages tangible.
Digital Transformation in Maintenance with Inspect AR
Our Inspect AR software is tailored to testing processes which are linked with remote assistance. Thanks to Inspect AR, you can use a variety of different devices to support maintenance as well as testing processes and make them digital. This starts with simple Android devices such as smartphones, continues with HoloLens 2 and Vuzix AR glasses and ends with special solutions from Realwear for AR helmets that can be used safely at work.
This is how Inspect AR is taking your company’s digital transformation a big step forward. Inspect AR lets you quickly and easily record complex inspection processes and includes AR navigation. Assign a staff member to the test in user administration and then they can then carry out the testing step by step, as part of a documented process via a simple user interface on the appropriate device.
Text templates help with routine entries and integrated image storage options facilitate visual documentation for later analysis. The process is traceable in real time at the backend and can be accessed or exported for analysis at any time. We showcase the software in detail in our article entitled “Inspect AR: How Augmented Reality Makes Inspections Fast and Efficient“. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.