Augmented Reality for Production and Maintenance with NGRAIN
AREA member NGRAIN started in the enterprise training market and today is an AR solutions provider for a range of companies and industries.
We recently interviewed Barry Po, NGRAIN’s Senior Director of Product and Business Development, to discover the latest developments about NGRAIN’s offerings for industrial Augmented Reality.
What is your company’s mission and focus in the market?
NGRAIN has been working with customers to prepare and publish training programs and other types of information in rich and engaging ways for over 15 years. We develop solutions using both Augmented Reality and VR to meet the needs of our customers in aerospace and defense, energy and utilities, oil and gas and manufacturing and healthcare.
In each of these industries there are specialists who work with physical objects—whether to deploy, operate or to maintain and service these machines—and who need the right information in the right place at the right time. That’s what Augmented Reality brings: the ability to access information that would otherwise not be readily available or easy to understand, and equipping these people with knowledge they need to make better decisions. As a result, training time is shortened and they can perform tasks quickly and correctly every time it’s required.
A field technician’s work is often more complex than outsiders understand. When preparing and executing some tasks, there is a staggering number of details. Many human errors happen when working with heavy assets, such as maintaining or operating heavy equipment like a vehicle or a complex assembly. The value of Augmented Reality in those situations is to reduce errors, as well as cut down on missteps and omissions of technicians in the field. The technology makes it more practical for someone to do a complex job and ensures that they don’t forget anything along the way.
Another major benefit is that a comparatively less experienced person can use the information without having to spend time in the classroom before becoming productive.
What products and technologies does NGRAIN offer?
We offer a full suite of solutions so that the customer can reach the results they seek quickly. Our AR software development kit allows customers to build custom applications with AR. NGRAIN Producer Pro is what people who want to author their own AR applications with a GUI use. It doesn’t require programming experience. It allows authors to create or import their 3D content and to link it to metadata, as well as display it on Windows, iOS and Android mobile devices. Lastly, NGRAIN also provides customized Augmented Reality solutions tailored to customers’ specific needs.
Are there some use cases that, in your experience, are particularly well-suited for AR?
One major use case that NGRAIN addresses is maintenance training. Our AR-enabled solutions help someone in the field learn on the job rather than just in the classroom. It helps them figure out what they need to do, as well as what’s needed for their work and to get feedback. Having it all on a mobile device such as smart glasses makes it easily accessible.
Another major use case is visual inspection and damage assessment. Our solutions for battle damage assessment and repair are deployed in the field by Lockheed Martin, which has been an NGRAIN customer for eight years. US Air Force technicians use our technology to assess and organize repairs for F-22 and F-35 aircraft. This maximizes the amount of time the aircraft spend in flight and reduces maintenance costs and time spent in the hangar.
Which measurements or metrics for assessing AR’s impact do you prefer?
From an AR perspective, our customers are in the process of defining business cases and metrics, so measurements such as ROI have yet to be defined in a standardized way.
If we take a broader perspective that includes Mixed and Virtual Reality however, we can make a few generalizations about KPIs. Based on NGRAIN’s experience deploying 3D applications for maintenance training, we find the technology can double knowledge retention, which, in turn, brings a variety of benefits. For example, technicians become less prone to missing steps or mixing up the sequence. This increased efficiency also enables them to focus more on the job as a whole and ensure it’s well executed.
A third interesting metric is a statistic measuring how often a job is completed correctly the first time it’s performed. When we deploy the technology, we find customers are able to execute the job correctly nine times out of ten. In the oil and gas industry, for example, correct first-time job execution only occurs 30-40% of the time, so the technology’s impact can be significant.
What is your approach to introducing customers to AR?
We look at the customer’s problems first, focusing on their business environment and organization. It’s important to understand a customer’s pain points in achieving their goals, and one way we do this is by spending time at their sites and observing their operations firsthand.
Recently we spent time with an oil and gas customer’s technicians in the field that was maintaining drilling equipment. We learned that much of the knowledge needed to correctly do jobs isn’t actually documented, but nevertheless is subsequently required by less-experienced people. Our aim, with our 3D guidance solutions, is to provide this kind of tribal knowledge as a virtual mentor might.
What are the typical customer organization’s approaches with respect to new technology introduction?
Everyone agrees that technology is a valuable part of any organization, but we often find differences of opinion in the degree of intensity that new technologies should be introduced. For example, many people who would benefit from AR really don’t care about the technology itself but are looking for the efficiency gains it provides.
In our view, introducing new technologies is less about imposing an approach on the customer or the end user. We make them a part of the process of discovering what works best for them. This ensures that everyone’s perspective is taken into account in the process, rather than the process being solely about the vision of a person or small group of people at the top.
A successful deployment of AR technology takes effort and is unique to each customer and group. Discovering the right approach for a particular customer is greatly helped by working with stakeholders at all levels.