Data Visualization with 3D Studio Blomberg
AREA member 3D Studio Blomberg (3DS) excels at visualization of data and especially at enterprise solutions for Augmented Reality. The AREA asked Pontus Blomberg, founder and CEO of 3DS, about his company’s history and projects in the space.
Q. Where do you have the greatest number of projects or customers?
Our customers are mainly in heavy industry, and include both large and mid-sized companies. We are also targeting the educational and consumer sectors for our AR solutions.
Q. How did 3DS become popular as a supplier to the industries you just identified?
Since the company’s founding we’ve led the way to digital transformation through advanced content delivery systems to promote process efficiency, expert knowledge and overall quality.
In 2006 we recognized the potential of AR to boost productivity in industrial workplaces and introduced the technology to Wartsila, a major Finnish power equipment supplier in 2008. At that time we evaluated ALVAR, Vuforia, and Metaio to survey their functionality from a visualization standpoint and assess their capabilities in handling 3D scenes and animations. In 2012 we delivered a proof of concept to Wartsila, and in 2013 we joined a Finnish national R&D program to study the potential of AR in knowledge sharing solutions for field service personnel.
This study showed that research and practical industry applications were not in sync, and many players were concerned with achieving efficiency through dynamic AR content and data integration. We entered an AR solutions provider partnership with Metaio in 2014 but realized the platform focused on technology functionality rather than on system utilization and process implementation, which is our focus today. We are currently studying the potential of Osterhaut Design Group’s R-7 smart glasses and continue to perform proof of concept projects with emphasis on process analysis, system development and AR in production use.
Q. What are the most common metrics used to assess task performance or project success?
We recommend that customer metrics be in line with their quality management system for effective reference and comparison. Broadly speaking, examples of common metrics include:
- Improvements in product and service quality
- Safety and risk reduction
Taking simple definitions of effectiveness (“doing the right thing”) and efficiency (“doing the thing right”), we believe it’s possible to work efficiently but it doesn’t contribute to productivity until we’re able to efficiently do the right things at the right time.
Q. What is your approach to AR introduction at customer sites?
As AR is new to most organizations, we recommend detailed analysis of the customer’s business strategy. In order to achieve digital transformation in line with the AR solution, the project needs to be aligned with the business strategy all the way to the board room. We also recommend demos and proof of concept projects to help organizations gain knowledge and understanding.
Q. How is data prepared for your customer projects?
It’s all a question of knowledge and experience gained through project implementation. Initially data has to be prepared manually, but at later stages of the project we’re better able to develop ways of handling new types of content in existing enterprise content systems.
Q. Do you get involved in the design of content that goes into pilot projects?
Yes, this is where our long experience and advantage really shines. Our expertise in visualization, combined with the customer’s industrial product and process expertise, play a significant role in achieving digital transformation through AR solutions. But no large-scale transformations can occur before new knowledge and tools are in place that allow for productivity and dynamic content.
Q. Do you study project risks with the customer or project leader?
There have been no major studies until now but naturally new technologies bring risks with them. Imagine driving your car with GPS assistance in heavy traffic and suddenly you can’t get a signal.
Q. Do you know if your customers perform user studies prior to and following use of the proposed system?
Yes, the fact that we start to see significant achievements in implementing AR solutions drives these kinds of studies. We’ve also had the chance to work together with partners in bigger collaborative research projects.
Q. What are the attitudes of those in the workplace where AR projects are successfully introduced?
Employees at the customer site are very positive and even surprised. We often encounter statements similar to, “Wow! I’ve seen this on YouTube and the Internet. It’s incredible to see that it really works.”
Q. Describe the technologies at play. What types of components do you offer?
Through our key partner network we offer the entire pipeline of smart glasses, mobile solutions, UIs, server-client databases and content development.
We use worldclass tracking technologies today but expect that Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) technologies will gain ground. We realize this type of technology isn’t applicable in unique or dynamic situations at larger scales, although we’ve performed several demos and proof of concept projects with SLAM and the results are promising.
At the moment we see marker-based (or with code/ID) and geo-tracking as the most stable and flexible ways to acquire user context. We’ve built upon these technologies in our products and platforms.
At the same time we realize significant investment is needed in the modification of existing customer processes and new competences. To be successful, we aim to help our customers drive this change through systematic long-term cooperation.
Q. What must customers provide in terms of system components?
For rapid familiarization with the technology we recommend providing data to achieve a real look and feel. We recommend not overdoing it with complex UIs and information flows. Developing proof of concept projects with small, incremental steps for easy evaluation and quick changes is important to identify precisely the drivers of an AR introduction.
Q. With whom do you partner most often?
We partner with technology providers (hardware, software and tracking technologies), and we also see content providers as strategic because of their long-term customer relationships. To get all these complex systems to work together with business process changes is a team effort. It will take a few years. We aim to use what’s already been applied in an enterprise because we want to leverage the significant investments that have already been made in IT and visualization.
Q. What are the environmental conditions where customer projects are being conducted?
We’ve experienced both laboratory and real environmental conditions, especially in terms of lighting, vibrations and sound. Many of our customers use ruggedized solutions for their projects, which means unique and custom solutions for harsh, dynamic environments.
Q. What are your other offerings?
In terms of training, 3DS also provides competence development in combination with process development. For data, we use the customer’s cloud and offer commercial cloud solutions.
Q. What are the greatest challenges you currently face in AR introduction projects?
Customers often don’t have sufficient insight into the possibilities that emerging visualization technologies and content can provide. Therefore a clear understanding of customer expectations, goals and their business is needed. Customers also need a certain amount of trust that their expectations will be met.
Many times the only way forward is to agree on a proof of concept or demo that shows the technology, content, functionality, added value and supplier capabilities.
From the customer point of view, there are also uncertainties about the new types of content that will be needed to enrich the current PLM process to allow for visualization on a large scale. How will this information be connected and utilized together with the new visual content? We offer expertise in these questions and they need to be processed in very close cooperation with the customer as they touch the very core of their business.
Q. What are the future plans or next steps for your company?
We’ll continue to systematically monitor and build our international client base and partner network and develop state-of-the-art products and services.