Tuesday 25 February 2020

Getting a head start

Steve Banner explores the latest efficiency-boosting workshop technology

Wearable technology could be about to make the lives of workshop employees a whole lot easier and speed up repairs, says Renault Trucks.

It is now trialling innovative headsets in selected dealerships which allow technicians to connect hands-free with Renault technical experts based hundreds of miles away, and receive real-time assistance while they are working on vehicles.

They are able to access a virtual 7-inch tablet positioned just beneath their line of sight while using tools and equipment at the same time, thereby increasing productivity. The user interface is voice-controlled.

Used in conjunction with LibreStream Onsight Connect software, the Optiview RealWear HMT-1 headsets can be employed in other ways. Technicians can use them to refer to manuals, replay training videos, and capture images.

“It marks a new era where wearable augmented reality and voice command technology becomes the norm in our workshops,” says Renault Trucks service market and retail development director, Derek Leech.

“The headset is the ideal wearable choice for technicians, giving them the support of the technical team right where they need it to speed up diagnosis and repair.

“This technology will improve the efficiency of our dealer network and our customer service, resolving issues more swiftly,” he adds.

Leech stresses how simple the headsets are to operate, with little training required.

“If you are looking at a technical manual then all you need to say is ‘page down’, ‘page up’ and that is what happens,” he says.

“Our experts can see exactly what the technician sees,” he continues. “The headset can zoom in on a particular area, it can be photographed, and the expert can circle an area on the image and send it back to the technician to show where the problem is and what needs to be done about it.

“The point is that the technician and the expert can develop a two-way dialogue,” Leech says. “They can share information.”

“We employ four technical managers in the UK, and in the past they have sometimes had to drive to dealerships to help solve problems,” he continues. “That’s now less likely to be the case.”

Because they are spending less time driving they can spend more time resolving faults, a larger number of faults can be addressed and – like the technicians  – they too can become more productive.

Renault Trucks has been considering introducing a system of this type for nearly two years.

“We trialled all sorts of different video cameras and headsets before we decided on Optiview,” Leech says. “The headset is light, it fits well, and it is sufficiently robust for workshop use.

“We’ve got six out there now, they’re simple, and they’re effective.”

Renault Trucks had looked at employing Google Glass, the high-tech glasses incorporating a miniature computer monitor and now re-invented for industrial use after their failure as consumer products. At £1,600 a pair however, they are pricier than the £1,200 price tag that accompanies Optiview.

Renault Trucks is not the first vehicle manufacturer to deploy RealWear HMT-1 devices. They are now being rolled out to all 347 BMW dealers and selected Mini dealers in the USA in conjunction with wearable computing and augmented reality specialist Ubimax.

The next step could be to use Optiview for remote warranty parts inspections, thereby speeding up authorisation of warranty claims and payments.

“The possibilities to transform the way we work with this technology are far-reaching, from hands-free inspections and voice-activated report writing to creating live step-by-step instructions,” Leech says.

Could Optiview be used at the roadside if a truck has broken down? In theory it could, says Leech, but that is not necessarily the route that Renault wants to go down.

The point is that the new system is designed to help technicians address some of the more complicated and potentially time-consuming faults that can occur on a vehicle.

Any faults that arise at the roadside have to be ones that are capable of being resolved quickly, however. Technicians should spend as little time as possible working next to a busy highway because of the potential danger they are in, so if the defect looks as though it will take some time to repair, then the truck will have to be towed to a workshop.

Safety must always come first.

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