Boston, MA, USA — OK. Rewind five years, says Jeremy Cowan. Imagine you’re the CEO of a US-based computer software company that since 1985 has specialised in 2-dimensional & 3D design software, product, application and service lifecycle management (PLM, ALM & SLM), and service management solutions.
Long story short, you already help enterprise customers from mining to oil & gas, and manufacturing to retail and healthcare to maximise the lifetime and efficiency of their hardware, software and services. But how should you support and prepare for the changes that big data and wider, cheaper connectivity are enabling for your clients?
This is in a nutshell was the challenge facing Needham, Massachussetts-based PTC, Inc., delivering technology that enables industrial customers to aggregate, analyse, and deploy product information to support their decision-making. In 2011 PTC acquired MKS, producer of a Software System Lifecycle Management (SSLM) solution.
In 2014 the company acquired both ThingWorx, a major player in the growing Internet of Things (IoT), and Axeda to enable customers to establish secure connections and remotely manage a wide range of machines, sensors, and devices. (See: PTC follows ThingWorx deal with US$170m acquisition of Axeda to expand its IoT technology portfolio).
Which is good because the industries you serve are evolving at ever greater speed. They see IoT and data analytics providing the connectivity, customer and business intelligence to move away from a pure manufacturing role of hardware and devices into becoming service providers. Your customers are shape-shifting to Industry 4.0 (to use a European term).
How else could you meet their needs?
Well, PTC’s CEO Jim Heppelmann used 2015 to acquire the Vuforia™ augmented reality (AR) technology platform. This was designed to accelerate PTC’s strategy to provide technologies and solutions that blend the digital and physical worlds. In the same year ColdLight’s Neuron was bought for its automated predictive analytics platform.
Scroll forward to 2016, and at LiveWorx, PTC’s annual gathering in Boston of more than 4,000 clients, partners analysts and media, Jim Heppelmann tells his audience how the company is working with its customers to blend Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (VR) with the Internet of Things to deliver business intelligence and control that would have seemed fanciful only a few years before.
Take Caterpillar, for example. The American-based company is well-known for its broad range of industrial machinery in construction, materials handling and power generation, to name just a few sectors. CAT, however, sees new revenues in providing more than generator sets, it’s offering Power as a Service. In order to optimise the service to its customers, CAT now wants to simplify the start-up, use, testing and fault management of its complex gensets.
If it can use Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality it can deploy equipment operated by less expensively-skilled staff, it can show new users how to manage and maintain the hardware on site, and it can support them from a remote location with more experienced staff if a fault needs fixing. Expensive truck rolls can be minimised, saving customers millions of dollars a year in Operational Expenditure (OpEx).
At this year’s LiveWorx in Boston, Terri Lewis, account executive at Caterpillar Inc., and Jim Heppelmann demonstrated the use of PTC’s Vuforia technology which has already enabled CAT to create a prototype Mixed Reality (AR & VR combined) to give users an iPad view of the internal workings and components of a CAT XQ35 genset.
As Heppelmann said, “People think of the Internet of Things (IoT) as a way to connect and monetise products and services. But that leaves out people. PTC is investing time and money in AR/VR, it’s a convergence of the physical, digital and human experience. The genset is used to power pumps, compressors and other equipment on construction sites, or at concerts for lighting and sound.”
“CAT is changing,” said Lewis. “We’re in the rental business, where the whole experience needs to be easy.” Another benefit of AR and VR support is that dealers can provide customers with connected use to understand how the equipment is being used in the field.
AR explains and simplifies the start-up procedure, for example guiding the user to turn a handle to select the correct voltage for the application, and confirming that the operating voltage is 12.4v, that the unit is 98% charged and functioning on 120v supply. At a glance on the iPad screen it can give a readout showing the genset was last serviced 1,750 hours ago and is ready for another service. It even shows the user how to replace an oil filter, fuel filter, air filter and how to change the oil. The AR functionality provides a full service manual when needed. The VR functionality enables the service engineer to look inside the machine to identify a faulty part, and the engineer can be instructed on how to replace the item. Everything appears on the iPad screen.
Jay Wright, president and general manager of Vuforia Technology, PTC, talked about how AR and VR are changing working practices and getting dramatic reactions from new users. “It’s like you’re showing them fire for the first time. When you put this tablet in front of them or glasses on their heads it’s like Wow!”
Development work is continuing at CAT, supported by PTC’s Vuforia technology, and the new technology is not available yet. When it is, Lewis said “it will transform the whole sales and marketing experience. IoT has existed for years, but the technology only recently democratised. Now any smart person with a problem to solve can transform industry.”
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