A Whole New Reality

October 9, 2015

Lonny Johnson knows the routine all too well. 

As a field service engineer, he would pull up to the jobsite to repair everything from a 15 liter semi-truck engine to 78 liter mining truck engines. 

The cadence was the same every time: He would pull up to the job site, review how to make the repair on his computer and then make the fix. 

He knew there had to be a better way to streamline the process. 

“How do we get the technician away from the computer in their service truck and give them the information as they’re doing the task?” 

That was the question. 

Today, as a Caterpillar engineer, Johnson has the answer. 

It’s using augmented reality (AR), and it could completely change how Cat® equipment is serviced. 

The proof of concept, which was completed in just four months, gives virtual step-by-step directions of how to perform tasks like machine maintenance and safety checks. So for example, if you had to replace an oil filter on a skid steer loader, it would give you detailed visual instructions of exactly how to perform the task. It would tell you where the door is to open the hood, where to locate the filter, how to remove it and finally how to replace it. 

The software was designed to be hardware independent so it can be used on a phone, tablet or by wearing AR glasses. Besides being the most futuristic and stylish looking, the distinct advantage of the glasses is it allows you to be hands free and it has voice commands. 

“I could be turning that wrench. I could be climbing on that machine safely,” Lonny says, whose role focuses on machine uptime and reducing service time. “When you’re on the jobsite your hands get oily and greasy – do you really want to be picking up your smart phone?”

The augmented reality technology also provides an extra quality check. You can take a picture of each step along the maintenance process, and the application will tell you whether you performed it correctly.

That will especially help a novice mechanic, who might not be as familiar with servicing a particular machine model. The technology can also bring them along faster in the learning process. 

“If you put a hose back in the right spot but didn’t route it correctly, the camera technology would be able to recognize it wasn’t routed correctly and tell you that you did that wrong,” Johnson said. 

The goal is to take the proof of concept and pilot it in the real world to get feedback in the coming months. 

Soon, instead of seeing a technician referencing instructions from their service truck, customers may be asking what those futuristic-looking glasses are.

“It’s a very high-paced environment we’re in,” Johnson said. “I think we’re just scratching the surface of what we can do.”

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