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Virtual Reality Creates New Reality for Field Service in the Supply Chain

It’s been noted here before that the virtual reality (VR) market is poised for explosive growth over the next few years, and the forecasts are quite eye-opening: market researcher TrendForce has predicted that the total value of the VR market, including both hardware and software, will reach $70 billion by 2020. While many hardware manufacturers and software developers will fight for their slices of that $70 billion pie, an industry that stands to particularly benefit from this “rising tides lift all boats” scenario is the field service management (FSM) sector.

Image courtesy: Pixabay

Image courtesy: Pixabay

For a quick refresher, field service is the practice of an organization servicing and maintaining its products (such as factory equipment) at the customer’s worksite. And FSM is any system that is designed to keep track of the various components of an organization’s field operations, including workforce management, scheduling and customer portals (among others). In this blog post, we’ll examine the role that innovative VR technologies will play in supply chain organizations’ FSM in 2018 and beyond. 

VR headsets

While VR headsets are transforming gaming, they’re poised to revolutionize how field service workers are trained. Headsets such as Oculus Rift let the user peer into miniscule spaces and view data or information such as instructional videos right in front of their eyes. Because of this, VR headsets can also make servicing dangerous equipment safer, since workers can simulate the steps listed on the machine’s instructions in a virtually reconstructed environment. 

VR glasses

Although Google Glass didn’t take the world by storm as expected, smart glasses provide a way for technicians to see information while onsite without having to add another device to their toolkits. With smart glasses, users can see information ranging from notifications of schedule changes to step-by-step instructions on how to fix a machine – and just like VR headsets, right in front of their eyes.

VR gloves

Along with VR headsets and glasses, VR gloves are also convenient since they can simulate touch. When using VR gloves, technicians can manipulate objects in virtual reality in tandem with a VR headset; however, the gloves can also be used in the real world when they are utilized to manipulate robotic arms.

Robotic arms

Technicians who work with sensitive or delicate equipment parts can use VR gloves and/or headsets to control robotic arms outfitted with pressure sensors. These arms can pick up equipment or machinery parts and automatically sense how firm their touch must be while holding the part. This is especially useful for equipment that’s located in difficult-to-reach areas.

Touchscreen radar

It’s 2018, so most people – regardless of industry – are well-acquainted with touchscreens. However, in the very near future, we’ll see technology that moves beyond touchscreens. In fact, Google has already developed it with its Project Soli software, which allows ultra-sensitive radar to pick up users’ hand gestures on a touchscreen, without the user needing to make physical contact with the screen. With software like this, technicians would no longer have to hold their mobile devices in their hands while working.

So, there you have it – a handful of VR technologies that are radically changing how field service is being delivered. Supply chain organizations that are running large field service operations (or field service on a smaller scale, for that matter) would be wise to evaluate these emerging VR technologies – as they have the potential to significantly streamline their work in the field, which leads to more satisfied customers.   

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