Automakers are getting dead serious about the environment and productivity. Volkswagen is committed to doing its part to help make a “secure and economically successful future on a planet worth living on.” To that end, the company has committed to producing 22 million electric vehicles by 2028, with a target of being fully carbon neutral by 2050. As it makes that transition toward a cleaner future, its service technicians are increasingly being called on to maintain, diagnose and repair dozens of new models as well as its existing portfolio of advanced vehicles already on the roads. With increased vehicle complexity, however, even more specialized knowledge is needed. In its Volkswagen Group UK, for example, expert engineers assist service technicians with difficult diagnoses or repairs, but it wastes time and money for second-level support to travel to any one of the nearly 100 U.K. van centers and authorized repair facilities or clearly document an issue over the phone or in an email. Each delay adds to the time a customer is without their vehicle. It’s more than an inconvenience. It impacts operations. In fact, it can lead to a significant hit to revenue in the commercial vehicle segment, where, just like in manufacturing, operational downtime plays a key role in the economics of the business. To reduce the service time required, Volkswagen Group UK turned to RealWear assisted reality wearable solutions running augmented reality software by RealWear’s partner Atheer. The voice-controlled devices enable technicians to access digital information—for example, diagnostic videos or diagrams of components—while continuing to work with their hands. The devices also allow technicians and remote experts to collaborate in real time to diagnose and fix complex issues. The result? A whopping 93% improvement in repair efficiency. The challenge isn’t one that’s unique to Volkswagen Group UK; it’s affecting automotive dealers around the world. In an industry experiencing a shortage of skilled workers—a shortage that has been exacerbated by the Great Resignation—automotive aftersales dealers and service centers are faced with the need to train unskilled employees while upskilling existing ones who have spent their entire careers working on internal combustion engines (ICE), not the electrical components that are increasingly in use in cars and commercial vehicles. It’s not only that electric cars don’t need spark plugs replaced or oil changes; they’re more connected and have many advanced diagnostic tools. Today’s automotive workforce simply doesn’t have tacit knowledge servicing electric drive trains; in fact, one study found that service technicians spend twice as long diagnosing problems, and 1.5 times as long fixing them, with electric vehicles than with internal combustion engines. Training these service technicians will be a massive undertaking. As a result, a growing number of automotive leaders are embracing the opportunity posed by assisted reality wearables to augment the workforce with training, information and technology to enable people to work more collaboratively, productively and sustainably. Automotive dealers are already experiencing success using assisted reality in three key ways:
- Providing access to remote experts, digital workflows and technical manuals, which allows technicians to quickly diagnose and resolve issues while gaining real-world exposure to new technology and components: When technicians and experts collaborate in real time, they are able to troubleshoot and problem-solve faster. Assisted reality wearables also allow technicians to learn as they go, which is more effective because it not only gives the learner instant feedback but also ingrains knowledge into memory. They make learning part of the daily workflow, which satisfies the increasing desire of today’s workers for development (which has become the second most important factor in workplace happiness, after the nature of the work itself).
- Streamlining MOT and other testing: The automotive industry segment is also subject to annual tests of vehicle safety, roadworthiness, and exhaust emissions in many countries, including the U.K.’s Ministry of Transport (MOT) test. Unfortunately, the inspection process can be quite manual, tedious and error-prone—and the process can vary significantly, depending on whether standard or electric vehicles are involved. Assisted reality wearables can help streamline the annual testing process by providing step-by-step instructions and automating the collection and recording of data.
- Reducing emissions: By reducing travel associated with repairs and training, assisted reality wearables help companies not only reduce the time and cost associated with travel but also meet goals to reduce carbon emissions, with no negative impact on collaboration. Consider the experience of Anadolu Isuzu, a joint venture with Anadolu Group, Isuzu Motors Co., Ltd. and Itochu Co. A key component of Anadolu Isuzu’s post-sales service includes repairing and maintaining its fleet of commercial vehicles, and it often sends one or more technicians out to the site of a stranded truck or bus. After deploying assisted reality wearables to its technicians, Anadolu Isuzu was able to significantly reduce travel and the company’s overall carbon footprint—while simultaneously improving productivity.