Transforming Industry with AI-driven Augmented Operations
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Harbor Research was recently given the opportunity to examine a new software platform that takes a refreshingly new approach to integrating augmented reality (AR) and artificial intelligence (AI) in a comprehensive offering that better enables manufacturing and services industry workers to perform their jobs.
Augmentir leapfrogs the current Enterprise AR market’s noise, clutter, and failures by cleverly unifying core work- instruction and process-development tools with AI and machine learning in a single, scalable solution. In so doing, Augmentir is re-defining the concept of augmented reality for the enterprise and creating a new market meta-category.
THE INVISIBLE, FORGOTTEN WORKER
In the last ten years alone, countless billions of dollars have been invested in cloud technology, networking infrastructure, computing hardware, and software platforms to revolutionize the manufacturing and service enterprise. Until recently, few of these investments have been directed to support the activities of the hands-on or frontline workforce. Entrepreneurs with long experience in industrial software describe these frontline workers as the “forgotten component” of the enterprise, people hidden from view as if by a “cloak of invisibility.”
Enterprise Augmented Reality is one example of a new class of technology aimed directly at enhancing the experience and output of workers in manufacturing and service. This market was created when wearable computers/smart glasses and augmented reality emerged as technologies that offered the promise of delivering live information to front-line workers in an immersive manner to be consumed hands-free. But despite the ubiquitous marketing images of people in smart glasses and VR goggles, Enterprise AR has had trouble gaining traction beyond test- pilots. In part, this has been due to poorly implemented software solutions and early hardware that didn’t perform to the comfort, safety, and reliability expected by the users. This was further exacerbated by high costs and long implementation cycles that plagued the early suppliers of Enterprise AR solutions. Even more importantly, once the solutions were finally deployed, it became obvious that the software failed to provide value beyond the initial one-time gain in productivity, which frequently was in use-cases where hands-free operation was the real source of the benefits derived.
In fact, the initial Enterprise AR solutions offered too narrow a value proposition. In all the case studies that Harbor has examined, the efficiency improvements and elimination of quality defects that companies have achieved with Enterprise AR has been due merely to workers having instructions available hands-free. There’s little to no IP in the Enterprise AR space that’s designed to deliver value beyond just pushing instructions to workers. None of the study participants, including major manufacturers like Boeing or AirBus, has ever said, “This software helped us identify areas where we could continually improve our operations.”
Enterprise AR, at least as it’s been conceived of so far, focuses only on delivering instructions to the worker, not on collecting data about the work from this new- found connectivity to the worker. If you could make the leap to seeing workers as a new source of information about your processes, and if you analyzed that data with an AI engine to create insights into every aspect of their productivity and training, you could benefit the entire organization.
That’s the vision of the category-creating company called Augmentir.
Augmentir is a new startup founded in 2017 with the mission of delivering enhanced productivity in manufacturing and service by targeting the efficiency of front-line workers. Augmentir’s founders are a seasoned team of entrepreneurs who have repeatedly leapfrogged existing markets to deliver winning ideas in manufacturing and software. For more than thirty years they have blazed the trail of “software eating the factory,” starting with Wonderware (IPO Nasdaq) which started that trend, to Lighthammer, the first enterprise-level manufacturing intelligence platform (acquired by SAP), and finally to ThingWorx (acquired by PTC), an IIoT pioneer that extended their work outside factories to connecting smart equipment and devices.
Now, with Augmentir, they are pursuing the last great overlooked area in factories and service: the role of hands-on assemblers, technicians, and service personnel. Companies have invested all around the frontline worker, but they’ve never invested in the worker as a key member of the organization. “They’ve never brought the digital journey to the workers themselves,” says Russ Fadel, Augmentir’s CEO. “Our vision is to deliver the benefits of AI directly through enterprise AR. That’s why we’re calling our platform ‘Augmented Operations.’ We use AI to optimize everything from how you write instructions for workers, to how those instructions are executed, to how additional stakeholders like the training department transform the way they work to improve the entire organization. We see a very broad opportunity here.”
While data from machines have made industrial processes more productive over time, no one has attempted to close the measurement loop by instrumenting the most variable element in the whole process, the human worker. Augmentir’s platform embodies three core innovations:
- A new way of authoring, managing, and optimizing fully augmented work instructions and step-by-step procedures for frontline workers. Augmentir uses AI to help authors get fully augmented instructions—from initial authoring to production—10X faster than previous approaches. AI is also used to personalize instructions to each worker based on their proficiency, optimizing each worker’s efforts while still meeting quality and safety targets. And Augmentir allows these instructions to be authored in a “write once” procedure that runs optimally on tablets, phones and smart glasses.
- Using AI to automatically identify the largest capturable opportunities across the frontline workforce. Augmentir sees workers and their connected tools as a new source of data that can be used by their AI engine to support continuous improvement efforts. With the noisy signals generated by humans, only AI/ML can recognize the patterns in the data allowing Augmentir to stack rank the largest opportunities in productivity, quality, training, and content development, and provide insights into how to capture them across the entire organization.
- Augmentir delivers these technology innovations through a modern, enterprise software platform. Many of the enterprise AR suppliers followed the traditional enterprise software product and GTM model, making the product license and pilots very expensive. Augmentir chose a modern SaaS- based enterprise software approach that is easy to try, buy and own. This approach, pioneered by companies like Slack, reduces IT support requirements and allows pilots to be much less expensive than traditional enterprise software can approach. This makes Augmentir suitable not only for large enterprises but also for small- to mid-sized businesses that make up fully 50% of the available market. The intuitive user experience and easy-to-try model lets companies get into pilot or production within days, and start getting actionable intelligence after only a week or two of data-gathering.
INTRODUCING AUGMENTED OPERATIONS™
This new concept is what Augmentir calls “Augmented Operations.” In its most basic sense, Augmented Operations uses AI/ML to deliver intelligence and value across an entire organization directly from its augmented workforce. In our analysis of Electronic Work Instructions (EWI) and Enterprise AR vendors, we see this as a step-change beyond traditional EWI and Enterprise AR. The result is transformational value in how organizations make informed decisions, empower workers, and improve the productivity of humans in the workplace.
Augmentir’s AI-powered Augmented Operations platform is able to continually deliver insights and recommendations based on analyzed human worker data. This valuable intelligence can be used to help drive continuous improvement across the entire organization, from operations to training to quality.
- AI can help each worker perform at their peak, dynamically changing the instruction to match the proficiency of each worker and allowing them to perform their job as fast as possible, while meeting quality and safety targets.
- AI understands the patterns and outliers in a vast set of high-granularity job-execution data. This allows Augmentir to identify the largest capturable opportunities in the areas of productivity, worker effectiveness, training materials effectiveness, and instruction effectiveness. The net result is new insights and recommendations for capturing these opportunities. Due to the noise embedded in human generated data, AI is the only way to deliver the actionable information required for industrial organizations to drive continuous improvement on a year-over-year basis.
- With AI, companies can optimize troubleshooting / diagnostic procedures by observing the attempts and results of technicians in the field.
- With AI-bots, companies will be able to capture tribal knowledge by participating in the interactions between experts and frontline workers. Over time, this makes the expertise/tribal knowledge a scalable corporate asset.
THE DIGITAL JOURNEY and THE AUGMENTED OPERATIONS VALUE CURVE
Industrial customers derive both immediate and ongoing value from using Augmentir and Augmented Operations. During our examination of Augmentir, the team shared their “Augmented Operations Value Curve,” which was modeled from some of their early customer successes.
Immediate benefits come as soon as a company moves its legacy paper-based work instructions into “augmented instructions.” Your work-process instantly becomes alive and interactive, rather than simply inert “paper on glass” PDFs. Further, Augmentir’s drag-and-drop interface makes the authoring process as painless as possible. And thanks to the company’s designers’ deep manufacturing and service experience, the platform’s smart templates anticipate many typical actions that frontline workers perform during a job.
This model allows Augmentir to serve even the smallest organizations. For most small to mid-size companies, it’s a big step to go from paper instructions to digital. Augmentir helps them capture their knowledge and write systematic instructions, which they find provides tremendous value. It moves companies to standardized work, which in itself helps with quality. Once they use Augmentir enough, the software helps them identify which workers are excelling and which workers could benefit from additional training, so the organization continues to improve quality and productivity.
“We don’t see anyone else thinking about this the way we are,” says CEO Russ Fadel, “and this is probably because the Enterprise AR vendors started years ago when it wasn’t obvious that helping frontline workers is a problem that AI could solve. Most vendors still seem to think they have delivered all their value when they get the first instruction running on smart glasses or mobile devices for a worker. But we think of that as the starting point of the Augmented Operations Maturity Curve. Our motto is ‘We see beyond standard work to where all of the opportunities are ahead of you.’”
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