Immersive Technology Is Helping Manufacturers Improve Training, Staffing, and Field Service

Augmented reality and other immersive technologies helped manufacturers pivot during pandemic-related disruptions by enabling field service technicians to help customers remotely for increased safety. Now, Forrester Research predicts that investment in immersive technologies will make it easier to train manufacturing employees, share knowledge, and cope with a talent shortage. By integrating flat user interface (UI) and natural interfaces with extended reality capabilities, such as augmented, mixed, and virtual reality, manufacturers can provide multisensory experiences that more fully engage employees and customers and allow organizations to run more efficiently.

Because immersive technologies can help employees collaborate with each other and with customers more fully, the experiences they support help manufacturers streamline and improve processes, including, but certainly not limited to, employee training, product design and production, quality control, and field service. Immersive training can also make manufacturers more attractive to job candidates.

3D technology makes it easier for engineering teams to prototype products and simulate processes, while increasing the options for pre-production collaboration and review across the enterprise. Immersive factory-floor experiences that leverage extended reality can make production tasks more efficient by helping technicians interact seamlessly with complex assets. Immersive 3D experiences can also help both companies and their customers to quickly configure and customize products to meet specific needs and test them cost-effectively before production.&

In the field, service technicians can use immersive resources to check their work against 3D models created by the company's engineers to ensure that everything is as it should be before concluding the service call. That reduces the need for repeat visits, increases employee satisfaction, and reduces travel costs.

In addition to AR guidance for customers and technicians in the field, immersive service experiences can use streaming audio and video and file-sharing to walk people through solutions and help customers optimize their product use. Because of the cost-saving and customer experience benefits of immersive field service, industry analysts expect half of all field service calls to involve augmented reality by 2025.

The benefits of immersive experiences don't exist in silos. For example, after a global automaker launched an immersive, multilingual program that uses augmented reality to train production line workers on installing advanced vehicle parts, the company saw a 59 percent increase in maintenance tasks completed per hour and a 40 percent decrease in time to resolve service issues.

The automaker's self-paced training also saves instruction time, provides evaluation data to managers so they can provide feedback, and can be configured to address different topics without coding. Because it's digital, it can be used to train employees on new parts that are still in development, shortening the time to productivity when those parts are ready to install.

Adopting immersive technology is a major commitment, one that requires proper planning and preparation to succeed. That starts with identifying the initial goals for the immersive experience program and identifying the data necessary to support those goals. In many cases, organizations need to get their data out of silos so their immersive programs can scale quickly and eventually extend across the enterprise. The next steps are selecting the appropriate technology and building a secure user experience that supports the program goals. Once the initial program is running, organizations need to continuously assess its performance, security, and scope to optimize their immersive experiences and scale them up.

Manufacturers that adopt immersive technology sooner rather than later can gain advantages in terms of hiring, training, retention, productivity, field service, and cost control. The time is now to start building the experiences that employees need and customers will soon come to expect, leading to increased customer and employee satisfaction, retention, and loyalty.

Bill Donlan is executive vice president of digital customer experience at Capgemini Americas. He has more than 26 years of experience helping companies improve customer and value chain relationships through a combination of business strategy, process tuning, industry best practices, and technology integration. He is experienced with all of the leading software vendors in the CRM space as well as several of the mid-market packaged solutions. He is based in Miami.