Sarah welcomes back to the podcast Roel Rentmeesters, Director of Global Customer Service at Munters, to discuss the company’s evaluation and addition of smart glasses to its merged-reality solution.
Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today, we’re going to be talking about evaluating today’s wearable technology options. I’m welcoming back to the podcast Roel Rentmeesters, Director of Global Customer Service at Munters. Roel, welcome back!
Roel Rentmeesters: Hi Sarah.
Sarah Nicastro: Thanks for joining us again. So, some of you may have heard Roel on the podcast fairly recently sharing the story of Munters’ journey with adding augmented reality to its digital mix and how it’s tackled some of the challenges of COVID-19. What we didn’t talk about in detail during that episode of the podcast is the fact that Roel was in the process of evaluating wearable technology options to use with the merged reality solution and, in fact, has found some insights to share and landed on an option for Munters. So we wanted to have you back today, Roel, to pick your brain about what you’ve found with wearables in this recent exploration.
Sarah Nicastro: I was sharing with you before we started that, historically, and not to too distant history, but relatively recent, we got a lot of feedback of people looking at or testing wearable options, but not feeling like they were quite ready for prime time. And I think that a lot has changed in the last year or so since you’ve had this recent evaluation process. Just wanted to hear some firsthand insights. So, when you initially deployed the remote assistance solution, you did so on the existing smartphones, is that accurate?
Roel Rentmeesters: Yep, that’s correct. We didn’t think really of using smart glasses at that time, or the wearables, because we wanted to have a quick solution, fast implementation, and our people were mostly sitting at home, so they did not have to wear the glasses at the time.
Sarah Nicastro: And that was… You guys had a very fast deployment of that technology. And one of the ways in which that’s possible is the ability to just deploy it on whatever device that is in use. But as you did that, how did you determine the need or opportunity for migrating that to wearables?
Roel Rentmeesters: Yeah, as it wasn’t initially a solution we wanted to use towards our customers and those customers would not have the wearables. But quickly, internally, people from the operation side, the factories, who are also stuck in their country and could not travel to other countries. So for the internal use, it’s where they came up and said, “Yeah. But you have people on the factory floor maybe want to start up lines or change lines to other locations. Since we can’t bring expert from one factory to another factory, is there another solution that we can have a hands-free way of working?” And that’s when I started looking into those smart glasses. So it came from an internal use because of the non-travel.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. And the remote assistance solution is in use both in the field operations as well as in some of those manufacturing applications?
Roel Rentmeesters: That’s correct.
Sarah Nicastro: So are the wearables also used in both?
Roel Rentmeesters: No. I’ve sent a few to the field service organizations to test it. And actually, it worked really, really well. We did an intervention in Australia, from Australia for New Zealand. So we sent the glasses to New Zealand and the technician who was doing the commissioning on site was guided by technicians in Australia. And that technician on site, he was wearing the wearables. Also in Germany, we are testing it, see the feasibility. And I’ve sent them also to Brazil and US for testing. And so far, it seems to be going well. On top… So, that’s field service. We had the factories, as I mentioned before, but also the R&D organization is now using the wearables to communicate between each other. When they talk about parts and specific pieces, they can visualize while they’re holding it in their hand, etc. So it’s becoming a bit more widespread inside the organization, outside of the field service.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. And you think about the increase in efficiency and productivity that the hands-free environment really creates, and it is a compelling value proposition. Whether you’re talking about in a factory or, like you said, R&D, or in the field, it really can speed things up and make things easier for those folks to be able to use both hands instead of holding that smartphone and using the application that way. So it makes a lot of sense. How did you set out to evaluate the options that are out there? And maybe share what you found as you were doing so, and what you landed on.
Roel Rentmeesters: Yeah. To be honest, I’ve been experimenting with HoloLens in the past, and that was before we were talking about IFS Remote Assist solutions, so it was more like, “What could HoloLens do in the future?” Taking into account that HoloLens is an amazing device, it was the HoloLens first, and it was very heavy on the nose, et cetera. But once I looked into IFS Remote Assist, I checked with IFS what companies are already certified to be using, from a wearable perspective. And there were two. I don’t remember if the first brand and the second one was Vuzix.
Roel Rentmeesters: And we spoke with some experts who were from IFS Remote Assist, and they advised us for the things we needed to go for a specific brand, the Vuzix M400 Smart Glasses because of the screen quality, the way you could mount it, the fact that the solution is integrated in it, so there’s an app that you can download on the smart glasses. And one of the major things that helped was the fact that this type of smart glasses, you can control them from your mobile phone. There’s an app that you can download. So on the side of the glasses, there is a thing that is difficult to see, but you need to, with your hands, scroll over like a touch pad to manipulate it. Whilst with the app you have on your phone, you can do it on your phone, which is much more user friendly as people are used to doing it. So you control, actually, the menu in the smart glasses from your phone. And that was, for me, the most compelling argument to choose this.
Sarah Nicastro: You can use the phone to scroll the menu to make the selection you want, then put the phone down and do what you need to do hands-free?
Roel Rentmeesters: Yes. Yeah.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. That makes sense. So, when you started testing the Vuzix Smart Glasses, how did you feel about the user experience? And what I’m most curious about is, I’ve talked with a number of companies now that have deployed remote assistance that commonly talk about how easy of an experience it is, both from the initiator and the recipient’s perspective, within the application. And the deployment is simple because you can use whatever device you have. The user interface is clean. So knowing that you deployed first on the smartphones that you had, and then you introduced the Vuzix Smart Glasses, how would you compare the user experience between the two?
Roel Rentmeesters: Well, the fact that it’s hands free is a really good one. The app that was designed to work with the glasses look and feel completely similar as the thing on your mobile phone, so you will recognize everything you need to do, how to make a call, how to answer a call, how to share things. You can recognize it very easily, because it’s exactly the same look and feel. And the quality of the glasses is amazing.
Roel Rentmeesters: The little screen that you have in front of your eye, it takes getting used to because you need to focus here and then focus there, but it’s so sharp and the quality of the camera, that others can see on the other sides is also so sharp that I would say it’s maybe even better than the phone because of the quality of the screen and the camera you have on the device. Does it mean that I would be using it to do normal stuff? Probably not. If it’s quicker and easier, I would do it with this because the battery drains quite fast on the wearables, et cetera. But if I really would need my hands, I would have no doubt to switch to the smart glasses.
Sarah Nicastro: That was the other question I was going to ask, is it really wouldn’t be something that would be used instead of the smartphone. It would be something that would be used in addition to, as an option when that hands-free experience is mandated. Is that accurate?
Roel Rentmeesters: Yeah. If a technician needs a quick-and-dirty answer because he is facing something, but he knows he does need to manipulate it, it would just be, “Can you confirm that it’s that part that I need to change? Or that is what I’m looking at is indeed this,” that I would do with my phone. But if I need to manipulate at the same time, then I would definitely use the smart glasses. And the way we did it in the factories was actually, as you can use three people in the solution, one provide support, one receiving reports, and somebody else who can witness and intervene if needed, we use a third person view to put a big screen in the factory as well. So one guy was wearing the glasses and others could monitor what he was doing next to him on a big screen at the same time. So they saw what he was doing, and they saw the intervention that the provider of support was doing as well, guiding him. So that’s the way we use the smart glasses in our factories.
Sarah Nicastro: And you can record those interactions if you want to, right?
Roel Rentmeesters: Yes.
Sarah Nicastro: And you can still do that with the Vuzix the same way you could through the phone?
Roel Rentmeesters: Yes. There’s no difference. No difference.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So, the user experience is very similar, and I think that’s also an interesting point to mention, which is that it wouldn’t be like teaching your employees how the solution works on the smartphone and getting them used to that, and then teaching them an entirely different interface or experience on the smart glasses. They’re very similar, and so that would make, I assume, the training and introduction to that technology fairly straightforward?
Roel Rentmeesters: Yeah, you’re right. The only thing that is different, which is logic, is in the first instance, you need to set up the glasses. You need to download the last firmware, et cetera. Then you need to make sure that you install the app, the IFS Remote Assistant app on the device. And that, I would suggest somebody else does. But once it’s there… It’s a one page instruction, so it’s really, really clear. Once that is done, they’re up and running like a mobile phone.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. The other question I wanted to ask is just based on the experience you had. So, I know that the main use of the Vuzix currently is on the manufacturing side, but being tested on the field side. If someone were looking at, or debating between, “Okay, we’re going to deploy an augmented reality or merged reality solution.” What’s your opinion on, should they deploy first on smart phones and then incorporate smart glasses, should they skip that step and go right to the smart glasses, or a combination of both? How did you feel about the way in which you did it and how that would lead you to advise others?
Roel Rentmeesters: I would do it the same way as I did it. I would first go for the smartphone solutions. And why do I say this? Because you can use the solution then, both with customers that don’t have a license and an application, which you can still already support them whilst they don’t have the smart glasses. Your internal use is done more with the smart glasses. And like we said before, for the quick-and-dirty things, people will probably still want to use their phone. So you have a much quicker deployment. You have less investment because there’s a cost attached to these devices as well.
Roel Rentmeesters: For instance, I’m not planning to supply every technician with such smart glasses. The focus that I would put is if we know we have a big commissioning that we need to do, that the technician that will do that has them. And we target the junior technicians. So the ones that just come in, we provide them with those glasses for a couple of months, so that in case they need support, they have them always with them and they can use them. The more senior ones will be using their own devices to provide assistance. They don’t need the glasses to give assistance. It’s really for the receiving end. So, much broader audience, less investment, quicker deployments.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. That makes sense. So, I’m curious. How has the employee feedback been on the introduction of smart glasses? And has there been any difference between the different applications, so manufacturing, R&D, in the field? And I ask this because we commonly see resistance to change and new things. And I would say smart glasses are a pretty new introduction to these types of applications. I mean, they’ve been around for a while, but as I said at the beginning, we’re just now starting to see them get more widely deployed. And so, how have your employees responded?
Roel Rentmeesters: Luckily, we have a bunch of these millennial people inside our organization, the ones that are keen for new technology and look into that. And you will see most of the junior technicians that you will bring in are also younger and grown up with more technology than the old generation has. This being said, I can feel a trend change inside Munters, where we really look at new technologies to help us in our evolution for the future. So from top management, this is something we’re really… R&D is looking into this, product management is looking into this, and field operations is also looking into this. So we try to make people warm on this new technology, so we’re showing them the benefits of it. And I can really feel that some are really eager for us to come up with this new technology. So you have, of course, both cases, the more traditional people that say, “I don’t need this.”
Roel Rentmeesters: On the other hand, we’re asking now, those more traditional, maybe different generation, to provide the support to the ones that are on site. And if the one on site says, “Maybe you can guide me using the app. I have the glasses with me,” the technology gets more embraced and people see the benefits of it as well. I can see when we deployed this solution with the smartphones in the beginning, lots of people started testing it, so then it fell a bit silent, also because of the fact that we could start traveling again. Now I see it rising. I see the use of the solution rising back up because people start to see the benefits of it. And it’s the same with the smart glasses. But the top sponsors is actually management. Management is using them to do virtual tours of the factories, to inspect the factories, et cetera. So management is starting to use them a lot, actually.
Sarah Nicastro: Okay. So, when you have someone providing the insight, so like you said, if you have a junior technician out in the field that has the glasses on, the experience for the person providing the insight doesn’t change, right? So it doesn’t matter what’s on the receiving end. That instruction is the same.
Roel Rentmeesters: Yes.
Sarah Nicastro: But seeing the use of those glasses and how it helps the person on the other end can help them warm up to the idea of it a bit. That makes sense. And I think, going back to my question I asked about, would you recommend starting with smartphones then introducing smart glasses, or introducing them together, it might be another check in the column of introduce smartphones first, because it gave your employees an opportunity to see the value of the technology and become familiar with the use of the technology before you introduced something else that was cutting edge. So it kind of phased that change a bit, to where they could welcome the remote assistance, and then you introduced this new thing, and perhaps they were a little bit more willing to consider that since they had found value in the tool already. That makes sense.
Roel Rentmeesters: Yeah. I can see a lot of possibilities using smart glasses, from parts recognition when you look at them, when you glance at them, et cetera. So I really look forward into the new technologies and possibilities that will come out using smart glasses, from a training perspective, where you explore the views and you have virtual devices, from a marketing perspective, from a sales perspective, et cetera. And I think as new technologies come out and things we can do with those glasses, people will start embracing them more and more and more. It will become part of our life and the way we work on a day to day basis. This is the beginning. We are just at the beginning of what these things can do.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Last question. And we touched on a couple of things here, in terms of you mentioned the weight of the glasses and making sure that they’re comfortable, you mentioned the clarity of the view for the user, as well as the clarity of the camera for the user on the other end. What other criteria would you mention that are critical for people to have in mind as they’re evaluating the wearable options that are out there?
Roel Rentmeesters: Probably the way to manipulate the glasses. The fact that you need to find an easy way to scroll, or to change apps, et cetera, specifically if these wearables will be used more using different applications, maybe to report on your call or your ticket that you’re performing, et cetera. The way you be able to control and manipulate will become very important on top of the fact that they need to be very comfortable and not fall off, et cetera. Wearable on helmets, if needed, or on hats. You can see that is really coming. So if they’re difficult to operate, people will not use them. That’s something, for sure.
Sarah Nicastro: Right. Now, you mentioned the battery life can be a challenge. Did you find that to be pretty universal, in terms of the options you evaluated?
Roel Rentmeesters: I didn’t really check that, I must admit. But there is solutions. The fact that it’s HDMI, et cetera, you can use a normal power bank to continue to charge the devices. So it’s not that it’s a problem in the long end, but I think it’s normal that the battery life… I think it’s consumes a lot, and I think it’s normal because of the camera and screen at the same time. Actually, we have the same with mobile phones. If you use a solution on mobile phones for quite some time, you see the battery drainage as well on the phone. So I think it’s normal on the technology.
Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. It’s just something to be aware of and plan for. So, that makes sense. All right. Well, thank you Roel, for coming back and talking us through this. I’m certainly excited to see how the use of Vuzix expands within the organization to the field force, and then also, as you said, as things evolve and more aspects of the technology become possible.
Roel Rentmeesters: Thank you. It was my pleasure.
Sarah Nicastro: All right. If you haven’t yet had an opportunity to listen to the previous podcast we did on Munters’ journey to Servitization, take a look at that on Future of Field Service, www.futureoffieldservice.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn and Twitter, @TheFutureOfFS. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more about IFS Service Management by visiting www.ifs.com. As always, thank you for listening.