Augmented reality-enhanced training platforms can help you rapidly train and disseminate information to your workforce as a more effective and efficient tool to complement what you are already using, and you might just create better instructors in the process.
By Matt Johnston

Many firms were forced to re-evaluate the quality of their training programs in 2020, and how they disseminate service-related information to their workforce. Once reliant on visiting experts from original equipment manufacturers (OEs) or their own roving instructors to provide in-person, hands-on training, fleets have had to pivot. There was likely a delay at first as some firms struggled with whether there was going to be a temporary impact to training operations and travel versus a long-term impact. Some fleets were forced to close their facilities to visitors, others stopped most travel and some OEs even decided to not send their employees to fleet facilities, whether those facilities were accepting or not. Firms that relied on a mix of live, hands-on training were forced to move to remote, virtual training through online collaborative solutions such as Webex, Teams or Zoom. The problem was that business and operations did not stop.

With the global response to COVID-19, the waste industry saw a 40 percent increase in medical waste alone. Municipality waste resources were wearing thin due to national stay-at-home orders (IFC 2020), the significant increase in demand resulted in more trucks on the road, the need for firms to ensure that their fleets’ power equipment still ran at high efficiency, and that technician service bulletins still had to be distributed and addressed in a timely manner. All of this put pressure on the skills, knowledge and abilities of the workforce, especially as training and development experts begin to uncover the limitations of using the existing video conferencing solutions for their remote training needs.

 

Instructor conducting maintenance procedure via augmented reality. Photo courtesy of Design Interactive.

 

Limitations of Video Conferencing Solutions for Skilled Trades
There are two main limitations of existing video conferencing solutions for skilled trades. First, existing video conference solutions do not have the flexibility to provide an instructor with the necessary content in real-time to support their team. During a typical live virtual training session, the instructor demonstrates how to perform maintenance services such as an inspection, repair or replacement of a part. The instructor may have actual equipment or an example on a display stand or board. Often, the instructor is trying to take a standard procedure and fill in any gaps where a technician must make a subjective decision. For example, when performing a wheel on inspection, the technician will review tire wear patterns, and look for corrosion, excessive wear or other damage on a brake caliper or rotor.

The instructor is dependent upon the display or equipment they have on hand. Often. this means different examples of wear on these parts are not available other than potentially 2D, flat images shown through a PowerPoint. The pressure is then placed on the training instructors to produce efficient and accurate decision makers, post training sessions using a technology that is limited in how it presents the best examples to support decision making. Secondly, instructors are often expert technicians, but are not necessarily expert trainers. They are chosen because of their knowledge, not necessarily their expertise, as communicators or trainers. Currently, a video conferencing platform’s sole function is to share video streams; these solutions do not provide tools that guide an instructor through the creation of a training module. Nor do they provide any structure for building a training session. However, due to the continued remote work requirements, traditional video conferencing technology has been used for training, even though they do not serve the needs of the skilled trade industry.

The Value of Augmented Reality and Virtual Training
To solve these challenges, an instructor can use existing augmented reality (AR) enhanced software solutions to broadcast to a larger remote audience, creating quality content in a structured manner while using a HoloLens 2, which allows first-person perspective viewing and noise cancelling technology.

All in one AR training software solutions were developed to help guide an instructor through the creation of training content, while leveraging AR technology to mimic in person training sessions, remotely. Using an AR maintenance training software, instructors can create 3D step-by-step maintenance procedures that can then be viewed by hundreds of technicians simultaneously during a live training session. Requiring the use of only one headset, the instructors can easily follow the steps, which makes them a better instructor and makes it very easy for the trainees to follow along from any web accessible mobile device.

Finally, head mounted digital displays such as the Microsoft HoloLens can provide enhanced viewing quality, especially when demonstrating complex maintenance procedures. Of course, you may still have a problem with the arc flash suit as mentioned before. But, again, using 3D models, the HoloLens can replicate the battery in a safe environment and the instructor can still train in a safe environment. All that is left is broadcasting to your audience. And there are augmented reality solutions that can do that as well. Imagine that first person training module being live-streamed to multiple facilities or technicians at once.

This type of technology is already on the market. If you are a firm that has been forced to re-evaluate their training methods in the last year, it is time to cast your net wider. Augmented reality-enhanced training platforms can help you rapidly train and disseminate information to your workforce as a more effective and efficient tool to complement what you are already using, and you might just create better instructors in the process. | WA

Matt Johnston is the Division Head of Commercial Solution at Design Interactive (Orlando, FL) and chairs the augmented and virtual reality task force for the American Trucking Associations Technology and Maintenance Council. He has worked with augmented and virtual reality for more than a decade and leads development of AUGMENTOR®—an instructor led, and self-guided training platform enhanced by augmented reality, he can be reached at matthew@designinteractive.net .

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