Virtual into the new normal

Services, that create digital proximity

Keep your distance, avoid direct contact and travelling - the rules of the new standard will probably be with us for some time to come. Virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR) nevertheless make it possible to come together, almost as close as if one were physically on site. Selected examples show how business partners and colleagues can also work together virtually - and not only during a pandemic.

Until now, acceptance tests for large assets at plants have typically been attended by an entire customer delegation for a period of several days – which is expensive, climate-damaging and even impossible at the moment.

The so-called Remote Factory Acceptance Test (rFAT), a service offer by Siemens Smart Infrastructures and the research department Technology, now makes it possible to perform a factory acceptance test without the customer being physically present. It is our first example of a locally separated reality.

Only a Service Technician and a media moderator perform the test on-site while the customers follow along and can ask questions from their home office or a Siemens sales office.

Following the test protocol step by step

During the remote acceptance test, a switchgear plant employee takes the customer through the test protocol step by step. In addition to the camera that they wear on their body over their protective clothing and the camera attached to their hardhat, a dome camera provides a bird’s-eye view of the event. A media moderator serves as the director, switching between shots, controlling the cameras, zooming in and out, and displaying the acceptance test document. Both parties go over the document line by line just as they would at an on-site acceptance test. Following the mutual acceptance, the documents are sent to the customer. This service is currently being offered at Schaltwerk Frankfurt and at the factories in Gebze, Turkey, Leipzig, Germany, Goa, India, and Queretaro, Mexico.

Remote care - not only interesting at present

“One of the challenges of RFAT is integrating the live images from the different cameras into one picture”, says Anja Simon an expert for virtual services at Siemens Technology.  

“What matters is that remote support is available globally and without travel. Expert and domain knowledge can also be guaranteed and applied in a focused manner. An offer, therefore, from which the customers profit not only in the current time. In fact, we had already developed this service well in advance together with the innovation team for Siemens medium-voltage systems".

The customer response has been extremely positive. “From our location in The Hague, we were in live contact with a Test Engineer in Frankfurt who took us through all the mechanical and electrical tests. We were also able to ask them to perform a few additional actions that weren’t part of our test protocol,” says Michael van der Spiegel, chief engineer for the Dutch company Stedin Group.

The expert always on site

Also Service technicians, operators or assembly workers can benefit from extended, digital remote support, as in our second example: Using the camera on their smartphone, they can transmit live video in HD quality to virtually integrate experts – just like they were present on site. This is made possible by Circuit Expert, a special extension of the well-known communication and collaboration platform.

Circuit Expert also offers several AR functions, like a virtual remote pointer that can be used to highlight relevant items in a video being shared. Users can also make shared annotations on images extracted from the video – like arrows, circles, and text – so that experts can provide on-site technicians with specific instructions on how best to perform a task right where they’re needed. A special version of the solution even runs on data goggles (RealWear’s HMT-1). The advantage is that the customer has both hands free for work.

“Circuit Expert was initially developed by Siemens Technology as part of the Service Ehancing Technology innovation program, or SET,” says Anja Simon, Program Manager at Siemens Technology. “Meanwhile, over 2,000 Siemens colleagues and partners are already using Circuit Expert successfully in the field and on our customers’ premises. A migr ation to Microsoft Teams is currently being prepared.”


Use Virtual Reality: Virtual configuration and training of learning content

Our third example is about training: Moving in a room together with several people without keeping their distance, grasping things or, as an experienced expert, even giving the participants of a training course a hand in the figurative sense - this is also currently unthinkable, in virtual worlds it is.

"Together with colleagues from Customer Service at Siemens Digital Industries, we have developed a platform for a virtual and augmented reality arena - V@RENA. V@RENA makes it possible to use VR content to develop training courses for one or more participants and to communicate AR instructions for tasks on-site, all with without additional programming effort of a special agency,” says A.Simon.

“Not only can specific workflow procedures like replacing a bearing in a large electric motor be explained more effectively, they can actually be experienced on the digital twin, thanks to the interactive learning environment in VR.” If necessary, learning materials that were saved beforehand, like images, videos, diagrams, and manuals, can be used in VR authoring simply by dragging and dropping them at the relevant location on the screen. In addition to training courses for one person, multiple people can also come together – visible as avatars – to complete their training together. This is then almost as nice as a real training with colleagues.

Sandra Maria Wild, October 2020