A virtual helping hand from Microsoft HoloLens

Augmented reality technology and wearable devices like Microsoft HoloLens are empowering Howden to offer instant remote assistance to customers worldwide

Graeme Russell
By Graeme Russell on 03 May 2022
A virtual helping hand from Microsoft HoloLens

Howden

Howden is a global engineering business that provides mission-critical air and gas handling equipment for use in the energy renewables, wastewater, metals, mining, transportation, and power generation sectors. If our equipment fails, this can cause major challenges for customers, so it is critical that we provide rapid troubleshooting and support services. 

To do this, we have developed an industrial internet of things (IIoT) platform – which runs on Microsoft Azure – that captures performance data from equipment. We have also capitalised on the growing convergence of data systems, new software-as-a-service solutions and hardware such as Microsoft HoloLens to combine our IIoT platform with augmented reality (AR) technology and introduce new remote assistance services. 

By using AR technology and HoloLens, our field service engineers and product experts can conduct remote visual analyses of equipment, guide customers through necessary checks and factor in data from the equipment’s IIoT sensors to identify the issue. They can then remotely navigate customers through temporary remedial actions to prevent equipment failure and keep them operational until one of our experts can make an in-person visit. Not only does this decrease travel costs for Howden, but it also boosts employee productivity by ensuring they can bring the right tools and spare parts to ensure a first-time fix.  

AR is equally beneficial for empowering Howden employees to share knowledge and collaborate internally. For example, a field service engineer can wear a HoloLens while working on a piece of equipment at a customer’s facility in India and call a product expert in Germany to seek their advice when resolving an issue. 

We are also videoing Howden’s experts resolving common issues and supplementing the videos with additional instructions and product information to build a library of on-demand training materials that field service engineers can access at anytime from anywhere. This allows them to follow step-by-step processes to work on any piece of Howden equipment independently, rather than waiting until a product expert is available. In future, we will provide some training materials for basic maintenance and repairs to our customers. 

To successfully transition employees to remote working, Howden implemented a change management programme, highlighting the benefits of AR technology. The breakthrough moment came when we used AR and HoloLens to help a customer resolve a vibration issue with an axial fan at a power station in Asia.  

We avoided multiple site visits and weeks’ worth of calls and emails between different parties by instead capturing vibration data via the fan’s sensors and setting up a call between our vibration experts in Scotland, the product designer in Denmark, engineers and the customer who was wearing a HoloLens. Everyone shared their expertise and successfully navigated the customer through checks to identify the issue and a solution. The time, cost and efficiency benefits suddenly became clear to all parties. Now, the Howden team is fully invested in using AR to provide remote assistance and vastly improve the customer experience.  

Graeme Russell is commercial lead for Data Driven Advantage at Howden

This article was originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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