In the last five years, more and more companies have built prototypes with Augmented Reality to see if the new technology can improve existing workflows and how it can be implemented. Today, it is no longer a question of whether or not AR is a meaningful tool to empower the workforce with visual guidance that can grant instant access to knowledge. The right question is where and how: where can Augmented Reality deliver the biggest benefit in terms of reducing time and errors, how can it increase revenue or improving quality levels. So far AR has made its biggest steps in the area of maintenance, training, and operations. What’s more, it has already proven that it is ready to integrate into digitalization strategies. In 2015, Leybold discussed exactly these topics. Leybold is one of the leading vacuum manufacturers worldwide. We talked to Carl Brockmeyer, General Manager of Leybold North America, about how Leybold started to implement Augmented Reality. Carl accompanied the AR integration from the first day on.
WeAreAR: How is Leybold using AR in its digitalization strategy?
CB: When we first started using AR as a part of our digitalization strategy a couple of years ago, we were seeking out new business models that would generate a direct payback. Our aim was to implement our first use cases that could be directly recirculated to sell AR as a service. This was part of an electrification strategy, which was supposed to expose us to new digital business models. Today, two years later with several successfully implemented use cases for AR, it became so much more than a mere electrifier. AR helped to transform the way we think about the need for digitalization. While originally devised as an additional business model, AR in the meantime has transformed the way we look at new product design and R&D, more efficient and interactive product and service training, digitalization of our assembly lines and many more use cases. This is truly transformational. We have always been a first mover in the industries we play in and today we have taken a leading position in the field of AR for service and sales applications. Now we are exploring many more exciting use cases as we speak.
WeAreAR: Which business areas of your company would you like to test the usage and benefits of AR?
CB: As mentioned above, the fields of AR are limitless. We are constantly discovering new use cases. Originally we thought to use AR as a training and service application, with future aspirations for remote service capabilities. But our sales team has since discovered the power of AR to enhance the sales conversation for our complex and demanding vacuum systems. Our R&D and product innovation teams are learning how to put AR into use during new product prototyping and our manufacturing and assembly teams are discovering ways to create more flexible workplaces and train our workforce on different assembly lines using AR. Every time a new team member experiences AR for the first time, we come up with new ideas that we would never have thought about before. This is truly transformational. Simply talking about AR and experiencing the amazing technology first hand is creating new ideas that we would not have been able to devise with such ease in any other way.
WeAreAR: How did the management react when you first suggested using AR? Where they convinced from the beginning or did they have doubts? What were their concerns?
CB: There are often significant doubts when considering to work with new technologies and new ways of doing things. Especially when it comes to investing in the technology itself. Two years ago AR a new technology that was still close to the bottom of the Gartner innovation cycle. Back then we simply considered AR to be too fancy and not sufficiently suitable for our industrial applications. But we did not want to disregard it, since we saw huge potential. We, therefore, decided to take the agile and MVP approach to begin a small, safe and controllable use case to simply start testing and exploring the technology. Once we had the first results to show, it became easy to convince all the relevant stakeholders to start scaling the technology to further use cases.
WeAreAR: Which problems can be solved with AR at Leybold?
CB: I prefer to talk about challenges, not problems. And AR has strengthened us to tackle many challenges to become the innovative leaders in our field. But more importantly, AR has helped us to discover our unknown unknowns – the aspects, use cases and business models that we didn’t even know existed. This thought process opens up corridors of doorways to new opportunities. As an example, before using AR, we knew that we knew little or close to nothing about potential use cases for AR – it was a known unknown. Once however, we started working and exploring AR’s possibilities, we discovered so many more use cases that we did not even know that we knew nothing about. It sounds weird… but think about it – to be truly innovational, we need to seek out the unknown unknowns in our industry and markets to become and remain leaders.
WeAreAR: How will your customers use AR on their vacuum pumps?
CB: Our first AR application to come into contact with our customers is a sales tool. It is a simple way that enables us to explain and sell our complex products and applications, giving our customers a quick overview of our portfolio. The visual presentation enabled by AR allows our customers explore all the pump details and supports them to make faster decisions. The second customer contact with Augmented Reality is our AR powered instructions. We have already completed our first use cases where customers can perform services on their vacuum pumps on their own, without any additional instructions from us. This is a truly fantastic innovation for the benefit of our customers and we will continue to devise suitable service plans using AR.
WeAreAR: From your own point-of-view and experience, what you would recommend to companies interested in using AR?
CB: Be agile about it, scale your ideas and start with cases that are big (or small) enough so that you would feel comfortable kick off tomorrow – not in three months or later. And don’t forget the data – you will need this later. Devise a hypothesis that you can test and prove. Then just simply start testing and gathering feedback. You will never know what works and what does not if you never try. AR will shape the workplace of the future where workers can get access to knowledge and optimize their workflows. In the near future, all workers will use the 3D environments to visualize their tasks.
WeAreAR: What is Leybold’s strategy for the workplace of the future?
CB: Machinery and tasks are getting more and more complex, and this requires highly skilled employees. When considering Industry 4.0 on top of this, most equipment is quickly becoming connected and automated. In these environments, specialists are often required to operate, maintain or repair our pumps. Today’s manuals and handbooks simply do not fulfill the requirements of the modern worker to perform these tasks. The information is not available where it is needed and is often too complicated to understand – especially in the already complex environment I described. With Augmented Reality, we can provide our technicians with a realistic 3D visual guidance “on the pump”. Step-by-step instructions allow the technicians to focus on their work without wasting time reading through hundreds of pages.
ABOUT CARL BROCKMEYER
Carl Brockmeyer leads an ambitious digital transformation initiative to enable new digital business models and sales channels for the industrial global player Leybold (since September 2016 part of the Atlas Copco Group). He has a strong focus on B2B e-commerce as well as bridging the online and offline customer journey. Carl has led Leybold to establish strong startup and industrial partnerships with a focus on e-commerce, digitalization of B2B business models, industrial technology including Augmented Reality for service applications and crowd collaboration.
One of the partnerships established involves Leybold in the development of the Hyperloop, a new high-speed ground transportation system, for which Leybold became a key technology partner in the development and supply of required vacuum systems to operate the Hyperloop.
In May this year, Carl became General Manager for Leybold in North America and is now based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Prior to this position, Carl looks back at a corporate career of 9 years within the Swiss industrial group Oerlikon, where as Head of Business Development he was responsible for Leybold’s global strategy and M&A; CFO and Board Director for Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum in China and Taiwan, Head of Finance and Risk Management for Oerlikon Textile in Germany and M&A Business Analyst at Oerlikon Space in Switzerland.