Google Glass: Looking into the future of power plant maintenance

26 May 2014 (Last Updated May 26th, 2014 18:30)

From paper based work orders to archaic interfaces, the processes and infrastructure around monitoring and maintaining assets appear out of touch. At the European leg of Ventyx World in Barcelona, the company's research and development team explain why Google Glass and an influx of youthful, tech savvy workers will usher in a new era of mobile maintenance.

Google Glass: Looking into the future of power plant maintenance

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Today, the life of an asset maintenance engineer is labouring. Between assessing an issue and lodging a completed work order come multiple car trips, paper based admin and outdated uploading processes. Tomorrow though, everything will be different, with automation and augmented reality threading through each and every stage to optimise efficiency.

Laurie Taulson, EVP of global R&D, Derek Porter, EVP of product management and strategy, and Jan Birkelund, head of UX, at Ventyx offer up an insight into the future.

Adam Leach (AL): What technology are you currently developing to assist power plant workers and maintenance staff?

Derek Porter: All the new applications and new intellectual property that we're working on has a mobile first viewpoint. We're trying to enable the workers to do their work where they work. So a lot of our workers are out in the field doing inspections, doing line repairs or doing rounds in a power plant and doing repairs. If you take that to its next step, you mobilise it, so you have a laptop or a tablet that can pull up the information about the piece of work they're going to do and record the completed tasks. Today they have to do that by writing on a piece of paper and taking that back to a desk and enter it.

AL: What is next stage of development?

Derek Porter: Well that stuff helps them a lot, but the next stage is to help when they're working with their hands. Google Glass captures our attention because it's one of those devices that can enable them to do that work, while they're using their hands. Whether that's the answer or not, I don't think we're ready to say that, but we're doing all the foundation work to allow those types of answers. We did some R&D work with MIT around user experience and augmented reality, just to bring ourselves up the learning curve.

AL: Which industries can you see adopting solutions based around smart glasses?

Laurie Taulson: I think it will be across all the major industries. They're doing a similar kind of work, just in a different environment, so if you can use it to see everything through your glass without having to write it down because you have voice command, I think it could be very powerful. It will take time, but I think we might hit this tipping point where we reach the capacity to integrate it into our systems of work. We've done a lot of prototyping around what this augmented reality would look like. It was more than taking pictures and uploading, which we can do now, to where you can actually have a conversation and share with somebody that's remote.

AL: Is there an existing demand for it?

DP: Our customers are coming to us and almost singing that they need that technology now and they need that kind of support, so we're getting it done and will be rolling out some mobile products later this year.

AL: What do you think the main barrier to using Google Glass in maintenance is?

DP: The adoption rate will probably not be that fast while $1500 a pop but a lot of companies will be interested at a few hundred dollars a pop.

AL: Is the industry warming up to innovation?

DP: Right now, I would say we're a little bit ahead of our customers, in terms what change management we're willing to take on, but they certainly have that future view.

LT: I think it's speeding up because of the new, younger workers coming in and I think that has accelerated it, because they are more adapted to it, they're used to gaming and that is what they desire.

AL: Which companies or industries are leading the way in embracing technology?

Jan Birkelund: I think EDF in France are really trying to popularise it and attract a younger workforce. One of the first times I went to visit a nuclear power plant there, they had schoolchildren there on a tour. And most of the meetings I've been in with them since are filled with 20 year olds. In France, it's a great career path.I think that's interesting and they, among others are very interested in mobile technology and better user experience to attract a younger workforce.

AL: What other applications are you developing?

JB: We've also been working on a video collaboration tool with ABB, which enables you take a tablet out into the field and create a video link back to HQ and have an expert there and assess what they are being shown. If we can do that with Google Glasses, it's a really cool thing because you can kind of ping the expert at HQ and get them to talk them through what to do as they can see what they're seeing.

AL: Which sectors will you be targeting the applications at?

DP: We serve all kinds of generation, so when we start supporting nuclear power, all of a sudden that technology allows you to go into things like renewables with wind farms and solar farms. The workforces are different but they'll backwards process. They're not going to put in the whole solution, but when you move into mobile apps, you can just show pieces of it and use pieces of it and that changes the dynamic of what markets you can go into and we see that as a big chance.

AL: Which sectors do you see as key opportunities for growth?

DP: Windfarms are all getting to an age of 10 years old and that is when a lot of the warranties will run out, because windfarms maintenance was always carried out by the manufacturers under warranty. That means that a new breed of maintenance has to come in and offer up those services to be outsourced, but they need tools to do that effectively. It's a combination of a piece of asset management, operations where you do rounds and inspections and then that combined with monitoring real time data and the maintenance history. Now there's a market that is growing for that, there's as much money being put into renewables as conventional generation.

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