The appearance of COVID-19 made it impossible for us to travel to the installation of our machines and our partners couldn’t come to Viljandi for training. The world was locked. As a solution, we put all our efforts into creating an AR installation tool, which interactively combines the real machine, technical documents, and animated instructions.
Our CTO Ott Pabut talked about the tool with Henrik Roonema from Geenius.ee, Estonia’s no 1 technology news portal. The original article (in Estonian) can be found here.
Coronavirus pushed Cleveron quickly towards augmented reality
When the coronavirus eliminated the possibility of international travel, Cleveron faced a huge problem: their technicians couldn’t travel to install the parcel robots; their partners couldn’t come to Estonia for training. The solution came in the form of augmented reality or AR. The first robots have already been installed with the help of the tool.
“Normally we manufacture the robots, and then there are two options. We either install them ourselves or our distributor takes care of it,” said Cleveron’s Chief Technology Officer Ott Pabut to DigiPRO. “When this corona mess started, our distributor network did not have the level of expertise as we would have liked.”
For Cleveron, this meant that even though the booming e-commerce created a lot of interest for parcel and grocery robots and Cleveron was also interested in selling; however, the deals were not always closed since Cleveron’s technicians couldn’t travel from Estonia. To acquire the necessary expertise and certificates, all Cleveron’s distributors had to first attend a week-long on-site training in Viljandi.
“The installation is quite complex, and the quality of the installation considerably affects the product’s lifespan and service interval”, explained Pabut. That is why it is essential that the distributor’s technicians are properly trained.
How to turn physical into virtual?
In the Spring, when the virus hit, the grocery robot was still a new product in the portfolio. The main problem was that there hadn’t been enough time to train the distributors. When it came to regular meetings, they were moved to virtual environments easily, and many Estonian companies did just that. But Cleveron had to find a way to make physical installations virtual.
The solution was AR and the company behind it, Scope AR. Since all Cleveron’s products are created in 3D, they could take their own 3D modes, add animation or, simply put, text and arrows, in what order and from where a screw needs to be fastened, or the side panel mounted, and move all this to augmented reality.
Today, when Cleveron’s robot reaches its destination in another country and the technicians set the unit in place, they first sets the markers needed for the AR program around the real location. Then they take an iPad or put on the Microsoft HoloLens AR glasses, and the Scope AR software displays a life-size virtual Cleveron’s machine in the real location.
“It is hard to describe, you really need to see it,” said Pabut. “The software displays the picture in 1:1 size with the actual machine. Then the technician selects the first installation step, like the side panel, for example. First, you see the animation, where it is supposed to go. Then you can take the panel and put it in the right place. There is no need for additional written or oral communication.”
With this solution, you can install the complex robot even without having seen it before. Cleveron recently tested the AR solution in its factory on the team, that didn’t have a technical background, to see, if they could do the installation without the standard, extensive training. The crew was successful.
Just to be sure, Clevoron’s trainer oversees the whole process via video call. His task is to support the installation, and technicians can turn to him for advice.
Pabut named another positive quality AR has – it prevents terminological confusion. The installations are normally in English, but nor Cleveron’s or the distributor’s technicians are native speakers. This means that the terms Cleveron’s crew uses, may not be understandable for the distributor’s team.
“For example, you say “take this fixation bolt”, but you are talking to a person who does not know, what the term means,” explained Pabut. “Now we can ensure that the partners are doing the steps in the right order, one by one, and the terminology and language issues are almost immediately solved.”
Two days of confusion
Cleveron had the first AR installation in the middle of the Summer in Dubai. One Cleveron technician flew down to the installation as a backup, but in reality, the installation was done with the help of AR. Pabut also talked about a situation in the USA, where one of the robots had a technical issue, but Cleveron’s technicians failed to explain to the partner how to fix it, with the help of pictures and text. “So we used AR and the problem was solved in an hour. But we had quite the mess for a couple of days before that, “ said Pabut.
The first AR installation without an on-site Cleveron’s technician should take place in September or October in New Zealand or Australia. The experience so far has been so good that the company plans to continue. According to Pabut, half of all installations could be done using AR.
You don’t really need the HoloLens
Augmented reality technology is still in the early stages, and for example, HoloLes is quite expensive. Cleveron’s experience shows that installation usually involves several people, so the project manager can take the iPad, walk around the machine, and guide everyone. Another option would be to place the iPad on a stand, and then you can go and check, what do you need to do next.
The bonus with HoloLens is that the person has the image in front of them at all times and the hands are free. Pabut sees this as an advantage more with the maintenance of the machine, since it makes more sense to send one technician to the site, not a whole team.
There are two main costs when using AR: the software license and adding the directions to the already existing 3D drawings. The instructions for simpler lockers can be done in a month, creating a tool for more complex grocery robots may take two or three months. Pabut says that this indeed takes a long time, but the positive side is, that once the material is finished, and when something changes in the design of the machine, the change implementation is fast and cheap.
“As soon as we realized the extent of the health crisis and the travel bands, we made the decision to make this investment. So far, there hasn’t been a reason to regret it,” said Pabut.