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Augmented Reality is Ready Now for Construction, Manufacturing, and Mining

BK: Welcome to HxGN RADIO. My name is Brian. Thanks for joining us today. Augmented reality has leapt to the forefront in the past several years as a new tool for construction, manufacturing, and mining to gain a competitive advantage over their rivals. Utilising AR in construction helps make people safer and also improves inspection, work instruction, training, workflow management, operations, and safety. AR is an investment in people, making them more capable and productive. Today I’m here with Dexter Lilley, the executive VP and COO at Index AR Solutions, and in today’s episode, we will be talking all about why augmented reality is ready now for construction, manufacturing, and mining. Dexter, welcome. Thank you.

DL: Thank you very much, Brian.

BK: It’s good to have you here.

DL: It’s great to be here.

BK: Man, we’re going to chat all about this, so I’m excited. We’ve already had some fun off mic. That’s the fun part. I mean, I wish we could be recording the off-mic chat. It’s just not relevant, but it was good. Glad to have you here.

DL: Terrific.

BK: Tell us all about Index AR Solutions.

DL: Well, we’re a startup, and we do augmented reality-based solutions that are deployed on mobile devices for our clients. We seek high-impact solutions for our clients.

BK: Excellent. How did you get into this? Tell me also about your teaming partner and all of that.

DL: Sure. We’re teamed with Newport News Shipbuilding. Newport News Shipbuilding is a $4 billion-a-year company with about 20,000 people. They’re the sole supplier of nuclear aircraft carriers, and one of the two suppliers of nuclear submarines. I actually came out of Newport News Shipbuilding and its parent company, Huntington Ingalls Industries.

BK: Interesting. I’m a huge fan of subs. I don’t know why, but I’ve always kind of geeked out on subs all through the years.

DL: Yeah, they’re fascinating.

BK: Yeah, they really are. You used to be a part of that?

DL: Yes, absolutely. I ran a major portion of the shipyard there. I was the director in construction and manufacturing.

BK: Now, did you ever … I’m just curious … kind of a side note. Did you ever get a chance to go out on one?

DL: Oh yes, I did.

BK: Did they take you … Oh good.

DL: They actually had these dependents’ cruises. There was a lottery, and one time I won the lottery and I got to go out. They dropped live bombs …

BK: Oh cool.

DL: … and they landed and took off planes, and you could sit on deck while they were doing that. It was amazing.

BK: That’s great. Good experience of a lifetime.

DL: Sure.

BK: Yeah. You’re a 2015 startup.

DL: Yes.

BK: Tell us a little bit about that.

DL: In 2011, when I was at Huntington Ingalls Industries, Newport News Shipbuilding started exploring augmented reality as a solution to get away from paper documentation, and the first project and some research and development was done then. In about 2012, I got involved and helped that team out that was doing that. At that time, there was only four people involved in that team. By 2014, they had done a significant number of projects, a lot of research and development, and how to apply this to complex industrial problems. We decided that they had something special and we should try to take it outside. We tried various avenues to do that, and by about June of 2014, we decided that the only way you’re going to make this work is if we take it outside. My business partner and I made a decision, talked to the company, and said let us do this for you. Now we’re teamed with Newport News Shipbuilding, and that teaming arrangement is pretty interesting.

BK: That is neat. That’s great when you can actually say, hey, we have a solution to help you, but it also benefits you as well …

DL: Yes.

BK: … and be able to work together. Collaboration, in my opinion, always seems to benefit far more than trying to compete against each other.

DL: Right. Absolutely.

BK: Excellent.

DL: Our teaming agreement is very interesting. It’s got three major components to it. One is this amazing team of AR engineers, designers, developers, graphic artists, and trainers that has been built up over the years to the point now where there’s 39 people that are totally dedicated to doing that. We lease those people. Our business model is interesting because we’re able to lease those people, but if we don’t need them on a project, they can go back to their own company, their home base.

The second piece of that is the market. Newport News is only interested in doing augmented reality for the Navy and their own shipbuilding, so the rest of the market, EPCs, utilities, large equipment manufacturers, that’s the purview of Index. Then the third piece of that is that we perpetually share intellectual property. It’s a very mutually beneficial arrangement between the two companies, and it gives us a lot of strength in our ability to scale rapidly and grow rapidly as the business grows.

BK: Great. That’s wonderful and healthy too.

DL: Sure.

BK: Nice to hear that. Tell us about a project or even a couple of projects that you’ve completed and what problems they’ve solved, what the results were.

DL: We’ve completed with Newport News Shipbuilding … some of those for the shipyard, some for the Navy, and some outside clients … we’ve completed about 80 projects now, and those projects are just a vast array of projects ranging from marketing to step-by-step instructions for manufacturing, construction, training. We’ve also done some things in operations and maintenance, so just a vast array of possible use cases. The key there is that we’re getting really incredible results. We have safety, quality … knowledge transfer has really become a big issue for us and our ability to take what people know and put it into an application that then becomes standardised learning for people … and then also cost and schedule. We’ve had some pretty fantastic results over the course of the last several years.

BK: Excellent. Great results. Has there been any specific feedback that just stands out, that you go, “Yeah, this is why I do what I do”?

DL: Oh yeah. One of the things we found out is that people … You might think that, with technology, some people may not adapt to it easily, but we have found that, because we’re providing a tool that makes people that do the work more capable and provides them a way to … Some of the things that they have to do today, they don’t really want to do. They just want to do what they were trained to do. If you look at their time, half of their time is spending preparing for the job, not doing the job. What we do is take all of that paper information and turn it into visuals, and that allows them to do their jobs more efficiently. Demographics really don’t matter. What we’re finding is that everybody loves this when you put it in their hands. We haven’t run across one single person that said, “I’m not going to use this.”

BK: Yeah, that’s good.

DL: It’s been pretty incredible in terms of that. The results we’re getting are great, as well. Let me talk about safety for a minute.

BK: Yes, please.

DL: One of the things that augmented reality mobile-based applications allows you to do, you have these step-by-step instructions, so you’re seeing these visuals in front of you that are showing you exactly what you have to do. You can have that tablet on a stand or on an arm, and you can see the step and then go do the step, and then you can see the step and then go do the step. Maybe you get to Step 25 and this is where maybe in the past we’ve had two or three different injuries. You could have a 10-second video clip of Jane saying, “I got injured at this step because XYZ.” Now a colleague of the person doing the work is telling another colleague, “Be very careful at this step because I got injured at this step.” That’s very, very effective in helping people with safety. I like to say it’s contextually aware safety information as opposed to something that’s written in the front or back of a document. Safety has been really important.

BK: Excellent. It’s just-in-time learning.

DL: Absolutely.

BK: You try to learn that all in the beginning, you’re going to forget about it, especially in that moment. Yeah, I like that.

DL: I like to say the lines are blurring between training and doing.

BK: Oh yeah.

DL: We have applications that are both training and maintenance applications. It’s the same application. Perhaps a person is learning how to do this for the first time or they may be going out into the field and they’ve got a performance operation that they haven’t done in a year. They can break out the tablet, pull up the application, and just walk right through the project. Then that will refresh their memory on exactly what steps have to be done.

We recently finished a project for a Southern California utility, and it was a training and maintenance application. At the end of that, after delivery, we tested two equally skilled workers that had not done … They were equally skilled and they were trained and qualified, but they had not done that particular maintenance operation. The person with the app did it in two hours, and it was a very complex evolution, had 65 different steps in it. Reversed two steps. They made two errors. The person that had to do it with the paper process made 17 errors. We had an 88% reduction in error rate just from being able to use the app. Not only that, the person that used the app did it about half the time that an expert had done it, did it in two hours instead of four hours, which was pretty amazing, as well.

BK: That’s incredible. It saves time, reduces errors, much more efficient. They’re probably learning better and probably retaining that knowledge.

DL: Absolutely.

BK: Wow.

DL: Absolutely.

BK: This is incredible.

DL: I left my job, but I could’ve stayed in my job much longer. I left my job because when I first saw this I said, “This is going to change everything.” It’s going to change the way everything gets done over the next five to 10 years, and it’s already started. It’s started doing that.

BK: I can think of applications even in our industry and how this would just be profoundly, profoundly amazing. I mean, it would really change everything. You talked about earlier, people don’t want to spend time preparing to do their job, and how many workers do that? You spend more time preparing than you do actually getting it done.

DL: You do.

BK: Yeah.

DL: You do.

BK: It’s an amazing thing. Wow, that’s incredible. You might’ve mentioned this. You mentioned that case, but what AR use case is providing … What’s the greatest benefit? We’ve talked about a lot of the benefits here, but what do you think is the actual greatest benefit?

DL: The greatest ones that we’ve seen to date … We’ve done training; we’ve done maintenance; but the one that has the biggest impact is inspection. We’re seeing inspection results ranging from 30% all the way up to … and I will tell you this is our very best, but we had a 95% reduction in cost and schedule on one particular training app. Again, this one was inside of Newport News Shipbuilding. Let me give you a little bit of detail about it.

BK: Yeah, tell us about it.

DL: On ships that are built, they have to put in … You can imagine. These get built like large building blocks. The building blocks are the size of a three-story house, and when they lift those up and put them in the dry dock, they turn and twist, and they have to put something called temporary steel in them. Once that gets locked into the ship and welded in, that temporary steel has got to come back out. Oftentimes, it gets painted and it looks like the rest of the ship, so there’s an engineer whose job is to go around and find that stuff, and it may have been taken out or it may not have been taken out. Then he’s got to figure out exactly where is it. He’s looking at all these drawings to try to go find it, and he’s looking up and looking at the drawing, “Am I in the right place?”

We did a little experiment. We asked him to put together a week’s worth of work. He put together 37 hours’ worth of work. That was his estimate. We created an app that was a very elegant solution. It showed the temporary steel in just a transparent green, the regular background steel of the ship in a transparent blue, and the foundations of steel in a purple. He was able to go into the seven large compartments that he had to inspect and instantly see where all the temporary steel should be, and then he could tell if it was there or not, and then tag it if it needed to be ripped out. He was able to do that 37-hour job in seven large compartments in 90 minutes.

BK: Wow.

DL: It was a 95% reduction in cost and schedule. If you think about a ship like this, a large ship … that was seven compartments … there’s 3,000 compartments that have to be done like that. You can see when you start doing the multiplication, it’s a pretty amazing reduction in cost and schedule.

BK: Absolutely. Wow, that’s incredible. How does Index AR complement Hexagon’s suite of products?

DL: A year ago, I didn’t know a lot about what Hexagon did, and then I met one of the fantastic people. We were introduced to Ben, and we learned about Hexagon. I think we’re very complementary with Hexagon because we’re kind of the last mile in the process. You have all this data. What do you do with it? What we’re able to do is turn that data into visuals and put it in the hands of the people actually doing the work. All of this planning and everything is happening up here, but when you actually get down to the hands-on people doing the work, what technology is helping them? This is that technology. It helps them visualise what’s going on. It can collect big data and show what’s going on.

We’re doing a project that is in conjunction with a consulting partner for the U.S. Air Force, and they have this fleet of planes that’s been around for 30 years. They have all this corrosion data for the fleet that’s sitting in a database somewhere not doing anything. We took all that corrosion data … Now, this is on a tabletop 3D-printed model of the plane. We took all that corrosion data and were able to project it on the side of the ship as a heat map, so it’s hot where there’s the most corrosion, and then a red, and then an orange, yellow, and so forth. Now the technician that’s going up to inspect a plane that’s just come in can concentrate on those zones where the heat maps are, and hopefully the U.S. Air Force is going to like it so much we’ll do it on the real planes instead of just the tabletop model.

BK: That’s incredible because then you can go on and just focus on those parts …

DL: Absolutely.

BK: … get it done. They don’t have to spend a lot of time.

DL: Right. Those areas that never have corrosion, they don’t have to worry about that.

BK: Exactly.

DL: They can really focus on where they have the corrosion.

BK: Or just saying, “Let’s just get a new plane at this point.”

DL: This plane’s 30 years old.

BK: Well, yeah.

DL: Still very serviceable.

BK: That’s the thing, the fact that they’re continuing to go. You can salvage it, keep moving forward with those, rather than having to spend another … however much they are … couple hundred million or whatever they are per plane. They’re a lot. Yeah, wonderful. Wow, this is fantastic. Well, is there anything else you’d like to share as a wrap-up?

DL: Well, at the beginning, I talked about AR’s ready now. In my view, it’s ready now. We’ve been proving it for the last three to four years that it’s providing fantastic results. I think for construction and mining and manufacturing, it’s ready to go. Don’t wait for the perfect hardware. We’re hardware agnostic. We’ll use any hardware to do this. Don’t wait for the perfect hardware. Use what’s available now, the tablets that are out there. We can deploy on any mobile device. It’s ready to go now. Get involved so that you can kind of get ahead of your competition.

BK: Absolutely. Then you can adjust as necessary …

DL: Absolutely.

BK: … and learn as you go. I love it. Dexter, thank you very much for your time and for sharing all of this information.

DL: Okay, terrific.

BK: Really appreciate it.

DL: I enjoyed it.

BK: Well, if you want to learn a little bit more information, go to indexarsolutions.com. All of the information is there, and you can see more about augmented reality and the fact that it is ready now for construction, manufacturing, and mining. Be sure to tune in to more episodes on HxGNRADIO.com, iTunes, SoundCloud, or Stitcher Radio, as well. Thanks for listening. Have a great day.

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