Innovative Tools for Field Workers

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Innovative Tools and Technologies for Utility and/or Communication Field Workers

Five innovative technologies and tools have emerged within the last two years that have greatly improved field services and collaborations between office and field. Those technologies include augmented reality tools, ArcFM solutions GIS systems, the ArcFM mobile application, Esri's Utility Network, and digital twin technology.

Augmented Reality (AR)

  • The energies and utilities industry accounts for roughly 17% of global smart glasses shipments in 2018.
  • The AR market revenue is expected to reach $18 billion by 2022, with smart glasses hardware comprising the majority.
  • AR's benefit is in providing near real-time support to field workers by remote experts, who can provide guidance and highlight areas for caution to field crew and line technicians.
  • Smart glasses mitigate many existing concerns for field workers, including: lack of time and qualified inspectors for thorough quality inspections, safety risks due to lack of experience, pressure to reduce costs while also improving time efficiency, inability to accurately record field work for future evaluation, and loss of knowledge.
  • A number of companies have successfully implemented AR-based assembly tools, such as smart glasses, including Amazon.
  • Amazon provides its workers with Vuzix virtual headsets, a tool which captures, analyzes, and delivers real-time actionable data to field workers.
  • Vuzix smart glasses also provide data to AWS cloud repositories, where they are stored and allow office employees to navigate warehouses, manage inventory, or offer remote assistance based on real-time data provided by the headsets.
  • Another company using smart glasses to improve efficiency is GE Renewable Energy, which has improved technician assembly time efficiency by 34% through use of glasses overlaid with digital instructions.
  • Additionally, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) paired up with Duke Energy to deploy the Atheer AR platform to demonstrate improved efficiency and safety through hands-free data access.
  • Similarly, Siemens and DAQRI collaborated on a study to examine the effectiveness of AR-based gas burner assembly and assessed training efficiency and assembly errors.
  • The study found that AR-based assembly methods significantly reduced assembly time, with one novice worker reporting that, with use of the AR-based tool, assembly time was reduced from one day to 45 minutes.
  • Reported challenges during implementation of Siemens-DAQRI's study included disparity between novice and expert opinions on requiring support in using the AR-based system, with younger, novice assembly workers rating "1 — highly disagree," and an older expert worker rating "5 — strongly agree."

ArcFM Solution XI Series

  • Schneider Electric's ArcFM Solution XI Series, which is an ecosystem of connected apps that provides technology and digital solutions to each phase of work to digitize the design and construction workflows.
  • Schneider Electric, the leader in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) solutions for utilities and communications providers, developed the next generation of GIS data solutions to provide a synchronized digital platform to promote efficiency between office and field collaborations.
  • The latest Solution XI Series provides an opportunity to digitize each step of the workflow process for field workers and increases responsiveness, efficiency, and safety in the field.
  • It also allows operators to use a singular system of digital applications to "visualize, navigate and manage their utility network’s assets."
  • An example of effective return-on-investment for this technology is in Garland Power & Light (GP&L), the third largest municipal utility in Texas, which serves over 68,000 customers.
  • GP&L turned to SSP Innovations, a large consulting firm, to support GIS implementation after two implementation attempts for a cost-effective solution to streamlining facility and asset management.
  • Struggling with disparate data and paper maps, GP&L decided to purchase the ArcFM enterprise solution to consolidate data sources into a single system.
  • The new technology allowed GP&L to minimize data redundancy and to effectively manage multiple business requirements in one system.

ArcFM Mobile

  • Schneider Electric's ArcFM Mobile digital solution, a comprehensive utility-scale mobile GIS solution, extends GIS data transmission into the field, via any device, with ease.
  • The application is efficient and cost-effective, by allowing businesses to collaborate between the field and office in near real-time with accelerated work flow processes such as "digital redlining, as-builting, and inspection."
  • Companies can benefit from use of the software by minimizing "manual processes, paper maps and duplication of work."
  • Madison Gas and Electric, a company that serves 309,000 electric and gas customers throughout Wisconsin, paired with Schneider Electric and Power Engineers to replace their existing 25-year old GIS data system with the new ArcFM Mobile network in February 2018.
  • The Midwest utility company reduced staff training time through use of ArcFM mobile by 88%.
  • Allowing field workers to do their work digitally, use of systems such as ArcFM mobile, all work is consistently logged into the system and allows administrators to constantly view data from the field and distribute it company-wide for updates in an efficient manner.
  • The major challenge for implementation of ArcFM is integrating the system into existing integration points within the existing GIS system, which requires an implementation team that is cross-functional and has change management expertise.

Esri's Utility Network

  • Esri's Utility Network is a prime example of a modern utility system with an optimal services-based architecture.
  • This allows for platform capabilities and application programming interfaces (APIs) through web-based services.
  • According to Esri's official website, the Utility Network allows for users to create, manage, and share "electric, water, wastewater, gas, district heating, and telecommunications asset data."
  • The Network enables visualizations and data modeling for companies to identify the placement of devices or structures within buildings for enhanced visibility of vulnerabilities or safety concerns; for example, visualizing the internal gas piping configuration within a gas meter station building in 3-D.
  • Companies that have used Esri's Utility Network include the National Grid natural gas and electric provider and Mid-South Utility, a Texan electric provider.
  • Using 2-D and 3-D modeling tools on the Utility Network, Mid-South Utility was able to use spatial analytics to determine the probability of dead trees falling on the utility’s electric wires across the Sam Houston National Forest and reduced tree outages by 60%.
  • The services-based structure of a network like Esri's Utility Network is ideal for the use of digital twins, which also promote efficiency in field services.
  • To avoid challenges in implementation of the Utility Network, SSP Innovations, a Utility Network integration consultant, recommends ensuring that key business needs, success factors, and a plan for budgeting and sequencing data are identified at the outset of deployment to determine the ArcGIS Platform and Utility Network upgrade architecture and functional capabilities.
  • Regular meetings with stakeholders throughout the implementation of the Network is necessary to ensure business needs are met.

Digital Twins

  • Digital twins are virtual replicas of processes, products, or services which allows for forecasting analysis and proactive system monitoring to prevent problems before they occur.
  • Tapping into systems such as Esri's Utility Network, which maps assets and physical locations in 2-D and 3-D visualizations, can allow for system-wide monitoring and process improvement using digital twin technology.
  • For example GE Renewable Energy created a “digital wind farm” to improve productivity, using a digital environment to inform the configuration of each wind turbine prior to construction.
  • The ultimate goal of the wind farm project is to generate 20% gains in efficiency by monitoring and analyzing the data from physical turbines as they are transmitted to their virtual equivalents.
  • By leveraging proxies of the physical world through virtual equivalents, use of digital twins can enhance time efficiency and reduce costs by mitigating risks before they physically manifest.
  • An IDC projection predicts that companies who invest in digital twin technology will see a 30% improvement in cycle times of critical processes.
  • The challenge in implementing digital twin technology is the potential weakness in security due to the large amounts of data being collected and stored.
  • Potential risk for compromise increases with each new connection; therefore, companies must ensure they have updated and comprehensive security protocols for processes such as data encryption, access privileges, and security audits to prevent compromise.

Research Strategy

The preliminary search began with digital technology-focused magazines, telecommunications companies, and engineering research sites. From blogs and integration consultant articles, five major technologies and tools that have been implemented by utilities and communications companies within the last two years were summarized. The original, full report for ABI's research on AR is available for purchase for $4,500 so a summary of the report was provided instead.