- By Bob Meads, CEO, iQagent
If you are currently investigating AR solutions for your plant, or are curious about the benefits of Industrial AR, you need to read this. iQagent delivers an on-premise, perpetually licensed, full featured solution that works with existing mobile devices, as well as wearables such as the RealWear HMT-1 and Microsoft HoloLens. And you can start now for under $10,000, including a new RealWear HMT-1. Be an AR Pilot Hero: Read On.
Augmented Reality (AR) shows great promise for industrial use cases, a fact most recently underlined by Microsoft’s announcement of the HoloLens 2, aimed squarely at large industrial and manufacturing users. As The Verge’s Dieter Bohn puts it: “Microsoft has decided that it is only going to sell to enterprise customers who want to deploy the headset to their workers. As of right now, Microsoft isn’t even announcing a developer kit version of the HoloLens 2. ” We later learned that, indeed, Microsoft has no plans to release a developer edition of the HoloLens 2. Translation: Microsoft doesn’t want to sell the HoloLens 2, they want to sell subscriptions to online services directly to large corporations and basically bypass smaller ISV’s.
I am certainly not surprised that Microsoft recognized AR’s potential is industrial use cases, but I will admit to being a little surprised (read: irritated) at how big of a push they made for a cloud based subscription services to use the new device, and how little information they put out in the announcement for individual developers and smaller companies. They will certainly make more money in the long run selling a monthly service than a one time price for hardware; after all, this has worked well for printers, cable companies, and cellphone vendors for decades. But having purchased such products in the past, I think on how the sweetness of that $20 printer bargain quickly soured when I made that first $65 ink purchase. And then the next one. And the next one. Ad Nauseum.
My point is that vendors driving the industrial AR “wave front” seems to be pushing a cloud-based subscription model versus an on-premises perpetual model; this means vendors want to give you the hardware for little or no cost and then have you pay a monthly subscription to use the software on the device as a service. For a long time. And while this approach always works out for the vendor, we don’t think this is always a win for customers.
Why Subscription = Cloud Based Solutions
The main purpose of a subscription model (or, Software As A Service, SaaS) is to guarantee monthly recurring income to the vendor with minimal support, a concept which is very popular with investors of said companies, for obvious reasons. But why is it always a cloud solution, versus on-premises? While there are some customer benefits to a cloud solution, the main reason is so the vendor can turn off the service if the subscription isn’t paid. And if your plant floor depends on these services, not paying the subscription isn’t an easy option. Especially if you have put a lot of work into it. That’s the point.
From the customer’s side, there will always be a point at which they are paying more for a subscription than they would if they had just purchased the solution. And as they put more work into the solution, the more work they have to do if they want to move to a different solution later. So, if there are problems with the service, or customer support, its not so easy to change. Like a time share, these may seem like a great deal up front, but usually not: subscriptions are easy to get into, harder to get out of.
Software subscription models will always eventually work in favor of the vendor, and not the end customer.
iQagent’s business model is to build great relationships with customers based on an awesome product and great support; therefore, we are not fans of software subscription models because they work in the interest of the vendor and not the customer. Because we sell perpetual licenses, we have to work harder to find new customers and earn annual maintenance and support agreement renewals. We do this by talking to our customers, and adding features that continue to add value. Its worth it: we have found that if you create and maintain a great relationship with your customers, you won’t need to tie them to a subscription to keep doing business with them. Both parties win.
Why AR Pilots Often Fail, or Fade Away
The barriers to AR adoption by a customer are much the same as any new technology: Uncertainty, Use Cases, and Proving ROI. These are inter-related; in my experience, Proving a solution’s ROI to the satisfaction of the bean counters is the main barrier to AR pilot success.
Uncertainty: Companies need to be reasonably sure the technology will continue to be supported, which is driven by other companies also making the commitment to adopt. This is in turn driven by vendors needing to make a profit through the use of the new technology. With the amount of money being poured into AR by Microsoft, Apple, Google, and others, I don’t think there is an uncertainty problem for Industrial AR.
Use Cases: AR has many well documented use cases for manufacturing and industrial settings that are recognized by customers as potentially having ROI, all things considered:
- Displaying data and resources in context of real world equipment or systems. This use case allows users to see and interact with AR data and resources in context of their work environment and relevant to their current task. For example, having a sensor data readout displayed near the real world sensor, or having a video on how to change a filter near the actual filter assembly. This is a more natural way to view this data and reduces time lost when users would normally refer to an HMI panel or look up resources on a document management system to get this information.
- Operator Training and task walk throughs. This feature would allow users to be guided through a task using AR components such as text instructions, shapes, images, videos and documents. This feature could be used to train new operators on a task, as well as used for more complex tasks for maintenance and repair. In short, it is another way for experienced professionals to encode and pass down knowledge to new users.
- Reducing requirement of real world displays. If plant floor users have AR capable devices, this can greatly reduce the real world hardware required to display relevant information, such as HMI display, dashboards, Andon light stacks and similar devices. This reduces costs in purchasing, installing and maintaining electronics by replacing them with augmented versions. The ROI here will only grow as more AR capable wearables hit the market.
Larger corporations are investing heavily into exploring the potential of AR for their plants, which tells me that they recognize these and other use cases as beneficial, so I don’t think a lack of perceived use cases is the largest barrier to adoption, which leads us at last to:
Proving Return On Investment (ROI). The point of a Pilot or Proof Of Concept (POC) is to prove that the new technology works, solves a problem, and will provide an acceptable ROI. This ROI must take into account the Total Cost Of Ownership (TCO) of the solution, which considers the costs of software, hardware, adoption, upkeep, etc. I won’t go into a detailed explanation of TCO, but just to say this is where you have to prove everything out to the bean counters, who ultimately make or influence the decision to purchase.
Proving ROI is the biggest barrier to a successful AR Pilot.
Mobile devices are already part of the plant floor workflow, and to many, are an indispensable part of the daily work routine. But many (or most) of these devices don’t support AR, which requires special hardware to work. You can run an AR app on your iPhone 8 or X, but not on your iPhone 4. Even if you could, these mobile devices don’t really contribute to your AR pilot’s ROI, because Industrial Augmented Reality has little or no benefit if deployed solely on hand-held devices.
Yes, I just said that. Think about it: what good is an AR app that guides you through a procedure if at least one hand has to hold the device in a certain orientation to see and interact with the content? Not Much. In order to get as much ROI from AR as possible, we need hands-free wearable devices such as a HoloLens or RealWear, or ROI will be limited right off the bat — at least for AR-only solutions. However, wearable devices are new, and expensive, and can’t replace existing mobile devices already in use, such as tablets and phones. Therefore, ROI potential is also reduced if we cannot incorporate the customers existing mobile devices into the solution.
So we seem to have a dilemma:
- Customers likely have existing hand held mobile devices they use daily, which may or may not support AR.
- Industrial AR is only practical when running on a wearable device.
- Industrial AR solutions that focus only on wearable devices provide limited ROI.
There is actually no dilemma here, at least for companies that didn’t confine their solutions to a single class of device or technology. We at iQagent realize that:
The best ROI is obtained from solutions that delivers robust functionality on mobile devices the customer already owns, as well as AR capable mobile & wearable devices.
To sum up the points so far:
- Software Subscription models benefit the vendor much more than the customer.
- Proving ROI is the key to AR Pilot success.
- The best ROI is obtained from a solution that allows robust functionality on the mobile devices the customer already has, as well as AR capable wearable devices the customer will purchase now or in the future.
iQagent was founded on the idea of Practical Augmented Reality for the Plant Floor. To us, this means our solution should work with both existing technology, as well as proven new technology, and provide undeniable ROI through a rich feature set that solves actual plant floor problems. We can do this because our founders have each spent 25+ years on the plant floor, serving as production engineers, technicians, maintenance staff and integrators. We know plant floor systems from the I/O level, through PLC, HMI and SCADA, up to MES and ERP. We put this expertise to use when designing iQagent and considering new features to add to the product.
Because of this, we can offer you:
The 10 Minute, on-Premises, No Risk AR Pilot for under $10,000
10 Minutes, because that’s how long it will take to install iQagent and begin creating your first Points Of Interest. POIs can include links to documents, live process data, videos, and data entry or work instruction forms, and are instantly accessible on your mobile devices as well as wearables such as HoloLens and RealWear HMT-1. With iQagent, you can create a POI in moments and see it on any supported device immediately.
On Premises, because you install iQagent on a VM on your private network. We support Microsoft Server 2008, 2012, and 2016 Operating Systems. You can choose SQLite, SQL Server or MySQL databases for your backend configuration. There is no requirement for a cloud connection whatsoever for iQagent to run in your plant.
No Risk, because:
- iQagent is off the shelf, and does not require a developer, or even special skills to create or deploy POIs, Forms, Work Instructions or AR Procedures.
- iQagent works with mobile devices you already have, as well as AR capable mobiles and wearables available now, or in the future. When you create a POI, it works instantly on all your supported devices. You get ROI from day one.
- iQagent includes a powerful Forms Creator, allowing anyone to build powerful data entry forms or work instructions and link them to points of interest. Include images, videos, even live data points in your forms or work instructions. These forms can be completed from any standard browser, or use our iQagent Formscompanion app to complete forms one question at a time, even when offline. Forms submission entries are stored in your local database and can be integrated with existing systems.
- iQagent also includes the iQagent Steps app for HoloLens, allowing anyone to quickly author and deploy AR Work instructions for guidance and training of workers.
- iQagent offers Remote Assistance on the RealWear HMT-1, and coming soon to other devices. Your remote mentor can view the process through your camera, place arrows and other objects in your field of view to indicate areas of interest, and download documents and 3d models to your device.
For Under $10,000, because you can purchase a (5) client license of iQagent right now, with all the features above and more, for $9,999*. Best of all, this price includes 1 year of Annual Maintenance and Software Update service, as well as a brand new RealWear HMT-1 device to go with your pilot. This is a limited time offer. See the video below for a quick demo of iQagent on the RealWear HMT-1.
As Industrial AR catches on, large vendors will push for a cloud based subscription model, which we do not feel is in the best interest of customers. iQagent offers a powerful, feature rich solution based on decades of plant floor experience. If you have looked at other AR solutions for your plant floor, schedule a quick demo of iQagent and see how we compare in features, functionality and Total Cost of Ownership to other vendors you are considering. We think you will agree that iQagent’s features, ease of use, and TCO will move us to the front of the line, and make you the hero of your next AR pilot.
If you have an AR initiative at your plant, or are just curious about how iQagent is different than other solutions, please email me or schedule a web demo of iQagent using my online scheduler. You can also see it work on your own device in around 90 seconds. Or, visit our website for more information.
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* This offer requires you to renew annual maintenance and support for 2 years after initial purchase. Remote Assistance service is an additional charge. Other conditions apply, and this offer can be revoked at any time. contact me for details.