Compressing space & time: smart maintenance at Atlas Copco

Mar 05, 2021
  • discrete manufacturing
  • Microsoft
  • artificial intelligence

Swedish multinational Atlas Copco is best known for its compressors, generators, vacuum pumps and other industrial machinery. But it does more than build innovative solutions; it also installs, maintains and repairs them, right on their clients’ sites. In the past few years, the company has ventured deeper and deeper into digitalization and IoT to explore ways to boost the efficiency of its service engineers – with promising results.

“We have been investing in digitalization and standardization for over a decade now,” explains Simon Helsen, VP of engineering & technical support at Atlas Copco. “Today, we’re using a single, uniform system to distribute service orders to technicians worldwide. This means that an order looks the same to everyone, no matter where they are.”

Maintaining a digital advantage

Recent years have seen Atlas Copco further explore the possibilities of digitalization and IoT to optimize services around the globe. Simon: “We started by connecting all of our compressors to the cloud. This enables us to monitor each unit remotely and gives us a heads-up when maintenance or repairs are in order. What’s more, it allows us to predict which components and tools our experts will likely need, and what kind of actions will be necessary.”

This digital transformation of services is often captured under the term ‘smart maintenance’: the process by which new, innovative applications like big data, IoT, 5G, mixed reality, etc. are deployed to increase speed and cost efficiency. “Tools like SAP Asset Manager and FieldAnywhere tackle a lot of practical challenges,” says Laura Debrock, SAP EAM lead expert at delaware. “Thanks to their ERP integration, they provide service engineers with all the data they need to do their jobs. At the same time, back office employees can get started immediately with invoicing, stock management, and other administrative tasks.”

A fresh – and remote – pair of eyes

In the case of Atlas Copco, it even goes beyond that. “In the past, when our field technicians were faced with difficulties that required a specific expert, they set up a quick video call via their smartphones,” Simon continues. “But this was far from ideal, as they needed both hands. A few years ago, we decided to start experimenting with smart AR/VR glasses that allow technicians to communicate hands free with experts. The covid-19 crisis and delaware’s expertise in mixed reality has significantly accelerated the application of this technology at Atlas Copco.”

Pieter-Jan Pruuost, manager intelligent apps at delaware gives a practical example: “Picture the following scenario: in the morning, a field technician at a major company receives a list of all the installations that require maintenance that day on his tablet, along with an overview all the tools and spare parts that he’ll need. When he arrives on location, he puts on his Microsoft HoloLens 2 smart glasses, which identify the pump and present the right instructions as an overlay right there in his field of vision. When he comes across something unexpected, he can call an expert directly from the HoloLens via delaware’s Mixed Reality Platform (which integrates with, among other tools, Microsoft Remote Assist), and share what he sees. The expert can tell hem exactly what he needs to do, and even make visual annotations and indications – right from his or her office. Needless to say, the global pandemic has significantly accelerated the adoption of this use of remote technology.”

In a post-covid world, smart maintenance is the way to go for any forward-thinking service department.