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Keeping people safe and assets working with smart glasses technology

When a critical asset malfunctions or breaks down at a remote location, it can have a serious impact on business continuity as the on-site technicians may not always be able to immediately diagnose and resolve the issue. Basing highly skilled technicians on a remote site is expensive and sometimes there just aren’t enough experts to be based at every location.

When travel restrictions were introduced in 2020 due to Covid-19, travelling around different sites became even more problematic, both for skilled technicians and health and safety subject matter experts (SMEs).

We support clients in remote locations all over the world, so we decided to pilot the use of assisted reality (AR) glasses (smart glasses) at Rio Tinto’s mining operations in Western Australia which spans multiple sites across 1500 km.

Smart glasses optimizing our technical services capabilities

We launched the pilot use of 11 smart glasses in March 2020. The glasses allow highly skilled technicians to see through the eyes of remote field workers on-site. During the pilot, on-site technicians could instantly connect with the appropriate support/command center based technical experts using the glasses, who would then remotely facilitate the resolution of a problem with an asset.

Many of our technical teams were previously limited to capturing single snapshots of remote asset data when they would perform site visits once or twice a year. This limited the team’s insight into asset performance, and reliance was placed on the autonomy of remote field workers on-site. Use of the smart glasses allowed teams to create data plot points based on trends over time, so when data may begin to exceed certain thresholds the team is aware a problem is imminent.

The benefits uncovered during the smart glasses pilot included:

  • minimizing of asset downtime;
  • provision of accurate and real-time insight into how assets were performing;
  • improving business continuity on remote locations;
  • eliminating need for travel and reducing travel costs by as much as 50% as well as light vehicle incidents;
  • faster turnaround times on service requests.

Smart glasses have enabled our teams to work in a more digitally connected, efficient and collaborative way. During the pilot, a single use of the smart glasses technology achieved the equivalent cost and productivity savings of at least one return flight and up to 13 hours of labor. 

The solution is better for the planet, provides greater efficiency for our clients and is a more productive way of working for our teams.

Smart glasses ensuring Health and Safety around the world

During the pilot Covid-19 travel restrictions came in to affect across Western Australia and it was discovered that the technology also enabled virtual site access for Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) SMEs to ensure all work was executed safely.  

The glasses vastly improved safety and compliance by allowing SMEs to provide remote risk management, audits, and inspections, while building on-site HSE capability through technical support and training.

Following the successful pilot, we identified 100 operational sites in Australia which required remote HSE support and were located more than five hours return travel from a Sodexo support center. We have coordinated 20 pairs of the smart glasses to circulate on a regimented rotation across these sites.

This system allows the HSE teams to reach more sites, delivering greater access to SME support and on the job virtual learning, which has been particularly valuable for teams with fewer resources.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the glasses have supported business development and continuity as well as ensuring health and safety despite travel restrictions.

The innovative use of this technology has redefined our approach to safety practices. It enables the professional development of onsite technicians and operational management through on the job coaching by remotely located SMEs. Our use of the smart glasses technology represents a best practice safety model which has the potential to ensure the safety of facilities management practitioners long into the future.

As the ‘new normal’ approaches, remote technical assistance will become essential in line with HSE standards.

Technology enables professional development

Looking to the future, this technology sets the foundation for our technicians to monitor asset conditions remotely and intervene on-the-go at any site globally. This will provide clients with access to a network of skilled technicians and HSE SMEs, who are rapidly available, and will optimize service to their portfolio of assets. 

After their initial introduction as a pilot at just one site, the use of smart glasses has now been expanded to be in use in multiple locations across 7 countries both to provide technical and health and safety expertise. The glasses are due to be introduced in further locations across the current countries as well as a further 2 countries.

With the implementation of automated technology to create innovative solutions, many in the facilities management industry may fear it will replace the need for workers – but we have experienced the opposite. By replacing tasks such as data reading and physical asset monitoring, we have enabled employees to focus on upskilling and professional development.

Find out more about our… latest innovative solutions

May 25, 2021

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