TECHNICIANS remain in short supply in the commercial trucking sector.
According to an oft-cited report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the industry will require 67,000 new technicians to replace retiring workers, and 75,000 diesel mechanics to meet additional demand, within the next three years.
But fleets lucky enough to land a new hire may find that the local vocational program, primarily using training aides over real trucks and trailers, didn’t fully prepare their young technician to hit the shop floor running.
That’s where Matt Johnston, division head of commercial solutions for Design Interactive, says his company, based in Orlando, Florida, can assist. Design Interactive provides augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) training solutions for fleet maintenance personnel, vendors and OEMs.
“If you have technicians right now who don’t know where certain components are, or how to access them, that’s low-hanging fruit for a technology like this,” Johnston told attendees of the National Tank Truck Carriers’ 71st Annual Conference & Exhibits in April in Las Vegas, Nevada. “And surprisingly, when I was at the TMC (meeting) earlier this year, it seemed to be one of the challenges they’re trying to overcome.”
In his presentation “Using Augmented Reality To Revolutionize Truck Maintenance,” Johnston talked about the potential for Design Interactive’s AR/VR software to revolutionize the way truck maintenance is performed, and the way companies think about training, establishing procedures and sharing information.
Johnston said Design Interactive’s products, including AUGMENTOR maintenance troubleshooting, ADAPT-MP training, CogGauge aptitude assessment, IMITATE video-based coaching and ScreenADAPT, provide solutions for many industry challenges, including Baby Boomer retirement and an unfavorable image, and makes the work more attractive through increased job significance, feedback and skill variety.
“It’s a technology we’ve already seen start to permeate the phones our children are using, and it’s going to become simply a way of consuming general information in our daily lives, whether it’s with glasses we wear or content in our phones,” Johnston said.
Design Interactive’s AR and VR products are designed to provide assistance across an entire enterprise ecosystem, and they already are adding value in other industries, Johnston said. Now the company’s goal is to promote the technology’s integration in trucking, where it can help connect companies across the supply chain, solve challenges associated with next-generation techs and help improve workplace satisfaction.
On a mobile device, AR turns an ordinary, linear, two-dimensional list into clickable clouds overlaid on real-world images, allowing companies to place critical information directly onto an asset, whether it’s a tank, truck, trailer or facility.
“Now, content like procedures and troubleshooting methods can be accessed from mobile phones across individual shops and multiple maintenance locations,” Johnston said about AUGMENTOR when it was added to Android and iOS mobile devices earlier this year. “With this mobile application, fleets can use our augmented reality, and video- and computer-based technologies, to train technicians for a lower cost.”
The technology can help technicians identify where specific components are located, or walk them through the steps required for a tire or brake inspection, with the information placed near or on that component or system. And the technology isn’t restricted to images or graphics floating in space; it can link to diagnostics guides or standard procedures, so the system isn’t only about images with a headset or device.
“It can connect to existing cloud databases where you already store that information,” Johnston said. “It can connect to diagnostic equipment that you use in order to gather fault codes and then automatically bring up information, (like) troubleshooting guides for the individual, and let’s not forget about training itself.
“They can connect directly to a learning management system.”
Because Design Interactive provides software, and not simply AR tech, its systems can gather performance metrics, and help connect fleets to other industry stakeholders they rely on, including dealers, associations, vendors and OEMs, creating a shared space for information that benefits everyone.
“When we started out making augmented and virtual reality software for this particular industry, we realized it’s the relationships that drive pretty much everything here, and therefore the fleet has to be able to receive information from places such as an industry association, like the TMC, that has repair guides or recommended practices they provide for their membership,” Johnston said. “That information can be stored and shared between these two entities.”
Challenges and benefits
Trucking industry challenges include a growing number of retirees outpacing the addition of new technicians, poor image and training, and increased vehicle complexity.
Design Interactive’s software meets these challenges by:
• allowing experts to share the knowledge they’ve gained through years of experience with the next generation of techs, before they retire;
• using AR technology to make the shop a more modern, “hipper” workplace;
• providing a digital mentor for young techs who aren’t ready to overhaul a diesel engine on their own, or don’t have access to a human mentor;
• and sharing information across an increasingly integrated supply chain, especially when it comes to servicing electric vehicles, and the importance of correctly diagnosing fault codes and maintaining sensors.
The technology also helps improve job satisfaction, Johnston said, by increasing task significance, providing clear feedback on job performance, and improving skill variety, job autonomy and decision-making.
Design Interactive achieves these goals by:
• giving employees the ability to contribute to their company’s success through better connections, improving job satisfaction;
• gamifying and comparing performance against a standard, providing immediate feedback;
• introducing new skills through training, visualization and instruction, without in-person support, growing skill variety;
• deploying a digital mentor that simulates tasks and provides on-demand education from the first step to the last, accelerating learning;
• and embedding decision-making tools that allow new hires to complete a task on their own and informs them when it’s done right.
“In the end, (employees) now have greater variety, and you’ve enlarged their job, simply by deploying technology that is currently available and in use by other industries today,” Johnston said. “It’s not just a headset with the ability to put in some neat graphics. It has the ability to instruct effectively, better than things we’ve had the opportunity to use in the past.”
Johnston provided several use cases for Design Interactive’s technology.
In one, a supplier who learns that fleet maintenance expenses associated with brake replacement are soaring can create training material from a home office and share it with multiple fleets, instead of flying out to each one individually, allowing the vendor to focus their in-person efforts where they’re needed most.
In another, a master technician with a large fleet in the south, who’s charged with training and educating techs in multiple states, uses Webex to remotely walk through different tasks, such as disassembling a throttle valve. But when he would move away from the web camera toward a training vehicle, he would lose half his audience.
So he used Design Interactive’s software to simulate a throttle valve flying up out of the engine, indicating where the part came from, and allowing him to show how it works, and where air flow is going, in real time, when he wants trainees to see it. Then he saved it for on-demand use across the organization.
Johnston also highlighted how a new tech can use embedded decision-making tools to diagnose an issue a driver is describing that could have multiple causes, informing them what to do first from an expert point of view.
“What we’ve done is simply said, if you follow this procedure, and you imbed questions in here you need them to answer, you’re now educating them on things they need to look for, with the symptoms they have, and you instruct them on how they do the inspection,” Johnston said. “They come back and say objectively, ‘Yeah, this is what I feel, this is what I’ve measured, and now I’ve made my decision,’ and it’s going to immediately tell you what to do.”