What is really happening with virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)? The kids in the mall wearing giant headsets look like they’re having a great time, but for the most part, we still consider it a novelty. It’s time to reconsider that position. What began as personal entertainment has morphed into truly practical tools for the fleet maintenance industry.
Just ask the military—they are training fighter pilots with VR and AR. Or ask Porsche, Audi, Walmart, Verizon, JetBlue, and even Fidelity Investments about why they turned to VR and AR to keep their staff and technicians up to date on the latest skills and real-time training needs.
Full transparency: I’m a big supporter of VR/AR technologies for vehicle maintenance operations. Having seen some examples in person, I believe they will be important tools inside any fleet maintenance operation. And I’ll tell you now, these systems aren’t as expensive as you think—really, they aren’t.
Why VR/AR for fleet maintenance?
This technology extends the usefulness of a technician, especially a master technician, well beyond their physical location and even further beyond the one piece of equipment they are working on. With one headset and a laptop, your best technician can broadcast tips, tricks and training on how to perform a repair to your entire maintenance operation. A couple of the systems on the market allow a technician to create repair notes and live videos for every step of the maintenance process. These items can be accessed online by your other technicians with or without a headset. Some system providers already have libraries of information available to your fleet using an “out-of-the-box” subscription.
Keep repair time low with real-time answers
With VR/AR, you can put a headset on the assigned technician and patch him into the existing resources or link him live to your master tech or a supplier. The technician in front of the vehicle is now capable of meeting an expected repair time while getting live training. Maximizing equipment uptime while not needing to schedule training on or off the clock—why not consider it, especially when it could be available to you without any cost?
Bringing VR to your fleet
There are a few ways to bring VR/AR into a fleet maintenance operation. One option is to buy the system yourself, which is the highest cost to the fleet, but comes with far more pros than cons. Having an in-house system is the best way to maximize the investment in VR/AR and benefit your technicians. And the investment doesn’t have to be as large as you think. Arming a handful of your best technicians with headsets to create resources to be used across the fleet makes it much more cost effective.
Another option is to utilize the resources being developed by parts suppliers and independent repair shops. Several suppliers have latched on to the value they can create for their fleet customers by developing training resources created by using their own VR/AR systems. Many suppliers will even bring their systems to you and use VR/AR to train your technicians.
A growing number of independent service centers are also utilizing the VR/AR tools to address the demand for servicing newer vehicles with more advanced technologies while simultaneously addressing the technician shortage.
Technology is the long-term and short-term solution
When fleet operations are all looking to address the same concerns—training and technicians—VR and AR solutions are exactly where we should be looking. Using technology to solve problems partially created by technology is the answer for fleet maintenance both in the short-term and the long-term.
Sheila Andrews is the director of heavy-duty programs for the Auto Care Association.