AR Making Paper-Based Inspections a Thing of the Past at Airbus Helicopters

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By Michael Larner | 4Q 2019 | IN-5697

The implementation of Ubimax’s xInspect at Airbus Helicopters highlights the potential for Augmented Reality (AR) solutions to improve processes by supplying contextual information to smart glasses and the fact that AR needs to be part of an overall strategy for managing information in order to maximize productivity gains.

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Airbus Helicopters Looks to xInspect from Ubimax to Both Speed up and Help Ensure Accuracy of Its Inspection Process


The implementation of Ubimax’s xInspect at Airbus Helicopters highlights the potential for Augmented Reality (AR) solutions to improve processes by supplying contextual information to smart glasses and the fact that AR needs to be part of an overall strategy for managing information in order to maximize productivity gains.

Dallas, Texas-based Airbus Helicopters was looking for ways to improve the process for maintaining and overhauling its helicopters’ gearboxes. There are often three hundred parts in each gearbox and the inspection process used to involve taking pictures, uploading the images to a computer, and documenting each step. Furthermore, workers needed to refer to a manual, which was time consuming and cumbersome to carry. Airbus Helicopters wanted to improve its inspection operation using hands free AR; service technicians still need both hands free to carry out the inspection, but also had to refer to manuals for pictures of parts and maintenance procedures.

Gearbox Inspection Time Reduced by 40%


Ubimax provided Airbus Helicopters with a Head-Mounted Device (HMD), HMT-1, manufactured by RealWear, which incorporates the firm’s Ubimax Frontline solution xInspect. Today, thanks to AR, service technicians have guidelines, check lists, component visualizations, and more in their field of view. The device’s voice activation capabilities further improve the inspection process and are especially useful for taking pictures as the technician’s attention remains focused on the part. The information collected is automatically uploaded to the firm’s data management solution from SAP

The integration with SAP is crucial. Airbus Helicopters was able to eliminate paper processes from the inspection process thanks to Ubimax creating an interface with Airbus’s SAP solution. The interface is integral for Airbus Helicopters to accommodate the data from xInspect and, by developing the interface itself, Ubimax has demonstrated it has the necessary skills to integrate its solutions for other clients that may lack the resources or technical skills to do so. This ability ensures that data from AR solutions can be put to use across the organization rather than residing in data siloes.

Having integrated Ubimax solutions and smart glasses into its inspection process, Airbus Helicopters has reduced gearbox inspection time by 40%. While the implementation of xInpsect has not reduced the need for meticulous documentation, the technicians’ productivity has improved as they no longer need to move from the gearbox to a computer to fill in the SAP forms. Data accuracy is ensured because the SAP integration means that data is no longer inputted manually. The overarching benefit of deploying xInspect is that the technicians can focus on the task instead of filling out forms.

The seamless way data can be extracted and ingested by SAP should encourage Airbus Helicopters to consider other Ubimax solutions, which include xPick to support logistics, xMake to support assembly lines, and xAssist for remote support. Remote support is an especially popular use case for AR across many industries and customer types, thanks to relatively low upfront Capital Expenditure (CAPEX) costs, simple implementation, and easy to understand value. Ubimax software is incorporated in several types of wearable devices (glasses, wrist worn devices, bar code readers) as well as smartphones and tablets. In addition, the company’s new pricing model—see ABI Insight The Entrance of Everything-as-a-Service Model in Augmented Reality Will Disrupt the Market by Minimizing Upfront Investment and Boosting Growth (IN-5691)—will encourage manufacturers to experiment with AR technology thanks to friendlier hardware bundled pricing.

AR Is a Means to an End


The adoption of AR is set to expand rapidly on factory floors, with more devices incorporating AR and manufacturers identifying processes that would be improved by the technology. ABI Research’s Digital Factory (MD-IICT-10) Market Data forecasts that there will be approaching 42 million industrial smart glasses connections in 2025, up from 4 million in 2019. Value recognition for AR is increasing rapidly, and greater selection in hardware and business models opens up a greater number of lower risk implementation opportunities.

Other firms, such as Salesforce, Oracle, and Siemens, have developed AR-based solutions as well. The Salesforce Augmented Reality Cloud is linked to Salesforce customers’ order management systems. Usage scenarios include field sales staff testing whether or not their product fits an environment and seamlessly placing an order or field service technicians scanning an installation and ordering a new component. The most high-profile examples are enabling retailers to provide customers the opportunity to “see” their item in their home by overlaying the item through the customer’s smartphone camera. Oracle has the Augmented Reality Accelerator for Oracle Service Cloud, which provides tools for customers to a start building their own AR applications, while Solid Edge 2020 software from Siemens Digital Industries Software incorporates AR capabilities to help visualize new product designs in a physical environment.

Airbus Helicopters hasn’t articulated whether or not it will be implementing AR in other areas. However, given the benefits delivered, another deployment must be up for discussion. Potential applications include in other inspection processes, accelerating the onboarding process for new engineers, or perhaps providing expert support to customers. Each use case would require the firm to map out the information the staff member is supplied with and, equally importantly, create a seamless process for data submission. In the case of providing remote support, the need for robust connectivity solutions will be an additional consideration. 

Airbus Helicopters is an example of an AR deployment that stems from the need to improve an essential operation. With service technicians’ attention distracted by having to refer to paper manuals and data keyed in by hand, the risks of mistakes were clear.

The most important step in the project was not implementing AR, but rather the appreciation that the inspection data was the critical component and designing a workflow to ensure accuracy while accelerating the process was key. Data collection can be automated via AR, but the real productivity gains would have been missed if there wasn’t a link to the SAP solution.