Innovation and power generation have always gone hand in hand. For almost 140 years, the industry has evolved through a steady stream of emerging technologies, shifting policies, infrastructure investments, and an assortment of crises. The power industry has weathered a lot over this time and been forced to adapt. The latest example: COVID-19.
Over the past year, the industry has increasingly turned one of the pandemic’s biggest trends into opportunity. COVID thrust remote assistance software into the spotlight as the world shut down in 2020. The technology itself wasn’t new but the sudden need for touchless service and remote support was. Now, as more power companies continue to adopt the software, they’re realizing the value and versatility of remote assistance.
A Virtual Environment
Remote assistance software creates a virtual environment through augmented reality (AR). With this technology, a person who needs help can “meet” an expert on a video call. The software includes AR features, such as merged reality and 3D annotation. The two parties can communicate via two merged video streams in real time, as if they were working side by side. The expert can virtually “reach out and touch” whatever the person needing help is working on. The expert can also display his or her hands in the field of view of the person needing help to annotate, gesture, or bring in tools and instructions, as needed.
Remote assistance software has a myriad of use cases. Within the power industry specifically, the use cases tend to center around one important goal: Limiting as much downtime as possible. Since power is such a valuable and, in some cases critical, resource, it’s imperative issues are resolved quickly. Remote assistance can help power companies limit downtime in three key ways.
Power Outages. When a power company experiences an outage, technicians are typically dispatched to the locations in need of service and repair. Inevitably, a portion of these outages will occur after-hours or in unfavorable weather conditions. Technicians don’t always know what they’re up against until they get on-site. Then, when they are able to assess the problem, will they have the right tools and expertise to fix the issue?
On-site service like this can get complicated, time-consuming, and costly for the provider. With remote assistance software, technicians can call in for instant expertise and troubleshooting support. If the technician does need additional on-site support, that person can arrive fully prepared, with all the necessary tools and information. The technology helps power companies avoid unnecessary dispatches, provide faster service, improve first-time fix rates, and increase a customer’s net promoter score.
Planned Shutdowns. When a power plant needs to shut down for planned maintenance or equipment installation, time is of the essence. Shutdowns can be costly and complex since they can only be performed when equipment is not in use and teams of people are needed to complete the process as quickly as possible. With remote assistance software, plants can execute efficient, cost-effective maintenance and installations because the experts are focused on the right problem, at the right time, no matter their location.
Safety Audits. Compliance at power plants goes hand-in-hand with thorough safety audits. Similar to planned shutdowns, audits can be challenging and costly given the specialists and auditors required to be on-site, and the need to complete the audit in a timely fashion. With remote assistance software, plants can keep project timelines on track and job sites safe at a fraction of the time and cost of in-person audits. Through the merged reality functionality, auditors and safety specialists can conduct inspections from anywhere, easily identify areas not in compliance or at risk for future problems, and follow up to ensure issues have been addressed. The technology helps plants maintain standards and reduce the possibility of fines.
A byproduct of technology itself, power generation is inherently innovative and adaptable. As the industry begins to navigate a post-COVID world, companies will continue to seek smarter, more efficient and cost-effective ways of doing business. Remote assistance software is now one more tool in the arsenal.
—Gary York, PhD is the CEO of Help Lightning, which provides remote assistance software to hundreds of companies across a variety of industries with users in over 90 countries.