As an industry, FM isn’t renowned for embracing technological innovation, however recently the tide has started to turn and now FM technicians and managers are sporting a range of wearables that seemed unimaginable only a year or two ago.
From handheld mobile devices to track progress, location and even the efficiency of maintenance work, to smart watches, FM’s recent innovations dovetail with the developments seen in the smart building space to drive better energy and resource management, as well as healthier environments for occupants.
But it’s tech’s next move that will bring real innovation. While digitisation has changed life as we know it – as well as rewriting the rules of business and communication – in FM, enterprise and consumer advances in the digital space are paving the way for a generation of new capabilities that wouldn’t be out of place in a sci-fi film.
In 2012, Google introduced the Glass – an innovation so ahead of its time not even Beyoncé could convince the world to adopt a pair. As a consumer product the Google Glass was a resounding flop however, the tech giant persevered with its wearables experiment and paved the way for Augmented Reality to bring something far more remarkable to industry. Today, even FM is embracing, and advancing, the technology.
Augmented Reality, or AR, is the superimposition of a computer-generated image onto a view of the real world. With Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity now spurring technological advances across such sectors as manufacturing, logistics and now FM, things are about to get far more exciting.
Much how Building Information Modelling (BIM) revolutionised the collaboration between contractors, architects and other construction teams, AR has the power to solve some of FM’s most complicated challenges, including missing documents, out of date instructions and hard to reach locations. In some situations, these hurdles are easy for a specialist to overcome. In others they can lead to financial loss, lasting damage to a real estate asset or even health hazards for occupants.
Many misunderstand AR as near x-ray vision – it’s not. Instead, AR takes existing and newly gathered information about an asset and displays it as an overlay, visible through a number of devices.
While previously it would have required sophisticated – and expensive – equipment to conduct these tasks, AR allows FM technicians to work with precision speed and, most of all ease.
It is even possible that maintenance personnel can carry out diagnostic tests in remote locations. Send a pair of glasses to somebody based near a hard to reach power unit for example, and they can transmit the picture back to a specialist who can plan the necessary maintenance from miles away. In some situations, they could even direct the repair remotely.
It isn’t just smart glasses in the toolbox. Hand-held projectors, head mounted tools and retinal displays have all been tested and applications in use today call on static, web-based and mobile devices.
With AR, the hidden and hard to access components of AC, plumbing and electrical systems are suddenly visible, meaning the ability to plan and conduct maintenance is quicker and more effective than ever before. Communication is better, along with interaction between teams and knowledge transfer. In training, for example, AR can simulate building assets to enhance the education experience and allow apprentice technicians to test their skills in real time.
The tech giants are so convinced of what can be achieved when AR is used in FM, that some of the biggest names are currently pioneering new solutions, with huge success.
In 2016, IBM hosted a user group meeting to focus on facilities and asset management, including a live demonstration of its AR-powered Cognitive Buildings Solution, Watson, which is anything but elementary.
On a practical user level, Watson collects data on a building in order to tell occupants which meeting rooms are free or how busy the cafeteria is. On a more technical level, Watson can help building managers understand occupancy, environmental conditions and other data that impacts operations, by combining IoT capabilities, QR codes and real time data from multiple sources throughout the asset.
IBM wasn’t the first. In 2013, the German Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy launched the FMStar research project, a two-year endeavour to test a range of applications for AR in FM. FMStar accounted for such factors as the physical environment and proficiency of FM specialists, as well as supporting the development of AR technology by actual FM professionals.
Such research projects are vital to driving the continued development and application of Augmented Reality in facilities and building management. However, it is the technicians, managers and trainees on the ground who will drive the real world applications, of this cutting edge technology as it graduates from emerging Augmented Reality to an established part of actual reality.