Taking things to almost virtual reality video game level is the new high-tech approach to vehicle repairs that will roll out at Ford dealerships across South Africa during the course of the year.
Ford South Africa recently conducted a pilot study of the RealWear HMT-1 Hands-free Remote Collaboration Tool, which remotely connects Ford dealership technicians with Ford’s Technical Assistance Centre, staffed by highly experienced support personnel and field service engineers, allowing them to collaborate on vehicle service issues and repairs.
Using the RealWear HMT-1’s high-definition camera, flashlight, array of microphones and voice-activated controls, dealership service technicians can safely demonstrate technical issues to the engineer and get immediate real-time support.
Ford engineers can also control the direction of the camera, take photos and notes and even share screens from service bulletins and wiring diagrams with the technician via the built-in display on the headset, thereby allowing them to remain hands-free while conducting the repairs.
“We need to keep modernising what we do and how we do things,” says Pieter Verster, Service Engineering Operations director for Ford Middle East and Africa. “Part of this plan is the rollout of RealWear to support our technicians in the dealership with an innovative solution that helps expedite the repair and resolution of difficult cases. With this technology we can see exactly what the technician sees and guide them during the repair of the vehicle.
“RealWear represents a significant step forward in better supporting our dealers, and most crucially, our customers,” Verster explains. “It enables a reduction in vehicle downtime as the dealer no longer has to wait for a field service engineer to be sent out to assist.
“This virtual assistance is available immediately, enabling the technician to repair the vehicle promptly and get it back to the customer without delay, which ensures greater customer satisfaction. From a dealership perspective this technology leads to increased productivity and a reduction in the repair orders that would go through the dealership.
“The time and travel costs associated with getting a field service engineer to the dealer are eliminated by this technology, particularly in remote locations. Our focus is on rolling out the system to our Ford dealers in the major centres in South Africa initially, and having additional units that can be sent to dealers in remote areas when they need assistance.”
This strategy also complements the recent launch of the Ford Repair Centre concept, which supports Ford dealers in their vicinity should they have a vehicle that is difficult to repair. The vehicle is transported to the Repair Centre where a highly trained technician takes over the case – where they can rely on the RealWear technology and the direct access to the Technical Assistance Centre hotline, if necessary, to expedite the process.
“With our fully integrated online technical dealer support, our regional field service engineers can also be called on to provide assistance regardless of where they are in the country, or even around the world,” Verster adds.
The system, which is linked to Ford’s global IT network, logs each case and builds up a comprehensive database for future reference and fault diagnosis – thus giving all dealers access to all technical issues encountered, and how they were resolved.
“We are also working on introducing the RealWear tool to remote regions in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East to better serve our dealers and customers in these markets,” Verster says.
This is by no means a new concept – just updated in line with modern technology. A good few years ago I saw remote fault finding in action at another manufacturer’s facility where the technician was linked to a service expert at the parent company overseas who could directly control many of the functions of the car.
A video showing this RealWear technology is available by clicking the link: