VDL Bus & Coach Finland Oy’s import organization has introduced the POINTR application to its technical service. By renewing the way remote support for technical service is supplied, the bus manufacturer hopes to make service within maintenance operations better and faster, which is expected to shorten service rotation times. Renewing the way service is provided is also a part of preparing for the increasing number of new technologies – such as electric buses – on the road.
VDL Bus & Coach Finland Oy Reinvents Its Technical Service for Imports with POINTR
VDL Bus & Coach Finland Oy, a subsidiary of VDL Bus & Coach (one Europe’s largest bus manufacturers), has introduced POINTR to its technical service for imports. VDL Bus & Coach Finland’s goal is to speed up troubleshooting of the service VDL service operations provides for customers in Finland. The objective is to improve service rotation time and service quality.
The core business of VDL Bus & Coach – the parent company of VDL Bus & Coach Finland, comprised of several companies – is developing, manufacturing and selling buses and their platforms. Another key part of the business are body modifications and extensions of mini and midi buses, as well as the purchase and sale of pre-owned buses. As the world moves towards zero-emission mobility, VDL Bus & Coach offers turnkey solutions not only as a manufacturer of buses, but also as a supplier of software. While VDL Bus & Coach operates worldwide, it still manufactures its buses in Western Europe.
In Finland, VDL Bus & Coach’s buses are driven by operators in almost all major cities. In Finland, VDL Bus & Coach has delivered a total of more than 650 buses to its customers. The service network assisting customers consists of three in-house and 14 partner VDL service points around the country.
VDL Bus & Coach is a pioneer in low-emission transport solutions, launching its first electric buses as early as 2013. In recent years, the demand for electric buses has grown at an accelerating pace: this year, e.g. Koiviston Auto will introduce 18 electric buses in Lahti, and 13 new electric buses will be delivered to Kuopion Liikenne.
POINTR Connects the Technical Service and the Mechanics
The adoption of POINTR, launched in January 2021, aims to increase importer support for service operations. The introduction of POINTR and its new support process are expected to speed up maintenance rotation times significantly.
POINTR is a video call platform that enables fast, clear and efficient cooperation between the technical service of the importer and service personnel. Live video and audio, synchronized AR annotations and documentation capabilities, as well as technical features that ensure the operation of the application, facilitate communication between the mechanics and technical specialists. In similar cases, using POINTR has accelerated problem solving, reduced errors, and supported knowledge-sharing and the transfer of tacit information within the organization. As a result, using POINTR has led to more efficient service and improved service quality. Similar results are also expected at VDL Bus & Coach Finland.
The technology used in electric buses, which is evolving fast, is a new topic for not only operators, but also for many mechanics. By adopting the POINTR application, VDL Bus & Coach Finland is preparing for the spread of electric buses in particular.
With the increase in electric bus deliveries, both customers, VDL’s Finnish service network and even many of VDL Bus & Coach Finland’s personnel face something new: servicing and maintaining the vehicles will require a significant amount of learning and extensive troubleshooting. In this context, a tool that speeds up the process of locating problems and faults, finding solutions, and getting the bus back into service is a major benefit for all parties.
A Joint Project to Boost Adaptation
Adopting new technologies and processes is always challenging. To avoid initial hiccups, VDL Bus & Coach Finland begun using POINTR in a joint project with the developer of the application, Delta Cygni Labs Oy. This pilot project involved some key people from VDL Bus & Coach Finland’s service and technical expertise personnel. POINTR was installed on the smartphones and computers involved in the project and participants were briefed on its key features and idea.
The objective of the project was to collect participants’ experiences and ideas, especially regarding approaches to remote technical problem-solving. The support process adopted after the pilot project was to be based on the previous experiences and observations of the participants. The purpose of the project was also to prepare for the adoption of a new operational approach within VDL Bus & Coach Finland, as well as with partners and clients.
As a part of the project, participants also tested the feasibility of various devices and device combinations to be used in the new process. The tested combinations were:
Set 1: A smartphone with connected USB-cameras
External additional cameras, such as head cameras and endoscopes, and various phone stands and attachments were one of the tested combinations. USB cameras connected to a smartphone with the POINTR application were shown to be a cost-effective way to enable See-What-I-See working and a lightweight alternative to smart glasses.
The camera relays the mechanic’s view to the technical expert just as the mechanic sees it. This way, the technical expert can help with problem-solving, freeing the mechanic’s hands for working. The affordability of cameras and their attachments enables fast adoption and ties up less capital than e.g. using AR glasses for similar purposes: the price of an individual camera with attachments revolves around a few tenners instead of thousands.
Set 2: Expanded “gig set”: cameras, attachments and a hardy tablet for field use
The larger screen of the tablet gives the mechanic a better platform to collaborate with. In addition, the mechanic can use the conference call feature of POINTR to relay footage from multiple angles, e.g. filming the dashboard with the head camera attached to the smartphone and the control center with the tablet. The importer’s expert from VDL Bus & Coach has the opportunity to see several angles relevant to the problem and the mechanic can receive clear, visible instructions on the large screen of the tablet.
Set 3: Smart glasses and POINTR
The combination of smart glasses with pre-installed POINTR and a mobile router were tested as the mobile support platform of the future. The advantage of smart glasses over cameras is the simplicity brought by a single device, as well as the fact that the mechanic doesn’t have to glance at the expert’s visual instructions from a separate screen when the glasses are positioned directly to their field of vision.
In field conditions smart glasses require a mobile router, however, as they rarely have an in-built SIM-card slot. As such, they’re highly dependent on Wi-Fi networks. Anyway, smart glasses are the most advanced option when it comes to hands-free See-What-I-See working.
POINTR was also installed on every expert’s Windows PC at the importer’s technical service as a counterpart to the “gig sets”. This made it easy for technical service experts to follow the problem presented by the mechanic, give instructions, and share, for example, electrical diagrams or drawings of the device to be repaired to help the mechanic.
Speed and Savings in as Little as Three Weeks of Testing
Sampo Heininen, the technical lead of VDL Bus & Coach Finland Oy, and service engineer Joonas Sikanen have been following the progress of the pilot project and assessed its results after the first three weeks.
“My first observation is, that collaborating over POINTR helps us understand the situation in the field much faster. We also reach a shared understanding of the problem with the mechanic in the field immediately. This is possible because the mechanic has POINTR on his smartphone. We get results even without additional devices and smart glasses.”, Joonas Sikanen explains.
Problem-solving has become faster with up to an entire day, as the technical service experts have been able to quickly give the mechanics instructions, direct them to solve the right things, and show them what needs to be done to solve the problem.
When it comes to VDL Bus & Coach Finland’s service operations, it’s already clear that servicing new electronic technology and digital features comes with challenges that can be greatly helped with POINTR. New technology, the specifics of new features and a new vocabulary have not yet solidified themselves among individual experts in the field.
“Resolving these flaws occurring in electrical and digital technology is particularly complex. Problem-solving usually requires an understanding of the operating logic of an individual system, its software and electrical engineering, as well as how the faulty system affects the operation of other systems on the bus and the vehicle as a whole. The task requires extensive expertise.”, says Sikanen.
These kinds of challenges are at the forefront when the product is new or rare, as is currently the case with electric buses. Defect databases are not yet as comprehensive as with established models, and the tacit information needed for maintenance is still in the hands of a few experts.
Heininen and Sikanen describe two situations, where the benefits of POINTR can be clearly observed:
The mechanic called the technical service line for options to diagnose and resolve a defect at hand. To help the mechanic, the technical service expert would have to compare the mechanics description to electrical diagrams on his computer. However, when the mechanic called, the expert is just about to leave and does not have time to familiarize themself with the correct electrical diagrams to provide instructions to the mechanic. With the traditional remote support method, the assisted troubleshooting would have to wait until the following morning.
Now, the expert asked the mechanic to call them back with POINTR immediately. Using the video connection, the expert and the mechanic were able to detect the likely causes of the problems immediately. As a result, the groundwork was done, and the fault was fixed the next morning.
Repairing the defect with the traditional support system would have taken until the evening, and the vehicle would not have been back on the road until the next day. Using POINTR as a part of revamping VDL Bus & Coach Finland’s remote technical service saved a lot of time as well as money, as the operator had the car back in traffic faster.
The mechanic calls the technical service line and tells them that the bus they are repairing won’t start. The technical service expert gets the impression that the car won’t start because it’s not receiving any power. Their conclusion is that this must be the reason behind the problem.
Before adopting POINTR, the expert would have had to travel to the repair shop to evaluate the fault based on the initial information received on the phone and give repair instructions in person. Using POINTR, the visit was unnecessary: the POINTR call between the expert and the mechanic revealed that the fault was not that the vehicle was not receiving any power. The power worked, but there was no high voltage, causing the bus to not start. When this was discovered, there was no need for a visit and the mechanic was able to proceed repairing the vehicle unassisted.
The Results of the Project and Moving to a Digital First Approach
Based on the experiences collected by Heininen and Sikanen, adopting POINTR has been worth it: results are immediate. The most important thing, however, is to brief and encourage the entire working community to adopt the new approach and begin solving problems primarily with POINTR. Only then the new process becomes a natural part of daily operations.
The POINTR team of Delta Cygni Labs has observed the same experience with nearly all of their clients. The team calls it the “Digital First With POINTR” mindset. Engaging the work community with the new way of working, and the fact that the new approach makes daily operations easier, is of utmost importance. That’s when using POINTR can yield tangible results fast.
It is key to the Digital First approach that every member of the workforce has a smartphone with POINTR installed. This makes the threshold of adopting the new approach low, especially as no additional devices are needed. VDL Bus & Coach Finland believes, that spare parts warehouse personnel and the network of operators could begin using POINTR with VDL Bus & Coach Finland’ technical specialists as well in due course.
The smart glasses and additional phone devices tested in the project have also yielded initial results. All of the tested “gig sets” resulted in expected benefits, but according to Heininen and Sikanen, the decision around which devices will be deployed in large scale still needs more testing. They estimate that collecting results will continue until April 2021, when the results will be analyzed and the decision of the most suitable device set can be made.
Testing the new Digital First approach and its adoption at VDL Bus & Coach Finland continues. Experiences of the approach and the devices are currently being collected, enabling the comparison of the results of the old and new methods. VDL Bus & Coach Finland has already informed its partners about the experiment. Heininen and Sikanen wish that there will be an opportunity to try the new operational approach and POINTR in practice with partners in the near future.
VDL Bus & Coach
The core activities of VDL Bus & Coach consist of the development, manufacturing, sales and after-sales of a wide range of buses, coaches and chassis modules, the conversion or extension of mini & midi buses and the purchase and sales of used buses. VDL Bus & Coach consists of multiple bus companies that operate cooperatively in the global market. Manufacturing takes place in Western Europe. VDL Bus & Coach places high value on quality, safety, durability, the environment, low fuel consumption, comfort and low maintenance costs. In the transition to zero emission transport, VDL Bus & Coach offers turnkey solutions and is not only a bus supplier but also a system supplier.
Sales of VDL Bus & Coach products take place through a worldwide network consisting of corporate-owned sales offices, importers and agents in more than 30 countries. For after-sales and maintenance, the client can count on rapid, hassle-free assistance from VDL Bus & Coach employees in any of the many service locations. An extensive distribution network ensures that spare parts and accessories are delivered to the requested destination as quickly as possible. VDL Bus & Coach is one of the largest bus and coach producers in Europe.
Delta Cygni Labs Oy
Delta Cygni Labs develops a professional remote video collaboration solution POINTR, powered by augmented reality and proprietary unique secure and reliable telecommunication protocol. With roots in space technology POINTR is the most secure, reliable and scalable remote collaboration solution in the market.
POINTR allows borderless knowledge sharing and doubling productivity. It enables deployment for mission critical field service applications in energy, machine building, and maritime sectors. Among our customers are Schneider Electric, Sysmex, Valmet and Ford. Delta Cygni Labs has offices and partners in Finland, Germany, USA, Brazil, Russia, and Japan.