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Industrial Virtual Visits: A New Form of “On-Site Experience”

Stacey Phillips, Swagelok’s field engineering manager for the Americas, uses an augmented reality headset to conduct an assessment of analytical equipment at a natural gas processing facility with a virtual team.

How Swagelok is Providing Customer Value Through Virtual “On-Site” Experiences

On a recent morning in Grande Prairie, Alberta, Canada, Stacey Phillips stepped into the heart of a natural gas processing facility. As Swagelok’s field engineering manager for the Americas, she had visited many similar facilities, though this visit was different. Usually, several other field engineers would accompany her to provide additional perspective on the fluid systems and analytical equipment she would be evaluating, but today, she visited the facility alone. She did, however, wear an augmented reality (AR) collaboration headset clipped firmly into her safety helmet, meaning she could hear the voices of her colleagues from around the world clearly in her earpiece as she fed them live video of everything she saw.

It was the first official semi-virtual onsite service visit by the Swagelok field engineering team, and while it was a new experience for everyone, it proved to be productive as Stacey proceeded to conduct a thorough evaluation of analytical instruments and areas of concern throughout the facility. Stacey discussed sampling system design parameters with the core team assigned to the project, zoomed her camera in on various fluid system components using voice controls, and exchanged chat messages with colleagues as they came through on a small arm-mounted visual display. While they all may not have been on site, with the help of new technology, the field engineering team was able to once again work together to help a customer overcome a series of issues affecting various aspects of their operations.

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Mike Strobel, who served as the lead field engineer on the field service project, helped facilitate discussion between Stacey and the remote team of global field engineers. “I went in with an open mind, and I was encouraged by what we experienced,” he said. “We are trained to help customers solve pressing fluid system problems, which often requires analyzing the applications personally. It has been difficult to do that lately, but this field engineering engagement proved that our new virtual headset technology can allow us to provide the same level of value to customers even if we can’t all be on site. We were even able to bring in Tony Waters, one of the industry’s top sampling system experts, for the evaluation using this semi-virtual method.”

"We are trained to help customers solve pressing fluid system problems, which often requires analyzing the applications personally. Our new virtual headset technology can allow us to provide the same level of value to customers even if we can’t all be on site."

“If a Swagelok field engineering team is unable to visit a customers’ location to help with fluid system troubleshooting, sampling system design, or other matters, a semi-remote format similar to what we did with Stacey’s visit to the Grande Prairie natural gas facility is a good option. Ideally, we would like to have at least one field engineer visit the customer to conduct an assessment while supported by a remote, digitally connected team. If that is not possible, however, we can ship a virtual headset to a customer who can then record video while talking with remote field engineers who provide real-time troubleshooting. Regardless of how our new virtual connectivity technology is deployed, we can minimize the amount of time customers’ fluid system issues go undiagnosed or unaddressed while typically minimizing travel-related costs and coordination time for customers.

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Virtual Technology Means Reaching Customers Wherever They Are

The ongoing integration of technology to better deliver customer experiences has long been a cornerstone of our continuous improvement strategy at Swagelok. As a result, the field engineering team—as well as others throughout the business—were planning for remote delivery of historically in-person experiences well before the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“We have field engineers based all over the world, and we have built a community to support one another while tapping into each other’s specific areas of expertise to solve customers’ problems,” Stacey Phillips explained. “We started looking into virtual connectivity technology last year to help us work together more seamlessly, realizing it would not only help us share knowledge and experiences, but maintain consistency and quality in the services we provide to customers. We invested in the AR headset technology, and when COVID-19 hit, we had a great option available to provide value to customers from a distance.”

“There have always been situations where an in-person visit by our team is difficult to arrange, like when dealing with remote locations, offshore environments, or other areas of restricted access,” elaborated Jon Kestner, field engineering supervisor. “As a result, we have been thinking for a long time about how to help customers benefit from multiple viewpoints even if we can’t get everyone on location. Our new headset technology makes it possible to reach customers where they are, meaning they can spend less time sending messages back and forth as we remotely troubleshoot an issue, and instead get a quicker resolution by letting us see what’s happening onsite. We solve problems faster, and they save time and money in the process.”

Hear our field engineers explain how virtual onsite services work and the benefits they are providing to customers:

Lasting Benefits of Virtual/On-Site Engagements

“Ultimately, our ongoing integration of technology within our field services organizations lets us have faster deployment of resources to help customers and lets us to have more brainpower ‘on site’ as we match the right experts with the right problems,” Mike Strobel said. “In the process, we all get to help out and learn as we go, providing more value to customers in the future. The virtual visits are efficient, too—you don’t have to cycle specialists in and out of confined spaces like analyzer shelters when everyone can see the same thing at once, and we can discuss what we were observing in real time. I’m excited to find more ways this new technology can help us create value for customers.”

Manny Soung, an associate field engineer with Swagelok Grande Prairie | Fort St. John | Winnipeg | Saskatoon, ordinarily would have visited the natural gas plant in person, as it was located within his sales and service center’s territory. Because of travel restrictions related to COVID-19, he was not able to visit the facility, but was also excited to do so virtually once Stacey (who was located closer to the facility) made the trip by car. “It was great to be able to see the facility for myself, and to record and take screenshots throughout the inspection instead of merely taking notes for later discussion,” Manny reflected. “It was helpful to talk through and synthesize information on the fly, and it is nice to be able to go back and reference images and recordings later to reinforce our memories. It means we can make sure there’s nothing we miss, coming up with the best possible solution for the customer.”

Since the onsite services engagement in Alberta, other field engineers have used augmented reality headsets for evaluation and advisory service calls in other parts of the world. These other evaluations are also showing promise for getting customers quick recommendations to improve their fluid systems—sometimes even the same day—thanks to the high level of collaboration the virtual headsets enable.

“Regardless of how our new virtual connectivity technology is deployed, we can minimize the amount of time customers’ fluid system issues go undiagnosed or unaddressed while typically minimizing travel-related costs and coordination time for customers.”

Additional Applications for Virtual Visit Technology

Our new collaboration technology is being used for more than providing field services, as well. Teams across Swagelok finding ways to enhance customer experience through connected technology. The headsets are also being used for:

  • Virtual commissioning of fluid systems and advising on the construction and testing of analytical equipment. The virtual headsets allow Swagelok experts to be “present” to provide oversight during key stages in the fluid system implementation process, helping customers avoid errors and integrate longer-lasting assemblies. Executives at customer companies have even joined virtually to experience processes they would not usually be able to witness.
  • Virtual witnessing of key procurement processes. Our compliance team is offering customers the opportunity to witness manufacturing and shipping practices that would usually require an on-site visit to Swagelok facilities.
  • Virtual customer visits to our manufacturing and fulfillment centers. Our corporate customer visits team is rolling out a new way for customers to meet the people and see the processes behind Swagelok products and services, allowing them to take a tour of Swagelok facilities with an on-site tour guide.

Loretta Sharp, a member of the customer visits team, explained the thinking behind using virtual technology to bring customers to Swagelok in addition to bringing Swagelok to customers. “We were planning to implement virtual visits before COVID-19 started, as we are always looking for ways to be more accessible to our sales and service centers and the customers they serve. Hosting virtual facility tours alongside relevant business meetings means we can provide the full experience of visiting Swagelok headquarters without requiring customers to plan a full trip here. The new technology lets us reach more customers at once, as well as more customers around the world. Virtual visits will help us stay connected with customers during the COVID-19 pandemic, certainly, but with our global customer base, we are confident this program will continue providing value well into the future.”

Swagelok’s core values of “customer focus” and “continuous improvement” are driving our investment in technology like virtual headsets, and we only expect to see the technology proliferate across our organizations and global sales and service centers as customers and team members see the value it brings. Interested in learning more about Swagelok onsite services or how virtual visits with Swagelok team members could benefit your organization? Reach out to your local authorized Swagelok sales and service center for more information.

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