Tokyo Electron uses smart glasses to service chip-making equipment remotely

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Tokyo Electron uses smart glasses to service chip-making equipment remotely.
Image: YouTube | Workday

Right now, people think about connected eyewear in terms of various consumer applications. Facebook and Snapchat have released products that allow consumers to game and record videos in bold new ways. Similarly, Apple and Samsung are reportedly developing augmented reality (AR) products that will change the way people see and interact with the world.

However, Tokyo Electron (TEL), a maker of semiconductor manufacturing equipment, has shown how smart glasses can act as a commercial tool.

For over a year, the corporation has utilized internet-enabled eyewear to remotely provide technical support to its clients. The firm’s new methodology has also provided it with increased services revenue stream and invaluable product optimization data.

TEL’s Smart Glasses Enhanced Remote Troubleshooting Service

Last year, TEL greatly expanded its smart glasses enhanced remote support service to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. Since many governments enacted travel restrictions to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, the company could not deploy technicians overseas. Even though its machines utilize embedded sensors to monitor over 1,000 malfunction indicators, it traditionally deployed around a thousand employees a month to perform delicate repair work.

TEL addressed the problem by sending smart glasses to its global customer base to enable virtual troubleshooting and guided maintenance.

The firm’s TELeMetric service lets its seasoned specialists give local staffers precise instructions on fixing malfunctions and replacing broken parts. The platform integrates data gathered from the affected machine and unit-specific schematics to expedite the repair process. Because of its efficacy, TEL saw a 40 percent surge in enhanced service contracts in the second and third quarters of last year.

In the past, chipmakers resisted using systems that rely on external communications in their factories to protect their trade secrets. But the pandemic forced component vendors to change their long-standing methodologies to cope with the crisis. At present, 30 percent of the machine vendor’s clients subscribe to its remote monitoring and maintenance offering.

Better Products and Services Equal More Money

Since its introduction in 2019, TEL’s TELeMetric platform has been a financial boon for the equipment manufacturer. It has massively reduced the costs incurred by sending its employees out of the country. It also bolstered its services revenue by 18 percent year-over-year for most of 2020 and provided it with important product design optimization data.

TEL gathered a wealth of insights into how its products function and fail in the field using its virtual system. That information will enable the firm to use its research and development budget more effectively. By launching more reliable equipment with faster and effective maintenance services, it will make its offerings more appealing to potential customers.

As it happens, the corporation recently revised its net profit forecast up by 24 percent for the 2020 fiscal year.

Nikkei Asia reports TEL apparently kicked off something of a trend within the semiconductor manufacturing equipment sector. ASML and Applied Materials are developing new remote service solutions that utilize AR and other emerging technologies.

Given the events of 2020, it is easy to imagine smart glasses being used to complete other quality assurance tasks.

For instance, Apple staggered the launch of its iPhone 12 series because its engineers could not visit its partners’ production lines in person. If the Big Tech firm develops a variant of the TELeMetric platform, it could conduct quality assurance tasks worldwide from its California offices. Its competitors in the consumer electronics space that outsource production could also make use of such a solution.

With TEL proving that remote repair and sensitive equipment is possible, a wider digitalization shift may be imminent.

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