Many have seen Augmented Reality (AR) at trade shows or as a proof-of-concept showcase, but COVID-19 has shown us the weak spots in traditional digital publication formats. Interactive publications and AR are no longer a “nice to have” but a “must-have, ” and AR is now a feasible technical publications format. At the risk of dating myself, I’d like to review the history of tech pubs in this article and the impact on AR. We’ve come a long way.
When I began working in technical publications we were dealing with paper and PDF. Let’s call that era Tech Pubs 1.0, where we had just begun moving from drafting tables to early illustration software, and desktop publishing applications to handle text and page layout.
In the mid-80s, we began to move to the internet and were investing in SGML and HTML. We had begun to realize the potential for reuse in Content Management systems and automated publishing. This 2.0 version of Tech Pubs is time-tested, proven, and still providing value today. Schema-based tech pubs creation is still saving time and money in document development, and consistency, and effective publications for end users. XML was just being hinted at.
In the mid-90s, with XML seeing widespread adoption, we graduated to the concept of “paperless systems,” with a goal of fully integrated documentation and systems, with publications specific to system configurations – Tech Pubs 3.0. Before there was HTML5, REST, and the myriad of technologies we now apply to online apps, we were applying similar HyTime, DOM, OWL, and other apps concepts to technical publications. We had begun treating documents like databases and apps, and managing the on-the-fly composition of tech pubs based on user roles, product configurations, and display and delivery capabilities.
In the last decade, we’re seen increased interest in augmented reality for the aftermarket and stable, production-capable AR as part of maintenance procedures, manufacturing work instructions, and more. I’d qualify this as Tech Pubs 4.0… tech pubs content, viewed via AR hardware, synchronized with specific configurations and procedures. This qualifies as a definitive version or next generation of technical publications for several reasons:
- First, AR builds on configuration-specific, schema-driven technical publications. Filtering the information by configuration, by novice or expert user is a logical presentation mode that holds true from PDF to AR.
- AR has an advantage over animation or graphics-centric publications only. The ability to impose what I need to do, or how an assembly should function, on the physical system in front of me increases the effectiveness of knowledge transfer.
- AR is also distinct from VR. Visualization of a procedure or visual manipulation of a system is not enough. For operators or maintenance technicians, the ability to tap supporting info (e.g., information about consumables or part numbers I’m working with) and see examples in photos or animation is often critical to understand the context. We still need the tech pubs component in this digital representation.
- Finally, Tech Pubs 4.0 takes advantage of new, but readily available, hardware and tech. That hardware and tech are now at a feasible price point for even small to medium businesses to take advantage of.
One of the most exciting things about Siemens tech pubs solutions is that both the development and the delivery of tech pubs content happens as part of the digital thread. PLM XML and CAD data become the tech pubs content, and that content is published digitally to AR hardware and software. Take a look at the basic process for AR publications
The added value of this approach is you can still publish the same content in traditional PDF or online formats. One authoring session, one source of content, published to whatever media your users need. Consistent content, because it’s created from your digital CAD and PLM data, and published in traditional formats and, or new AR technologies.
Future-proof technical publications in Teamcenter. I am looking forward to Tech Pubs 5.0, and what comes next.