Augmented reality: ST4 and CDS provide scalable solutions

Our guest author Gilberto Picareta recently gave a glimpse of the future in his blog post where he stated that most companies looking to implement augmented reality already have a resource in house that can be absolutely critical to the success of the initiative. This comes in the form of the Technical Writing department, and more specifically its content, where it has been created and managed in a CCMS such as ST4.

Together with our technology partner RE’FLEKT we gave a joint presentation and showcase at the SCHEMA Conference 2018 that focused specifically on how the two are linked. The presentation kept coming back to the same point: augmented reality requires scalable solutions and ST4 can provide the relevant content.

Augmented reality content: is it just for complex documents?

Let’s take a quick look at three use cases for augmented reality in industry that will demonstrate the type of information that is required for scalable solutions:

Use case 1: Induction & training

New employees can learn how to use the machine in front of them with the help of an AR headset. They are given descriptive information, warning notices for individual components and the machine as a whole plus operating instructions, and can work through individual scenarios.

Use case 2: Maintenance & servicing

A machine needs to be serviced or has suddenly developed a fault. An app right in your field of view allows the service technician to view up-to-date information about the component, and in some cases even see where the fault has occurred. The technician can also view a 3D model of the components using the headset, turn it to the correct position and even view the components that are not visible, without needing to take the actual component apart. The user has their hands free while carrying out the task and the AR headset provides additional support. This increases productivity and efficiency in manufacturing processes as the time required for repairs and maintenance is significantly reduced.

Use case 3: Operation

Similar to scenario 1, content required for the operation of a system can be projected directly on to the machine with the help of an AR headset. For example, the installation instructions and the relevant circuit diagram for an electric component can be displayed on the headset. Instead of searching through printed manuals, the employee can look up information about the part instantly and fit it straight away.

So, there are three different types of information and topic types used in AR scenarios:

  • Text information only: Such as descriptive text, operating instructions in text form, warning and safety notices – usually XML data.
  • “Points of interest”: These are the points of interest on the 3D model, from where you can open the circuit diagram or a website or order a replacement from the EPC (Electronic Parts Catalogue), etc.
  • Animated procedures: These are animated operating instructions with interactive elements that are displayed on the 3D model.

Content publishing instead of software development

These three information types mean that AR content contains “just” XML and 3D data, which can “only” be found in complex documents. However, the effectiveness and efficiency of augmented reality in the long term depends on this content. It must always be up-to-date and available to the user in a variety of formats. Therefore, the usual approach of developing an AR product as an individual software development project needs to change and, over time, move towards automated content publishing, especially where large amounts of data are involved. This is where our ST4 CCMS system comes in. Not only does it allow you to enter the world of augmented reality technology using the data already present in the CMS, there is also the potential to achieve greater added value in the long run. At least three areas of potential arise from the use of CMS content. The familiar advantages of a CMS, such as multiformat publishing, enhanced quality, reducing translation management costs and the standardisation of content and processes are not taken into consideration here.

Scalability area of potential 1: Automated data linking

AR content can also benefit from successfully automated technical writing and development processes. For example, if you maintain your data models in ST4 using parts lists, the links between the data can also be used in an AR context.

From a technical point of view, this is done by linking the individual reference points between the AR app, the authoring tool, the component content management system and, say, the 3D design data from a PLM.

The production process might look like this: Using product lifecycle management (PLM) during the design phase, design data in a variety of formats, including 3D, and other master data are used to define a classification for the product and the components. This classification can be imported into (and dynamically updated!) in ST4, so that it can be used for the classification of the content of operating instructions, product data sheets or other documentation. All ST4 content is then linked to an ID in the design. In the authoring tool (e.g. ONE Author from RE’FLEKT), the design data and the XML data are then imported from ST4.

This automatically creates references between each individual item of data – no extra manual processing is required. Whenever content is changed, the automatic link means that the end application is updated to show the most up-to-date data.

Put more simply, this means that: if the maintenance intervals for a component change, the maintenance technician will always see the most up-to-date maintenance specifications, because the component, ST4 content and AR content are linked together.

Scalability area of potential 2: Automatic distribution

You may be wondering how the data gets from ST4 to the AR authoring tool (e.g. ONE Author) and eventually to the user.

One option is to produce the XML data in ST4 for ONE Author and then create the documents again as content to be published in AR. The user can access the AR data using the app (ONE Client). However, this option contains a potentially time-consuming, perhaps even unnecessary intermediate step – manual conversion of the data into AR content.

A second, more forward-thinking option is the integration of a CDS (Content Delivery Server) into the distribution process. The process would look like this:

The documents produced in ST4 and the AR content from ONE Author are entered into a CDS. The CDS acts as an “information hub” for the data that is to be distributed. From there, the publications (manual, online help) and the AR content can be supplied to the relevant client application. This allows you to make the most of all the advantages of a content delivery infrastructure, while the user has the exciting possibility of interacting with and switching between different client applications. The user can jump from a PDF manual to AR content and vice versa, going from an AR point of interest to descriptive information, such as in use case 3.

Scalability area of potential 3: Dynamic content

Some AR content, namely XML data and metadata from a CMS, has special characteristics: this data is capable of self-declaration, i.e. it is “intelligent information”. For example, the metadata for an XML component will share the product and sales region it belongs to. This characteristic provides the basis for a wide range of current and future technologies.

Primarily, it means that conventional version management can also be used in an AR app. The AR content – a package of 3D data, XML and metadata – can be combined with additional text content. This allows the information to be displayed in context and to the appropriate target group.

Let’s take a look at iiRDS, which enables the standardised exchange of intelligent information between different systems. It is already possible to filter operating information according to the user and their situation or the context using a combination of iiRDS and a CDS. This means that the information displayed is appropriate for the person, their role (maintenance technician vs sales employee), their language, training, etc. For example, a factory worker needs information about wheel nut components for a specific type of vehicle. When viewing the wheel nuts, the AR headset accesses their metadata in the CDS (e.g. type of user, vehicle identification, component type and language). The technician then gets the relevant information on the AR headset, which might be the maximum torque, the wheel nut size and which socket to use.

In this scenario, the CDS serves as an information distributor as before: only when the application is running is the appropriate content displayed. This ensures not only high performance, but also provides excellent usability for the user.

In the future, iiRDS and CDS will allow different systems to exchange intelligent information with each other. This will create a wide variety of contact points for different technologies and will remove barriers between manufacturers and systems.

It can be seen from the above that it is easy and convenient to create the information types relevant for augmented reality using ST4 and a CDS, and that all of the advantages of a CMS can also be applied to AR.

We are at the cutting edge of this technology and are working closely with our partners to maintain the role of content publishing in the future. Our ST4 CMS system and our proprietary CDS will help you step into the future of augmented reality.


Johannes Görz began his career within the SCHEMA Group as a temp back in 1997 and has been Head of the Solutions Department since 2009. As part of his role, he is responsible for the project development business at SCHEMA and is also involved in requirements analysis and solution design for ST4 and the CDS in project acquisition. In the meantime, he has completed his studies in Media Informatics at the University of Cooperative Education in Mannheim and successfully completed his extra-occupational MBA programme at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.

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