Michael Terrell was playing an augmented reality (AR) video game with his son when he got an idea.

“I started thinking, ‘Surely we can use this technology in our bottling plants’,” said Terrell, director of operational excellence for Coca-Cola Refreshments.

Unlike virtual reality (VR), which replaces the real world with computer-simulated environments, AR overlays data on top of the real world via software-enabled smartglasses. Terrell, who is responsible for using emerging technologies to reduce costs, improve quality control and drive efficiencies throughout the Coca-Cola supply chain, saw the opportunity for technicians to use AR to access maintenance and service information within their line of sight, while keeping their hands free.  

Coca-Cola is partnering with Pristine, an Austin, Texas-based tech startup, to test AR in a handful of bottling facilities – from Tennessee to the Philippines – for equipment inspections, service calls and routine audits. A technician wearing AR glasses can stream, in real time, what they see and hear to a subject matter expert watching on a computer screen from anywhere in the world.

'This is a potential game-changer. We’ve only scratched the surface of how this technology can be used.'

Together, they can forecast or address issues, capturing and logging photos, videos and voice-dictated notes on the fly. The on-site tech can see checklists, forms and step-by-step guidance in his or her field of vision.

“We’re a very hands-on team,” Terrell said. “We wish we could be at every facility every day… and now we can, virtually.”

AR technology is significantly reducing the company's travel costs, too.

“We no longer need to fly in people from Germany – where our main equipment suppliers are based – to troubleshoot our machines,” said Helen Davis, VP of supply chain, Coca-Cola Refreshments. “Now they can virtually see what we are seeing, instantaneously, and help diagnose and solve issues without stepping foot in a plant. This allows us to operate ‘virtually’, unencumbered by time or distance.”

A technician wearing AR glasses can stream, in real time, what they see and hear to a colleague watching on a computer from anywhere in the world.

Reconfiguring bottling equipment for different packaging options – for example, switching a production run from 150-ml cans to 8-oz. glass bottles – is a complex process known as a changeover. Terrell and his team are using AR to minimize downtime during changeovers, boosting overall output. Technicians onboard cruise ships also are testing AR to remotely service Coca-Cola Freestyle fountain dispensers when issues arise at sea.

Terrell, who says he gets calls each week from plants around the world who are interested in AR, sees “endless possibilities" for the technology across the Coca-Cola system.

“This is a potential game-changer,” he concluded. “We’ve only scratched the surface of how this technology can be used.”