By Rodney Price
As you’re walking along the hallway one day, the president of your company calls you into his office. You try to recall events of the past several days, wondering what has filtered up to him that would bring on this impromptu meeting. He begins with small talk.
Suddenly, the conversation shifts to a commercial he recently saw on TV—the one in which a car e-mailed its owner to tell her that it needed servicing soon. Then he hits you with the question, “Why, as industry leaders in our market, can’t my machines e-mail their customers with diagnostics?”
“They can,” you reply.
Now you’ve opened a can of worms. How will you make this happen?
Let’s first understand why Mr. President wants this feature on his equipment. My firm, Belvac, is part of a family of companies owned by Dover Co. This allows us unique access to the experiences of our sister companies. We found that many are in different stages of this same project.
We saw that many benefits can be realized by using remote access. Machine builders are experiencing fewer field service visits because they have remote access to a machine’s running parameters. Field service engineers can access the machine’s real-time and historical data. This leads to more reliable repairs and increases first-time repairs. Typically, fewer components are replaced because of better troubleshooting data.
This all results in better response times and higher same-day closures on service events. Our surveys tell us these lead to an increase in customer satisfaction. If a machine problem shuts down production, there’s nothing better than product flowing out the door again to bring a sigh of relief to a customer. In that moment, they realize they made the right decision to partner with you.
For example, Company X buys a piece of equipment from you, complete with installation. Acceptance has been finished, everyone is happy, and you part ways, wishing them many happy years of service. Because it’s a quality-manufactured instrument of precision and aerodynamics, it operates well for several months.
Then one day, the plant calls your service department. The first obstacle is the person who answers the call and barrages the caller with entitlement questions: “Name? Company? Machine?”
Once they navigate past this person, they’re forwarded to the service department, where the same questions are asked. Frustration mounts. This person does basic troubleshooting. They look at a picture of the machine and ask questions that only someone who’s never seen it would ask. They exhaust their resources and, by now, customer patience, too. Time to pass it on to a senior technician. Finally, someone who can help.
After several minutes of quality troubleshooting, this person decides to dispatch someone to the site to look further into the problem. The problem still is unresolved.
Now, let’s recast this scene. Company X buys a piece of equipment from you, complete with installation and Lightning Response Remote Access free for one year. As before, the machine operates well for months. One day, the user hits the flashing green button and nothing happens.
This time, they press a button labeled “Help!’ The machine connects to the call center, and a technician is alerted to the problem. At his fingertips are machine history codes, current status codes and machine parameters. Customer contact name, company name, machine, serial number and cycle history are right there.
The technical guys review the data and call the customer. With diagnostic and entitlement data already known, a few additional questions reveal that the customer broke an actuator off a safety limit switch. Service is dispatched with part in hand. After successful resolution, we can talk to them about extending the remote access agreement beyond one year.
The end result is more work performed, less downtime for the customer and a machine-initiated service event. Mr. President, your machine just told us it needs its oil changed.
Rodney Price is electrical engineering manager at Belvac Production Machinery in Lynchburg, Va.