Leveraging Technology for Field Service
Changes in IT operating model
Over the past five years in the Construction Equipment industry, there have been several changes in the information technology utilized by the field service team.
One change that has affected our service teams is the move from paper to electronic information. While paper is still available, there has been extensive investment in creating usable electronic documents for Service Manuals, Operators Manuals, and Parts Catalogs. In addition, with that change comes the development of mobile apps for smart phones and tablets instead of access with DVDs on desktop computers. It is possible to update documents in real time, without waiting for the next printing, or even a quarterly electronic update. Service technicians can work in the field without calling back to the shop for information, creating efficiencies in repairs. The next step for technical information is to leverage the use of hands-free, visual software where a technician can walk through a repair with step-by-step instructions and 3D visualization.
Another change is the level of sophistication and utilization of the Electronic Service Tool (EST) for mobile equipment. The current Tier 4 Final emission requirements have created an environment where the EST is necessary to keep a diesel engine running at the appropriate range to maintain the allowable emissions and effective working power. Five years ago the EST was primarily a tool for finding error codes, where today it has evolved to a tool that can download datasets into the equipment control unit (ECU) and change working parameters.
In the electronic age, the time required for diagnosis may be long and the actual repair work is relatively short
Telematics are not new on the scene, but the move from geofencing, utilization of GPS to keep track of machine location, to extensive feedback regarding operating parameters compared to specifications has created a new market for equipment dealers that are utilizing the great amount of information at their fingertips.
Biggest Challenges in Field Service
While product development quickly engages new technology and finds ways to utilize it to create a better product with less testing and more simulation, field service tends to lag in adoption.
Technology, especially the area of electronics, is moving faster than most dealerships are prepared to support. The dealer service technician needs the appropriate tools. In many cases, they need multiple tools to diagnose and service equipment. This comes at a cost to the dealership and sometimes decisions do not support the service business, resulting in the lack of those tools.
Training is also a gap, as the skill set of the support functions may also lag behind the technology developments. The technicians and their inside support fellows may be required to go beyond the basics and engage the development engineers to fully understand the processes of diagnosing and repairing equipment with the level of electronics that are now available.
Skill sets Required to Succeed in Field Service
As advancements continue, the average service technician faces learning a new process for diagnosing and repairing equipment. In the electronic age, the time required for diagnosis may be long and the actual repair work is relatively short. This is in contrast to what many have experienced in the world of equipment repair in the past where it is easy to see the mechanical piece that is broken, but the repair process itself may be lengthy.
With the younger generation of technicians coming into the workforce, the knowledge gap around electronics is diminishing, but information still needs to be clear. Schematics, service manuals, and the EST need to be logical and drive the service technician to the failure and ultimately to the solution.
The Road Ahead
Hands free technology, utilizing smart glasses to help technicians with step-by-step repair processes, is at the top of my list for future innovation. While many manufacturers have embraced this on a limited basis, it is the wave of the future. This technology will provide service technicians with the ability to diagnose and repair equipment more efficiently and effectively. It will take investment by manufacturers to execute this well.
Developments in training capability where multiple students in multiple locations can be trained without the limitations of a classroom facility are also exciting. The use of 3D architecture within product development allows for the projection of 3D images in a room and instructors can demonstrate the disassembly and reassembly of a product with all the pieces and parts, but no real physical form. Instructors and students can be anywhere in the world and can all look at the same lesson together, rather than in the physical classroom where only one or two students can actually get close enough to see what is being done during the repair.
Use of Technology in Field Service
Technology provides the ability to view equipment usage modes and working hours with information about when a service is due or when a given component is approaching the end of its useful life. When equipment dealers leverage this information, they are better able to service the customer with planned downtime rather than unplanned downtime. In addition, they are able to increase their retail service sales, supporting their absorption rate within the dealership.