On the pulse of the machine – Service in the digital age

On the pulse of the machine – Service in the digital age
Marginal Column

March 2017


Services for all aspects of machines and equipment are becoming increasingly important. Because unlimited availability is vital, operators expect top class basic services. But they are also increasingly investing in preventative maintenance concepts and taking advantage of digital services.

Unplanned downtimes inhibit productivity. This applies just as much to a machine tool or assembly line as to a mobile machine in construction or agriculture. Operators of machines and systems have long been aware of the fact that in an era of ever-shorter delivery times and constant availability of services, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every unplanned interruption not only costs hard cash but also represents a major challenge. A manufacturer can lose a customer, in agriculture it could mean a crop failure, or a construction company may be liable to pay a contract penalty for delays. As a result, system operators expect a perfect service from their suppliers. This includes good advice when buying, excellent training, an eShop for spare parts available around the clock, or route-optimized maintenance callouts with specific spare parts from a customer service engineer. Because operators know what good service is worth, they no longer budget for just the purchase costs, but consider the costs over the entire life cycle – the Total Cost of Ownership – for every investment. Service levels and availability are gaining in importance.

Whether they are product manufacturers, construction companies, or farmers – the operators of machines and systems want to completely avoid any failures or unplanned interruptions. Preventative maintenance is the key to maximum availability and productivity. Digitalization makes it possible. Sensors, actuators and measuring instruments constantly gather data and send it via cable or wirelessly to a computer using an RFID chip. They measure temperatures, vibrations, loads, and moments of force – and thus provide the basis for a continuous health check, resulting in a system health index. If empirically determined indicators deviate from the ideal condition, the appropriate maintenance recommendation is issued before a failure occurs.

The service organization also benefits from digitalization, as they are spared long, time-consuming journeys as many faults can be eliminated using web-based remote systems. However, if an on-site engineer is required, his visit is optimally prepared. He can get his instructions online on a tablet PC or communicate live by video chat with an expert at head office.

Digitalization within the framework of Industry 4.0 is paving the way for tomorrow’s customer service. It is becoming increasingly fast, with impressively short response times. Studies by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Accenture show a reduction in maintenance costs by up to 30 percent, and anticipate unplanned downtimes to drop by up to 70 percent. This is exactly what customers expect. To fully utilize the potential of good services, new models are also conceivable. Examples include pay per use, remuneration based on availability, or built-to-order service packages.