The Uptime Blog
At last week's Field Service Medical 2012 Conference, discussions centered on how medical device manufacturers could accomplish two apparently conflicting goals: 1) improve the quality and speed of service; 2) reduce the cost of customer support and tech pubs. These topics were repeated throughout the conference, which was well-attended by over a hundred representatives from leading medical device manufacturers across North America.
One recurring issue was the need to provide service technicians with the right documentation, at the point of service, so they can quickly repair equipment. Technicians spend too much time searching through paper catalogs, manuals and multiple databases to find answers to their service and parts questions.
Attendees told us that internet portal solutions haven't solved the problem because, even here, information is often out-of-date or requires special knowledge about how to use a content management system. Furthermore, for security reasons many customers block service technicians from accessing the internet while they're onsite. As a result, before going on a service call engineers will copy data and documents to their laptop and hope they picked the right information to perform a repair. But many times technicans overlook some document or bulletin that turns out to be important. In those situations the technician must call the OEM hot line (support center) to figure out what needs to be done, how to do it and what parts are required. This delays the repair and increases the burden on customer support (as well as downtime for the customer’s equipment).
OEMs are looking for a better way. Until they can consistently deliver accurate parts and service information to field engineers and technicians they know they'll be at a disadvantage. On the other hand, if they can give technicians a mobile technical library 1) they will provide better, faster service and 2) decrease the number of inbound calls to the hotline.
Toshiba America Medical Systems (TAMS) addressed this problem by implementing Enigma InService EPC, allowing field engineers to work onsite, without a network connection, and still access a complete bill of materials, troubleshoot a problem, and locate relevant, up-to-date service manuals and spare parts. Once these engineers connect with Toshiba’s ERP system they can complete any parts orders and deliver valuable feedback to the engineering department for ongoing improvement of products and support materials. As a result, TAMS service technicians perform with greater efficiency and productivity.
Enigma has always believed that the key to improving customer support, reducing repair time (MTTR) and improving quality (FTFR) is to ensure service technicians have a complete and accurate technical library of parts and service information—all the time, online or offline. Furthermore, OEMs must be able to update that data whenever it changes and keep it safe from prying eyes in a highly competitive environment. Enigma has the software tools and the experience to dramatically improve field service operations.
The attendees at Field Service Medical 2012 were extremely focused on the goal of increasing field service productivity and efficiency. We look forward to helping more field service organizations, such as TAMS, deliver on these goals.
At Field Service Medical 2012 in San Diego next week, Jonathan Yaron, Enigma’s CEO, will be participating in a panel called “Exploring Best Practices to Optimize Organizational Learning & Knowledge Management.” After talking to the panel moderator, it’s clear that the panel has a single goal: to discuss ways to improve field service speed and quality.
A number of questions have been planned to spur the conversation, but audience participation will be the key to the panel’s success. With that in mind, we’ll share just two of the panel questions along with Enigma’s initial responses, just to get your minds working.
1. What are the challenges that your field service organization is facing? The companies that approach Enigma are typically experiencing one (or more) of these field service problems:
- It takes too long for field service engineers (FSEs) to locate and download the right service information (especially diagnostics, service manuals/bulletins and parts catalogs).
- The technical content needed by FSEs (parts and procedures) is frequently out-of-date or inaccurate.
- It takes too long to respond to unplanned equipment downtime (emergency/break-fix).
- After FSEs service the equipment, documenting repairs and reporting maintenance notes is time consuming (and often “off-the-clock”).
- FSEs have little (or no) visibility into similar problems that have already been resolved by other engineers (i.e., emerging trends and best practices).
2. What is a best-practice for FSE organizations? Enigma’s customers (equipment OEMs, operators and service providers) typically try to achieve the following:
- Make FSEs more self-sufficient and effective (i.e., reduce customer support calls from field engineers).
- Make sure to deliver the right information into the hands of the FSE, wherever they are working, at the moment it’s needed.
- Make sure FSEs have a faster, more accurate response to unscheduled repairs (i.e., avoid FSEs calling into the hotline):
- Deploy a single online/offline/mobile application that delivers a complete technical library of product, parts and service information.
- Filter all technical information by equipment serial number (or product configuration) providing the most relevant parts, procedures and bulletins for the problem.
- Collaborate with other experts using that same technical library—ask questions, document errors, verify procedures and write maintenance notes and best practices.
- Integrate service and parts information with the back office—ERP, EAM, FSM, SPP (service scheduling, parts planning, inventory availability and alternates, ordering and logistics).
All of these topics, and more, will be addressed next week in San Diego. We hope to see you there; if you go, please attend the panel session and stop by the booth to get a live demo. Enigma’s panel session is scheduled for 3:25pm on the 24th, and we will be demonstrating our solutions in booth #2.
According to the December 2011 issue of MRO Management magazine (p. 56), Boeing plans to exploit their service and parts data and use it as a profit driver. Not surprisingly, Boeing is trying to position this as a good thing for the airlines. Let’s see if we can decipher what Boeing actually said.
“One of the criticisms of GoldCare was that Boeing was trying to lock in the aftermarket services traditionally competed for by third-party MROs. Joe Brummitt, Director, Material Management Services [at Boeing], has two responses to this. First, he says, the airframe OEMs have increasingly decided to go to a single source for components, as multiple suppliers inevitably lead to higher aircraft purchase prices.”
In other words, when Boeing created GoldCare they limited access to technical information unless you were a GoldCare customer. In response, lots of airlines and MROs complained because it seemed to make Boeing the only player capable of working on Boeing aircraft, forcing others out of the maintenance business. When asked about monopolizing maintenance data and services, Boeing changes the topic to say that they’ve switched to single sourcing components. They claim this will decrease the cost of aircraft but what will it do to the cost of spare parts and inventory?
“[Brummitt] adds that a lot of OEMs have failed to recognise the commercial value of their intellectual property rights and have let them ‘leak out’ to be exploited by other people – a situation that is now changing."
In this one sentence, Boeing is clearly stating their intent to maximize profits by limiting access to aircraft service and parts information. (I.e., when it comes to maintenance data Boeing will prevent it from “leaking out,” which might harm Boeing’s commercial value.) Since restricting maintenance information will seriously impact the airlines, Boeing must have a good reason for doing this but nothing compelling comes out in the article. The most obvious reason is to make it too difficult and expensive for airlines and MROs to perform their own maintenance, so only Boeing can fix the airplanes. This may be one of the ways that Boeing plans to ‘exploit’ that so-called intellectual property.
According to MRO Management magazine, “The argument also goes that no one knows the aircraft better than the OEM does, significantly reducing the risk of new aircraft introduction surprises. The OEM is also the only source of new aircraft technical information and is best placed to apply lessons learnt supporting the entire world fleet. Being involved in revisions to an airline’s maintenance programme further reduces risk by ensuring regulatory authority acceptance.”
The airlines we talk to claim they know their aircraft much better than Boeing does. Boeing builds them, but the airlines are operating them all day (and night). That’s why airlines hold the operating certificate. That’s why airlines are responsible for safety. That’s why airlines hold the profit-loss of flight operations, aircraft maintenance and parts inventory. That’s why airlines are the ones who must answer to the FAA, their shareholders, their employees and the general public for how well they meet those responsibilities. And the airlines we talk to believe they get the greatest value when they have choices about who, where, when and how their aircraft get serviced.
The article goes on to talk about Boeing’s resistance to PMA, “not from a wish to diminish a free market,” Brummitt says. The idea that Boeing would expect us to believe that statement is ridiculous. The article also describes Boeing’s ability to improve spare parts pooling, and how they have developed IT systems that can fix the airline’s inventory. “[Brummit] notes that airlines with larger purchasing departments, especially in the US, are far more reluctant to move to these newer business models with the result that many are holding too much inventory at a considerable cost to their companies.” This looks like a second way for Boeing to ‘exploit’ that so-called intellectual property. They plan to kill PMA and own the parts channel by restricting critical service and parts information. Combine that with single source parts, and their real objectives become clear: increased parts revenue and skyrocketing profits for Boeing.
The opening sentence on a Boeing web page says the following, “Boeing Commercial Airplanes, a business unit of The Boeing Company, is committed to being the leader in commercial aviation by offering airplanes and services that deliver superior design, efficiency and value to customers around the world.” I understand the meaning of superior design, Boeing does build nice airplanes, but it’s the airlines that determine if they’re receiving efficiency and value (not Boeing). And while most companies exist to make profits, how those profits are made says a lot about a company.
Since Boeing admits that airlines aren’t buying into their schemes, especially with regard to inventory, maybe the airlines understand that the short-term savings that have been promised will quickly turn into long-term costs once Boeing restricts access to technical information.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Boeing really is a good partner to their airline customers, as well as the MROs and other third party vendors that help keep Boeing airplanes flying safely. But if so, I’m left wondering what else Boeing might mean when they threaten to “recognise the commercial value of their intellectual property rights.” Whatever it means, it doesn’t sound very profitable for the airlines does it?
The December 2 blog post on Aviation Week’s “Turnaround Time” talks about Autodesk, a PLM software vendor, and suggests that the latest offering 1) qualifies as social media, and 2) will bring new opportunities for aerospace maintainers and manufacturers. (PLM stands for product lifecycle management, which is really just a fancy way of saying engineering data management.) With all due respect to the blogger, both arguments seem a bit of a stretch.
First of all, Autodesk 360 Nexus is a cloud-based PLM solution. Now just because it is “in the cloud” does not make it social, despite what the blog says: “So how does that relate to social media? Well, companies are finding better ways to share information about design data, and not just internally. PLM can make it easier for manufacturers and repairers to share data with one another for MRO purposes. So, it’s social. And it can be considered media, as companies are able to give each other pretty much any type of interactive video, graph or diagram that they need. Consumer social media tends to act as more of a marketing initiative for MRO companies more times than not, but this is the social media that gets the products out the door.” What does that mean?
Second, could it be true that Autodesk’s cloud solution is “the social media that gets products out the door?” Doubtful. The fact is that companies already share product information, with or without a cloud. Manufacturing companies are always looking to protect their intellectual property, therefore the benefits of cloud solutions are not based on sharing information but rather on reducing total hardware spend, improving IT staff productivity, increasing end user service levels, and reducing total spend on software licensing and maintenance.
Third, the blogger really stretches the definition of social media. Social media takes many forms (commonly blogs, Facebook, YouTube, etc.) Many vendors, including Enigma, have been making it possible to share information in various formats (or media): interactive video, pictures, 3D models, illustrations and diagrams. Just because a file format is 3D doesn't make the content “social.” And just because it's interactive doesn’t make it “media.”
The blog goes on to say: “… Autodesk’s command of the cloud will allow for more lightweight data, so maintenance technicians will eventually be able to look at information on their tablets and phones without much trouble at all. Again, doing CAD on a tablet is not going to happen yet, but imagine the types of apps for MRO that could come out of the woodwork if companies are using PLM more and more. Not many PLM solutions use the cloud yet, so I have a feeling that Autodesk is going to bring on many new opportunities that MROs haven’t even begun to think about yet. At a very simple level, PLM is a system for maintaining a product throughout its lifecycle, and the last stages of that include maintenance, repair and overhaul for aerospace components.
Now that statement is scary because it stretches the truth on so many levels. CAD/CAM systems have been spitting out 3D engineering data for over 20 years. For the past 10 years engineering managers have been trying to justify their CAD/CAM budget by claiming it helps in maintenance. It hasn’t happened yet. Why? Because the needs of engineering and the needs of maintenance are different, and engineering owns the data. In fact, Enigma has supported 3D data for many years but none of our customers use it. (That said, Enigma demonstrates this capability to almost every potential customer.) In the real world, 3D might be good for training mechanics but it’s not very practical in practice. Give a skilled mechanic a decent drawing with an integrated parts list and they’ll outperform the guy with the 3D glasses every time. (It's just faster.)
Is it true that maintenance technicians will use tablets in their daily work? Yes, that’s why Enigma supports tablets. Could technicians use a cloud-based solution for this purpose? Yes, that’s why Enigma provides a cloud solution. (But again, it’s about controlling costs not to be “social.”) Do technicians need a PLM solution to perform their work? No.
Although PLM vendors have a significant role in design and manufacturing, their solutions seldom play a role for mechanics (though the vendors would undoubtedly like to change that). In two decades of Enigma supporting maintenance organizations, we have yet to see PLM be effective. (Despite what Autodesk, PTC and Dassault Systèmes want you to believe.)
Should there be a feedback loop between the maintenance staff and design engineers? Yes. And for many MRO organizations this feedback loop already exists. Enigma InService MRO is the prime example of an IT solution that enables maintenance planners and technicians to publish, share and revise (update) all technical content, including PLM illustrations such as schematics and drawings. Furthermore, users can attach notes to parts, schematics and service procedures, to collaborate with fellow technicians, planners and even the engineers at the OEM.
Finally, it’s questionable whether Autodesk has “command of the cloud.” No vendor can stake that claim. We don’t mean to be too negative toward our friends in the PLM world, but supporting engineers is very different from supporting mechanics. Just because you’re using buzzwords like “cloud, social and media” doesn’t mean you’ve figured it out.