New Technologies View - How the Internet of Things and 3D Printing will Impact the Future of Field Service
Marina Stedman, Director Global Field Marketing, ClickSoftware, takes a look at the technology shaping the next phase of field service evolution...
The term Internet of Things (IoT), describes the inter-networking of physical and smart devices, items such as vehicles and buildings and even technology services. Connected interoperability across many devices, applications and infrastructure presents an opportunity for the field service industry to raise the bar on two key areas of field service: operational costs and customer satisfaction.
Increased connectivity within a field service operation fosters a predictive model for addressing possible equipment, infrastructure, machine or device failures. The ability to diagnose and address issues and undertake preventive maintenance is essential to saving time (and money) on service calls, cutting the number of service requests made and improving the first-time-fix rate.
Take a building’s HVAC system for example. With today’s increasingly unpredictable weather, warm one day and freezing the next, IoT sensors can monitor temperatures and simultaneously use historical service and on-line data to predict maintenance requirements, failure rates and climate trends. This data can be used to manage service and operational tasks, for example making sure a system is serviced before parts fail and before the first freeze occurs, cutting the risk of breakdown and reducing the need for field service intervention.
Cost, asset management and effective communication are key components to achieving the ultimate goal: ensuring customer satisfaction.
Customers are unhappy when they have to wait a long time for a service visit, wait in all day for an engineer to arrive or make multiple calls to find out the status of their job. If multiple service visits are needed before a problem can be fixed because the information required for a first time fix is not available, both customer satisfaction and business profitability are impacted.
IoT sensors in devices or infrastructure, linked to real-time scheduling and dispatch solutions can detect potential service outages and make sure that issues are fixed before they become critical. For instance, IoT sensors in a food vendor’s freezers could identify a potential fault and notify the manufacturer that it’s due for a service before the freezer breaks and the food spoils. The manufacturer can quickly schedule an engineer to visit and rectify the issue before the freezer breaks down, saving time and money for everyone.
The IoT technology that we envisaged only five years ago bears no resemblance to what can be done today and it won’t be long before machines will automate decisions and launch actions without human intervention.
3D printers use Computer Aided Design plans to mould thin layers of melted plastic, aluminium, and powders together to form shapes. They started off making simple things like models and toys, but today’s devices have the sophistication and capability to form replacement parts. Why is it then, that few, if any field service organisations currently fulfil field-based replacement part requirements with 3D printed spares?
Maybe they don’t feel that the technology is safe and reliable enough at the moment? This won’t always be the case - here are two things to think about for the future:
Speeding Spare Parts Fulfilment
Apart from people costs, spare parts management is one of the biggest areas of cost for a field service organisation. Anticipating parts demand is challenging, even with the most sophisticated field service software solutions and the rarer the part, the less likely a field service engineer will have it available on-site when needed. 3D printing will make it as cheap to produce single items as it is to produce thousands and introduces the possibility of directly manufacturing finished components on site - reducing inventory costs and speeding up job completion.
Improving First-time Fix Rate
Not having their problem resolved in one visit is a constant source of irritation to field service customers and research has found a direct correlation between first-time fix rates and customer satisfaction. (*Aberdeen Group Fixing First Time Fix) .
As lack of parts to fix the problem is the main reason field technicians visit a customer site twice, field-based 3D printing facilities could enable parts to be printed on-demand, improving first-time fix rate and positively impacting customer satisfaction ratings.
Imagine the Future
IoT sensors in devices send messages to fulfilment and dispatch when a part is at risk of failing.
A 3D printer creates the part and the job is automatically scheduled. The service engineer fixes the problem before the customer is aware of the issue and without any disruption to business or personal life. Sounds like science fiction, it won’t be a few years from now.
Looking for more tips, trends, and future field service technology advice? Check out the Technology section of Field Service Matters.