Reworking machine hardware and control modules to capture data requires investments in R&D, hardware, software, and the manpower involved in upgrading equipment—expenditures that many companies are not willing to make. However, it is foolish to ignore the savings that can be realized by retrofitting existing machines.
Adding just some simple modifications, namely digital dashboards and monitoring equipment, to older machines can provide field service reps real-time diagnostic information that can unlock hidden returns—returns that can be difficult to measure, but very substantial.
When It’s Time For an Upgrade
Companies might be under the assumption that all of the required monitoring and analytical features are already built into their modern machines, which isn’t always the case. Or maybe they’ve recognized that a few systems haven’t been performing as was promised at launch. Perhaps it’s time to reevaluate the technology you rely on to be both productive and profitable. If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, it might be time to evaluate equipment for hardware and/or software upgrades:
- Do your technicians frequently spend longer than expected on service calls because of difficult problems?
- Are projected costs for parts replacement always underfunded?
- Do you have specialists who are always over-booked with problem machines?
- Does your escalation procedure include doing an out-load of machine data that is then analyzed off-site?
Don’t Give Up on Legacy Equipment
It’s tempting to count out legacy equipment when it comes to making meaningful updates, but even older technology can be revamped. Every machine, from the simplest to the most complex, can be broken down into a series of inputs and outputs that produce the desired effect. Inputs and outputs alike produce signals that can be measured and then analyzed for efficiency and reliability. A common problem with what is often referred to as “legacy equipment” is that the data that each of these components produces is neither monitored nor captured. Yet, in many cases, all that is needed is a relatively simple reworking of the control module to add the electronics that will monitor the signals and store the data. The laptops and handhelds that service personnel carry can then be used to analyze the data.
For large, complex machinery with multiple control modules, a Bluetooth network can be added, which will link the modules and allow service reps to connect wirelessly to the equipment.
The Opportunity Is Greater Than Initial Cost
Making upgrades to technology can certainly add up, but often, it’s worth the upfront cost to ensure that machinery performs better in the long run. By making changes and improvements to existing technology, you’ll likely not only improve its performance, but also save money and protect your reputation in the eyes of customers.
Save on Manpower Costs
Technician time is valuable. Having machines that “talk” to a diagnostic program can eliminate a lot of head-scratching and unnecessary troubleshooting procedures. However, if R&D money does not find its way to fund a comprehensive diagnostic repair program, all of that newly generated data will go to waste. But with a repair procedure that incorporates analyzed data to pinpoint problem areas in the machine, learning curves shorten, repairs are completed sooner, training times decrease, and there’s less of a need for specialists, all of which can drastically reduce labor costs.
Save on Parts Replacement Costs
There’s a term technicians use when they are either frustrated with a difficult problem or in a hurry to fix an issue: It’s called “shot-gunning a machine.” The shotgun approach is to replace every part that has been known to cause a problem, rather than troubleshooting to the point where you discover which part is the actual culprit. You can imagine how costly this can get and how much can be saved by a software program that tells the tech where the real problem lies.
Save Your Customers
Very little in business is as important as customer retention. And nothing frustrates a customer more than machines that are unreliable and slow to get fixed. With data gathered from a pool of machines in the field, companies can anticipate and fix vulnerable areas of a product before it becomes an issue. They can also use the hardware and software to connect their machines, using IoT technology, to get an alert when an electric motor starts drawing more power than normal, or a solenoid starts running a little hot.
Certainly, a cost analysis should be done before embarking on anything as bold as the reworking and retrofitting of existing equipment (investing millions to save thousands is always a bad idea). But when it comes to customer loyalty and your reputation as a company that is constantly looking for ways to improve your equipment—can you really put a price tag on that?