Last week we had the opportunity to meet (albeit virtually) with an executive panel of senior heads of research & development (R&D) and manufacturing at large manufacturing organizations based in the UK. Our intent was to learn how these leaders interacted and collaborated with their service counterparts and to understand if there was a common data-driven thread that existed between these internal organizations.
Our conversation was lively and touched upon four major areas that tie back to asset data.
1. The Increasing Interest in Asset Lifecycle Management
Almost all the leaders spoke of the challenges and opportunities available in improved installed base management. In addition, even leaders in R&D were looking for better insight into how assets performed during various stages in their lifecycle. The reason for this was to switch to a more proactive model of product improvement and design as opposed to one that looked at incremental features and functionality. The discussion also touched on the topic of obsolescence management of components, particularly in assets that had been in the field for 20+ years, and the increasing viability of field-replaceable units (FRUs) to improve serviceability and performance.
2. The Steps to Incorporate and Embrace Design for Serviceability
While the topic of design for serviceability is familiar, its acceptance has been sporadic as design and service teams are typically siloed and the incentives to collaborate have been ineffective. There is a slight change in the narrative for two major reasons. First, as service organizations have increased their coverage of customers under contract, there is an increasing incentive to inject efficiency into service delivery to reduce the cost per service incident. Design plays a major role in this by ensuring that service can be completed quickly and effectively. In addition, newer remote or customer-driven service models are now feasible, which creates additional opportunities to revisit product design. Many of the organizations in the recent discussion highlighted the value of embedding a service architect in the product design process.
3. The Cross-Organizational Approach to New Business Models
As organizations begin to consider as-a-service business models, there is a premium being placed on uptime and reliability and the subsequent cost to deliver contracted outcomes. If an asset is down for an extended period due to serviceability issues, then the impact is felt on the top line. The longer it takes to get the asset up and running, the longer the organization suffers in terms of revenue, service cost, and overall margins. The shift to outcome-based models is in its early stages but can be the trigger that leads to a greater level of cross-organizational collaboration to deliver business outcomes.
4. The Link Between Design, Service, and the Circular Economy
The focus on sustainability is rising in the ranks of strategic business objectives. Organizations are setting goals tied to Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards and targeting compliance with UN Sustainability Development Goals. In addition, we see an increasing number of task forces being created to investigate the reusability of products and components to extend their useful life. While in its infancy, the push towards a circular economy can have a significant impact on the way products are designed and how service organizations gauge asset condition to support decision-making around repair, refurbishment, or replacement.
Asset Data Underpins It All
As the discussion evolved, and the above-mentioned groupings, or categories, started to emerge, it became apparent that regardless of which topic was under discussion, eventually, the root of the issue was access to – and usability of – asset data.
As manufacturing practices mature, and communication technologies advance, performance and sensor information delivered directly from assets in the field is becoming more widely available. Managing an asset’s life cycle, from delivery and installation through to end of life and disposition, is greatly improved by real-time access to that asset’s condition in the field.
Remote condition monitoring allows for prescriptive maintenance when the operational profile of the asset indicates that it is beginning to fail. It also allows for monitoring and evaluating the subassemblies for performance information and providing a feedback loop to R&D for product improvement and enhancements. Feedback on part and subassembly failure rates, the amount of time, effort, and cost incurred to correct those failures, and the operational impact of those failures inform decisions about serviceability and the creation of FRUs. Ease of service, reducing the mean time to repair, and increasing the assets’ availability are all essential to transitioning to servitization or “outcomes as a service.”
In short, manufacturers are in real need of access to asset data to meet the major challenges of extending operational life, improving serviceability, transitioning to outcome-based services, and evaluating components and/or subassemblies for recycling, refurbishment, and/or reuse. Understanding how assets perform is a key insight to designing better and more sustainable assets in the future.