September 2015 - The Service Council

3D Printers in Service Vans: Lets Pump the Brakes

By Sumair Dutta | Perspective, Uncategorized | No Comments

Every day there seems to be a new article describing advances made in 3D printing. I just read one on how 3D printers were being used for whiskey glasses on the International Space Station. There is no doubt in my mind that 3D printing will disrupt and revolutionize supply chains. Some of that disruption is already occurring and early adopters are making some progress. Yet, most organizations are in a wait and see mode.

In late 2013, we lobbed a question to our community regarding the impact of 3D printing on service parts businesses. At that time, 71% of responding organizations (n=100) said no. Twenty-three percent (23%) said they didn’t know yet, and only 6% said yes. In 2014, we posted a similar question to a slightly larger group (n=175) regarding 3D printing and its broader applicability to the service business. In this case, 3% of companies were currently using 3D printers, 7% were building the business case for use in the short-term, and 24% were evaluating for use in the near future (24-48 months). Of the remaining 66%, most downplayed the role of 3D printing.

3D Printing in Service

What it seems to be is that those folks who were on the fence, continue to evaluate the technology more, and some have actually put pilots and projects in place. E.g. On a recent webcast with Lexmark International around service supply chain management, Brad Lawless, their Director of Global Service Parts Operations states, “3D printing is a critical part of my tool box today and one of the reasons that we have extremely high fill rates.” Brad uses the example of a 3D printing partner who provides a cost-effective 3-day turnaround for a high quality printed parted based on a model sent in by Lexmark. Yet, Lawless also states: “It will be years before you have Lexmark branded vans with 3D printers in them.”

So where do 3D printers fit in when it comes to service parts? Our recent 2015 parts research has found that inventory management of service parts continues to be a major area of focus for those involved in running service supply chains. The issue is in balancing the availability of parts for technician and customer use with the cost of inventory. If you run too lean, fill rates suffer. If you overstock, you have a lot of money tied in inventory. This gets even more complicated when you think of the variety of parts needed to support multiple products.

In the realm of inventory management, we also found that a large percentage of organizations were being burdened with a large inventory of obsolete parts or parts for products that are at end of life. Since most customers look to extend the life of their products to delay the eventual replacement discussion, they still need support in the form of parts and service. This creates a unique challenge for service organizations as they are planning to stock up and support their newer lines of product vs. products that are obsolete. More so, as suppliers move away from supporting older products, it becomes more and more difficult to order necessary products, thereby forcing organizations to essentially overstock.

Enter 3D printing. Service leaders we speak with see the entry point for 3D printers in the support of parts for obsolete or legacy products. If a part is needed, it can be created on-demand and delivered to the customer with a short turnaround, thereby reducing the inventory burden on the service provider. While the cost per part might be higher, it is offset by the decrease in inventory held by the organization.

Before that happens, organizations (and service leaders) have concerns around:
– Velocity of output
– Quality of output
– Validation that the part is up to standards
– Regulations around the use of 3D printed parts especially in regulated industries

These challenges can and will eventually be put to bed as advances are made to the technology and there is a greater demand from mainstream manufacturing to adopt 3D printing. It’s only a matter of time. Yet, for most in the service realm, these are still early days. A quote from one of my conversations, “The engineers love 3D printing. But the excitement fades when you talk to the operations manager.”

If interested in listening in to our conversation with Lexmark International and Durst Image Technology USA, visit our Re-Imagining the Service Supply Chain webcast page.

We’ll be discussing 3D printing on an upcoming parts IdeaShare entitled Innovation in Parts Management. Space is limited, but feel free to register and we’ll see if we can get you in.

Otherwise, feel free to send in your comments on 3D printing and we would love to showcase some of the ideas around the increased use of this technology for better service performance.

Field Service with the Customer in Mind

By Sumair Dutta | News | No Comments

What makes a perfect field service visit? If you’re in the business of field service, you’ve probably given that question a lot of thought. At The Service Council, we asked 180 organizations for their view of the perfect field service visit, and discovered that when it comes to serving customers onsite, perfection is less subjective than it might seem.

To Serve and Protect
Looking at the open-ended answers we received, some common terms emerged at once. These terms paint a picture of the modern field service organization as far more than technical experts driving well-stocked vans.

For the most part, the comments touched upon the following themes:

  • When a reactive visit is needed, the field service technician should fix the issue the first-time.
  • The necessary forms and paperwork are completed accurately and submitted on time in order to ensure appropriate billing and documentation.
  • Once onsite, the field technician ensures that the customer is offered a longer-term solution that might prevent that issue from reoccurring.
  • The field technician maximizes the time spent in front of the customer by offering other solutions that might benefit the customer.
  • As a result, opportunities for additional services are identified and recorded for appropriate follow-up.
  • In the future, the reactive field visit is replaced by a preventive service event.

Be Quick and Be Proactive
The top characteristics of perfection in field service are efficiency, resolution, revenue, and prevention. Efficiency is measured primarily in terms of the frequency with which service issues are resolved on the first-visit. This not only benefits the service organization, but is also what customers want. When we reviewed the top reasons customers were unhappy with their field service experience, we found:

  1. Field service agent did not resolve task on a first-visit.
  2. Cost of service visit was too high.
  3. Time to receive appointment was too long.

Organizations report that only one half of their field visits are perfect (as defined by the organization). The following diagram calls out the key areas that you should consider prioritizing to increase efficiency and create perfect field service visits:

achieving perfection

It is important to note that that the top area of reform goes well beyond recommending that field agents are simply equipped with mobile devices, instead emphasizing improvements in the information available on those devices. The two critical elements of this recommendation is that the information on the device:

  1. Reduce or eliminate time consuming administrative tasks.
  2. Empower field agents to drive resolution and revenue.

Mobile Makes the Difference
The results of this study align well with the Mobile Maturity Framework which The Service Council has established. This Mobile Maturity Framework tracks the progression of investments made in mobile field service tools. The framework involves four stages:

  • Stage 1 – Replace – Automating paper-based processes.
  • Stage 2 – Remove – Removing obstructions to productivity.
  • Stage 3 – Resolve – Improving resolution capacity.
  • Stage 4 – Build – Empowering agents to build and enhance relationships.

Most mobile deployments are still stuck in stages 1 and 2 and its time to maximize mobile investments by moving to stages 3 and 4. It’s worth noting that all mobile investments don’t need to follow a staggered approach. Stages 1 and 2 aren’t necessary for stages 3 and 4 to happen. It’s just that the returns tied to Stages 1 and 2 are typically how additional investments in mobility are justified. In general, the benefits seen at stages 3 and 4 are more powerful and much more impactful when considering the overall growth of a service business.

Over the course of the next month, The Service Council, SAP, Genband, and Deloitte, are embarking on a journey to discuss and debate the Mobile Maturity Framework. The intent of this debate and discussion is to empower service leaders with a more sustainable view of mobility and its impact of empowering the field service workforce. The components of the debate include:

  1. Webinar: Next Generation Field Service (September 23rd @ 11:00am EDT: Register)
  2. InService Podcast Interviews: Mobile Maturity Defined
  3. A Published Case Study – Maximizing Mobile Results in Field Service: The Genband Story

We hope that you join us on the journey and involve yourselves in the overall dialog.

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