The Right Approach to Digitization in Aftersales Brings Efficiency

Published: 2022-12-12 Updated: 2023-11-10
Subject: Networking service information Digital Information Twin Increase efficiency in service

Companies are not embarking on digitization and the introduction of a digital twin because it is the latest trend. They do so because the hurdles and efforts involved in the digital transformation of a company are offset by major benefits and promises for the future. Comparing this effort and the expected returns helps to recognize and understand the positive effects of digitization in the company and among employees. Quanos helps with clever products and best practices.

Getting started in time is important to achieve great effects with a manageable effort

When a company begins its journey toward digital transformation, it can mean a lot of work and major disruption. Depending on how strongly and how intelligently digital tools and processes have already been used, the scale ranges from stringent further development to completely rebuilding digital structures.

Companies are pursuing different strategies: At one end of the scale are the early adopters who quickly adopt and implement new technologies; at the other end are companies that are caught up in day-to-day business and are incapable of modernization. The large middle field is made up of companies that implement new ideas and technologies at different speeds.

There are definitely good reasons for this "follower" strategy; among other things, it allows the experience of early adopters to be used to avoid technological dead ends and to adapt optimal, proven processes. When followers adopt a technology, it is not only proven, but established, and the risks of adoption are known.

However, this approach can also bring disadvantages in digitization because innovations follow one another very quickly and often build on one another. A follower who falls too far behind may find that he or she lacks basic technologies or technical prerequisites that are necessary for the desired innovation. For example, when it comes to a resilient, clean, and well-maintained database, it may only be possible with the greatest of effort, or almost impossible, to optimize it retrospectively - and then it becomes difficult to introduce digital technologies if, for example, they use completed orders to calculate delivery or production times in advance.

Digitization as a way out of the personnel crisis

Almost all companies are looking for employees, while existing employees have to cope with more and more tasks. Rising sales, new business models, increased customer expectations - all this is positive at first, but at the same time generates more work for today's already burdened workforce. In addition, companies are facing a loss of knowledge as the baby boomers retire and with them many experienced employees.

As a result, fewer and fewer very experienced employees will have to take on more and more work, while equivalent replacements are not available. This is because the available workers may be qualified, but they lack the necessary years of experience. They are less efficient because they have to search for much more information, which experienced employees simply know from the past - for example, when which purchased parts were installed in a machine series.

If a new technology is able to partially automate the tasks of this workforce, the effect is twofold: employees are relieved of frustrating routine tasks and at the same time become more efficient, so that the challenges at hand can be completed without or with fewer additional employees.

Reduce ancillary activities, relieve the workforce

The biggest lever for unburdening the workforce is reducing ancillary tasks such as searching and sourcing parts and information. This leaves more time for the really important work content and customer contact. In the aftersales area, the digitization of spare parts catalogs offers a multi-faceted opportunity here:

  • Electronic catalogs can be created to a large extent from design documents.
  • These electronic catalogs can be linked to product variants with serial number accuracy, so that the spare parts catalog precisely reflects the currently relevant product.
  • This in turn facilitates the search for specific parts and saves a lot of time.
  • Finally, the electronic spare parts catalog can be made available to customers so that they can search for spare parts themselves and order them directly digitally.

The spare parts sales staff can then concentrate on the more complex problems and advise customers instead of repeatedly searching for the same wear parts, preparing quotations and processing orders. Time is saved in each of these steps and repetitive, boring work is replaced by digitized processes.

Networked service information for greater efficiency

However, it is not only spare parts that are searched for, compiled, and made available in aftersales, but also information. Documentation on maintenance work, service notes, tips, and tricks, but also the quite ordinary product documentation describing the function, operation, and maintenance of a machine or product are very important assets in aftersales processes. Thus, there is an additional synergy effect when documents are digitally assigned and made available. Together, the digital spare parts catalog and the associated digital collection of information make up the Digital Information Twin.

Here, Quanos Service Solutions offers a solution with its service information system (SIS) Quanos SIS.one, which generates and provides electronic spare parts catalogs that can be configured according to serial number. But a SIS is more than just a catalog: Information, instructions and other information can be linked to the components and assemblies, such as those generated with the XML editing system SCHEMA ST4 from the second Quanos division, Content Solutions. This provides the service planner and the field service employee, as well as the customer and other process participants, with all the information they need for smooth, efficient, and value-added aftersales services.

 

Digital data: Prerequisite for digital processes

The amount of work that needs to be done before a digital twin can be introduced depends very much on the digital tools used in a company and the data stock - and not only on its quality, but also on the formats in which this data stock is stored.

Digital processes require digital data that can be used in this processes. Digital in this context means not only that the data is stored on a computer, but also that it is machine-readable. The PDF of a scanned drawing is a good example of digitally stored information, but it is not or hardly machine-readable, because the file does not contain the drawing itself, but only pixels. The human viewer recognizes the contents, while no usable information can be found for software. With the help of text recognition, it may still be possible to evaluate the drawing header, but otherwise the file is useless for digital processes.

A CAD drawing, on the other hand - or much better, a 3D model - can be used by downstream processes to extract information and make further use of it - at least if the data format is readable for downstream processes. Since it is often not yet clear what information will be needed in further processes, it is important to generate information that is as complete as possible at each process step. The method often used in the past of keeping CAD files small by only hinting at small parts such as screw connections leads to problems at the latest when the number, DIN standard and size of the screws, washers, and nuts on a component are required for the spare parts catalog.

Information about changes must flow back

It goes without saying that CAD data must describe the actual geometry built in order to be useful, but it is less often taken for granted than one might think. Whether purchasing procures different components than originally defined or adjustments have to be made during assembly - these changes must flow back into the design models if the data is to be used later in service, for example.

Readable and complete - that is important, but not yet sufficient. In addition, all data must be linked in their technical, local, and logical context. What use is all the information about a cable harness and the cables it contains if there is no record of where it is installed in a huge machine and which components it connects? These links between information are called the digital thread along which digital processes run.

The more of these three requirements - machine-readable, complete, and linked - the data available in the company already fulfills, the easier it is to get started with digitization. Only in startups that begin with a blank sheet of paper and an empty database, so to speak, can digitization be thought of from the outset. All other companies have their inventory data that must somehow be opened up for digital processes - one of the reasons why startups usually work very digitally.

Quanos InfoTwin, which brings together the offerings of the Quanos divisions and transforms them into the cloud, provides a modern solution that makes it possible to build a Digital Information Twin platform based on standard building blocks. Best practices and processes that have been proven over many years are already implemented here.

Digital processes ensure transparency

Automation brings with it a certain inflexibility - as it does everywhere - even in companies. If processes are mapped digitally, sequences and interrelationships must be stored in algorithms. Where a certain amount of "artistic freedom" is possible in manual processes, digital processes always run in the same way. The result - which is positive - is that processes are standardized and many things that were previously decided on the basis of gut instinct are now based on fixed algorithms.

In this way, digital automation also ensures that "small kingdoms", i.e. informal responsibilities and processes, are uncovered in the company and, in the best case, formalized. This is the main reason why ERP system implementations are often so difficult and painful. Here, too, established processes are formalized and defined via rules. The result of such a changeover is transparency and standardization of workflows and processes. However, the workforce must be ready for this in the first place. Clear communication about the advantages for each individual resulting from the changeover helps at this point.

In aftersales, digital processes bring the opportunity to automate recurring processes. Here, the service department in particular can benefit. It is often known exactly which machine at which customer will reach a certain mileage or a certain age at which maintenance will be necessary. This is where automation comes in handy, telling the service technician that maintenance is needed on a particular machine. Likewise, the customer can be informed and the spare parts package can be provided - without anyone having to do anything manually. The office staff is relieved of routine tasks, the customer and the service technician can arrange a maintenance appointment well in advance. Above all, the customer feels well looked after and supported.

Information instead of knowledge saves training

In the field of documentation, well-prepared and accessible information can replace knowledge. Instead of training employees on the machine at great length and expense in all situations and processes - no matter how absurd - a digital information system offers the information currently required at any time.

The role model for such systems is the user experience of smartphone apps: Due to the - in comparison to the desktop PC - tiny displays and the - in comparison to the mouse pointer - rough control with the finger, the app developers had to work out new operating concepts. Instead of overloaded menu bars with drop-down menus, good apps feature clear interfaces with few elements, but which provide exactly those functions that are useful and meaningful at the current time.

This requires a certain "intelligence" of the interface, which must "know" which functions are currently needed. However, if one analyzes the usage behavior, it quickly becomes apparent which typical processes the users complete. It is similar with machines: These run according to formalized processes to which the respective required information can be assigned. When a job is completed, a setup time usually begins - so the information software running on the control can provide the appropriate chapters of the manual: Tool change, moving the work table to swap fixtures, and so on.

This is where the digital thread comes into play again - if it is clear which information and which parts of the documentation belong to certain situations, an intelligent information system can be created. This is much more efficient than dealing in training courses with procedures that rarely occur and which the user has accordingly already forgotten by the time he or she has to apply their knowledge.

Digitization - an efficiency machine for the aftersales area

Digital solutions with the three components discussed - a good database, efficiently automated processes, and intelligent documentation - such as those from Quanos will relieve the burden on employees, increase customer loyalty and boost efficiency. Especially when it comes to expanding the aftersales area, major positive effects can be generated with manageable effort.

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