Quanos InfoTwin is the digital information twin solution from Quanos. In his role as Product Manager, Daniel Binder supports the merging of the products from Quanos’s Service Solutions and Content Solutions divisions. Quanos took a major step on this journey at the first joint Quanos Connect customer symposium on 31 May and 1 June 2022, where the new Quanos InfoTwin solution was unveiled. Quanos InfoTwin combines technical documentation and spare parts management in a single cloud-enabled application.
Mr. Binder, why do documentation and spare parts management belong together? Aren’t they actually two very different areas of the product lifecycle?
Yes, it’s been seen that way for a long time. From the technical documentation perspective, the spare parts catalog was simply another part of the documentation; the spare parts management perspective was “yet another file linked to the spare parts catalog”. As a result, both areas complement each other very well when you look at it more closely. That’s also one of the things that is reflected in our company, Quanos: The merger of two companies from the spare parts sector with a technical documentation software provider didn’t come about by accident, but rather from the profound understanding that these sectors belong together and complement one another.
So where do they overlap?
The spare parts sector focuses on physical parts and components that have already been installed. That’s the only way that service engineers can order the right spare parts. On the other hand, the instructions within technical documentation hardly ever make a detailed distinction between which part and which part number is required, as that level of detail isn’t relevant for the service manual. However, the spare parts sector has this precise information and can manage individual lists of spare parts adapted precisely to an as-built or as-maintained status.
So that’s how they come together in practice. To enable service engineers to do their job, not only do they need to know how to complete a task, they also need to have an overview of the parts actually installed. They can only achieve the optimal result in the shortest time if they have access to both sources of information. So bringing those two things together results in something that is brand new.
That sounds logical. So what are the stumbling blocks in merging technical documentation with spare parts management?
The challenge now is to integrate these two worlds via metadata – which means a greater or lower cost and workload, depending on the organization. As achieved in Quanos InfoTwin, the aim is to enable the user to switch from the spare parts to the documentation and then back again to the component or assembly. The depth and scope of the data involved in the process naturally varies from one user to another, as the spare parts buyer, for example, requires different information from the service engineer.
As a company, how do you tackle the issue in the right way?
That really depends on the individual organization, and the quality and structure of its data. It is relatively quick and easy to complete metadata mapping, which aims to align the metadata of both environments, thus linking them together. A second step would be mapping via keywords and a smart search, where partial quantities can be restricted by the context.
Both approaches can even be run in parallel, if, for example, you create “hard links” via the part number and then automatically create “soft links” that are marked accordingly. The user thus has a wide range of further links available as well as being able to quickly assess how useful these links are. With PlusMeta, we also have a partner with whom we have jointly developed the AI Cube solution, which uses artificial intelligence to automatically enhance documentation content with the relevant metadata. This provides a broad range of strategies and tools to link both disciplines.
Artificial intelligence sounds interesting in itself. Can you tell us about any other ideas that Quanos is working on?
We are working on a new functionality for service activities. With this, we want to be able to automatically extract existing step-by-step instructions from the documentation and make them available in the form of a digital assistant. This means that, alongside the documentation detailing the spare parts, we can also provide users with the relevant information regarding which consumables, tools, and resources are needed for the task. In other words, the information about “How do I repair something?” is linked with “What do I need to do it?”.
Another aspect of the development is the shared use of visualization data. In spare parts catalogs, we have 2D and 3D images, which are also required to create the technical documentation. And this is a hidden resource with potential to further increase efficiency. It is important to find synergies between both sectors and to be able to exploit them, as well as reuse data, reduce costs and workload, and ultimately save time.
What is the current status of the market and where is it heading?
Since the merger, it has become increasingly apparent to us at Quanos that the worlds of both technical documentation and service are much closer together than was previously thought - and they continue to come ever closer. And our staff have been working very closely with the subject for more than 20 years. This means we have to begin by establishing the understanding of how both sectors fit together. Some companies are already well on the way to this understanding and are evolving together with us, whereas many others still don’t see the benefits. But once people start to engage with the issue, they soon see the opportunities. Our job now is to provide solutions to enable our customers to realize these benefits as quickly and easily as possible.