A main battle tank costs in the region of $1.5 million to procure, taking six to seven years to design, manufacture and supply. If you then consider the lifetime of the vehicle, which is, say, 25 years, the support cost is at least $15 million, ten times the original price of the vehicle.
In today’s lean times it’s no surprise that companies like BAE Systems, Thales Group, Rolls Royce, and General Dynamics are increasingly focused on providing cost-effective and efficient in-service support for their products.
In broad terms, in-service support is customer support throughout the lifetime of a system, it is delivering the right product information at the right time, and it is getting damaged systems back into operation quickly. Logistic support ensures that up-to-date content is available on time on demand anywhere to anyone in the organization from one single source throughout the lifecycle of the product.
Let’s take the first part of that definition. As a manufacturer, how can you ensure delivery of the right product information at the right time and get damaged systems back up and running quickly?
Here’s an example: Ask a mechanical design engineer to house a power supply in a heat-resistant, water proof box and he will create a box to that exact specification. The result however will be a metal box with multiple seals and many nuts and bolts, probably of varying sizes.
The box contains a power supply inside which will inevitably get hot, reducing its mean time between failures (MTBF) over time and making breakdowns more frequent. Now we are at the repair stage. Due to the unnecessary number of fittings, and many different size tools, the mean time to repair (MTTR) will be far longer than necessary. The design engineer has delivered on his specification without consideration as to what happens once the box is in-service.
What happens if we modify the design specification as follows: Ask the mechanical engineer to design a heat-resistant and water proof box with an MTBF of 10,000 hours and an MTTR of 10 minutes, using standard tools.
Now when the power supply fails you know the exact repair conditions. You have to invest 10 minutes to repair, use standard tools to open the box, and the number of times that the power will fail is one time per 10,000 hours.
With this kind of data, companies are able to calculate how often the box is likely to breakdown and how long it takes to be repaired, thus reducing the cost and time involved in the repair.
Today, most governments insist on contracting for equipment availability (Reliability over Time) and manufacturers get penalized if products are not reliable and don´t meet availability requirements. Waiting on spare parts for a downed chopper or tank in the middle of a war zone is nobody’s idea of fun. Products must be as reliable as possible and easy to repair. If not manufacturers may looses out on future contracts.
Take a company like General Dynamics, which designs and builds specifically for defense. In-service support is a critical part of its business.
“In-service support is becoming increasingly important,” says Chris Hunt, in-service manager at General Dynamics UK. “The customer base is asking about it in a more considered and educated way. Every offer and opportunity that we pursue includes consideration of in-service support, so the emphasis is increasing within our business.”
Has your company invested in in-service support? Do you think in-service support matters outside of aerospace and defense contracting?