Products That Last: Extending the Service Lifespan Over Multiple Decades

flickr.com/photos/11638547@N00/

A recent article on this blog “Billion-Dollar Upgrade for British Army’s Warrior Vehicles” got me thinking about the service lifespan of a product and why it’s important to build lasting products which can be serviced and maintained over the long-haul.

When we consider the total product lifecycle from conception to delivery we normally think of anything up to five years. Extending that another 30 years and beyond can be a great challenge, but to some businesses it’s essential for survival.

The first Porsche, for instance, hit the road in 1948 and approximately two-thirds of all those cars are still on the road today. That’s 54 years of life support. Think of what that means in terms of repair and maintenance. Not only does it include the production of spare parts and cataloging but also documentation and education of service personnel.

Companies like Porsche recognize the need to invest in service support as an incremental part of their overall business and competitive strategy. Sumair Dutta, service management research director at the Aberdeen Group, underpinned this concept at the recent Aberdeen Chief Service Officer Summit.

Auto manufacturers in particular need to address the challenges of longtime service and maintenance of cars which have increasing number of parts, electronics and software.

The challenge for the auto manufacturer is to have in place a service system that can support a vehicle for up to 30 years where all parties are able to find the appropriate information in a timely and efficient manner.

Companies using ad hoc storage systems often find that information is irretrievable or impossible to find. Another huge challenge is the loss of IP (i.e people leaving the company). This loss requires major actions to either retrieve or, in many cases, recreate data.

Configuration management can be an even bigger issue. Moving a car to service where the need to track specifications, spare parts and configurations can be a nightmare. Configuration should be easy to manage and link back to the manufacturing BOM and the design BOM.

One way to meet service challenges is to fundamentally shift the way we capture data – have a system in place which packages information needed over the complete lifespan of the product. It shouldn’t matter what kind of information the service personnel require, they need to have a rich environment that is easy to navigate.

A great PLM system should allow precision and support over a long period irrespective of whether you are dealing with spare part management, electronics repair or embedded software. Systems need to be in place which allow for the reuse of data, such as product data and 3D imagery. You should also be able to integrate information like quality, maintenance, service, and warranty.

In parallel, rules or standards need to be put in place so that all updated design and change information is automatically picked up at the point of service. In cases where changes cannot be made automatically, the right information needs to be sent to the right people so that they can amend the data.

Tell us about your products – do they have a lifespan similar to a Porsche or longer? And how does your company ensure a successful lifespan once it leaves the shop floor?

Photo Credit: Liz Mc on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

About Ailbhe Coughlan

I am passionate about what I do at PTC - trying hard to make a difference! Outside the office, I like sports and lots of stuff but most of all I enjoy time with my family and a good discussion with friends over a wine & good food.
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