Service Lifecycle Management Yields New Solutions to Old Problems

Manufacturing has undergone many transformations over the years. From the rise of the cotton gin to the explosion of the mass assembly line, these transformations have marshaled once cottage industries like CAD and product lifecycle management into the backbone of discrete manufacturing today.

Fast forward to the present day, and we’re at the dawn of a new era in manufacturing.

Manufacturers today are looking beyond the traditional assembly line to understand the entire life of a product, including how it’s used and experienced by the consumer, and how it can be serviced efficiently. Knowledge is power, and as manufacturers strive to gain insight and control over the entire life of their products, they’re looking to extend the traditional concepts of product lifecycle management into new areas like service lifecycle management.

As the products around us become more wired, service lifecycle management becomes more fortuitous yet vastly more complex. I recently watched IBM’s ‘Smarter Planet’ video on predictive maintenance, which looks at how manufacturers can drive innovation through connected products. This video beautifully encapsulates Kevin Ashton’s Internet of Things, whereby physical objects are seamlessly integrated with one another and with information networks, permitting data to be transmitted from one device to another.

All modern machines will soon be able to smartly transmit their current wear status back to a central database, which will be served up smartly to a dashboard. Further, if parts and assemblies are cogently connected into a holistic bill of materials (also known as a BOM), manufacturers—and associated service companies—will have tremendous insight into spare parts management, scheduled downtime for replacement, and a fatiguing and rest schedule.

Service Lifecycle Management: Now and In The Future. Let’s look at this from a business-to-consumer perspective: a while ago, a part in my clothes dryer at home broke. I’m not incredibly handy (at least with clothes dryers), so I had to call a service technician. He stopped over, diagnosed the issue, did some troubleshooting, and realized it was a crushed vent. He didn’t have the part on hand, so he had to call up some corporate phone number to see when and where it might be available.

Now imagine this scenario differently: A local area technician gets a notification that a clothes dryer at (my address) is starting to wear. Or, the diagnostics are reporting an issue, such as exhaust volume is lower than expected. Up pops the full 3D CAD model in a view than can be rotated, panned, and zoomed on the technician’s a tablet device. The technician inspects it and the narrows the likely issue to one of three or so cases, all before she notifies me.

Next, I get a notification (likely email, because I’ve previously indicated I don’t really like the phone) and a suggestion for a service call. Since I bought the clothes dryer at a price that guaranteed 15,000 hours of uptime, my service call is free (rather, it was included in the purchase price). We arrange a time for the service visit and the technician shows up at my house.

Using a front-facing camera on her tablet, the technician explores the inner workings of my clothes dryer in augmented-reality, with real, as-built design detail from the 3D CAD files, overlaid onto the screen. She identifies the issue, taps the part, and within seconds (over my WiFi connection) she pops up a list of the closest parts supply stores that carry that part. And of course they have it—they have rich, detailed history about what fails and when, and can correlate that to point-of-sale and location-of–sale data for those types of dryers.

My technician knows that she can make a quick trip 3.1 miles away to get the part. However, in the rare event that the local parts place is out of my special vent, then no problem—she fires up the 3D printer in her service van, parked in my driveway, and makes one (but now I’m getting off track).

Knock, Knock: The Future Is Here. Doesn’t the second scenario seem better to you? And here’s the cool thing: this melding of science, technology, manufacturing and data is not as far away as you might think. Now, if I only purchased a Whirlpool dryer

Where do you see the role of service going in the next decade? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


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