For manufacturers the world over, servicing products is no longer simply an obligation, it’s an essential contributor to customer loyalty and bottom-line success.
Indeed, according to the 2013 “Manufacturing Transformation” report by Oxford Economics and PTC, 77 percent of C-level manufacturing executives consider enhancing service a key factor in their company’s competitiveness. A majority of these executives (56 percent) plan to establish service as a profit center by 2015.
Winning with service, however, is no simple task for companies traditionally focused primarily on designing and building great products. The new focus on service requires substantial shifts in corporate strategy, operations, and culture.
One of the most important obstacles may be the mundane-sounding challenge of properly and efficiently managing the product data that forms the heart of every service operation. Simply put, service-related data is a mess at most manufacturing firms, and that mess gets in the way of efficient, effective, and loyalty-building service delivery.
A large defense contractor provides a great case in point. This manufacturer of military and commercial communications equipment struggled to publish and maintain technical manuals for its parts and systems—manuals that customers and service technicians relied on to maintain products in the field. It’s only one piece of the overall service puzzle, but an essential one for customer satisfaction.
To create the manuals, authors had to manually combine parts data and CAD data to fashion illustrated part breakdowns. The process was prone to error and woefully inefficient. If the product’s CAD or part data changed, the authors had to reenact the entire process. For a company delivering thousands of products in a phalanx of configurations to some of the most demanding clients in the world, this process was an unacceptable drain on internal resources, and endlessly frustrating to customers. Service slowed due to repairs made with errant parts, and repair technicians devoted cycle time to unnecessary repairs.
To fix the problem, the company invested in new technology and new processes to connect product development with the service organization by automatically feeding associated CAD and parts data directly into the technical manuals. Any time an engineer updates a CAD drawing, the related product manual is updated automatically without any intervention from the technical authors.
The company’s technical authors now build dynamic references into product manuals so that illustrated part breakdowns are connected to the underlying CAD or parts data, and automatically synch when any changes are made to those models.
Building those relationships between product data and technical manuals also forced discipline in other authoring activities, the contractor found. For instance, if an assembly created in a third-party CAD package does not follow an approved structure, it cannot be checked in, ensuring that only service-friendly data makes it into the database.
The new rigor that governs the creation and maintenance of these technical manuals has helped the manufacturer improve customer satisfaction and bolster the efficiency of its service operations.
Looking a bit further ahead, accurate product data provides the solid foundation necessary for more accurate, streamlined, and effective service operations as a whole. Ensuring that product data is consistently linked, rather than duplicated, is a major step forward in the effective delivery of service information, which allows employees to focus more confidently on overall service efficiency and quality. Getting product data right is hardly the only requirement for service success, but it’s difficult to win without it.