The digitalisation of customer services has been increasing exponentially in all industrial sectors for years. Under ‘Service 4.0’, the aim is for users to be able to access support quickly when they need it in order to ensure the safety, availability and efficiency of production lines.
The availability of machines and systems is absolutely crucial to success in virtually all segments of industry. Only companies who are able to ensure that their systems are ready for operation without any unwanted – and usually expensive – downtime as far as possible can stand their ground in competitive markets and assert themselves against the competition. The servicing of industrial systems of all kinds is therefore hugely important: in the event of unexpected failures, faults must be found and rectified immediately to keep downtime costs to a minimum, ensure the quality of products and reduce the risk of any damage to reputation, e.g. as a result of late or defective deliveries. However, the problem in this situation is that trained service personnel are not normally immediately available on site and, depending on the area, system and location, the costs caused by the downtime can therefore quickly spiral out of control.
The increasing digitalisation that we have been seeing in virtually all industrial sectors for some time, referred to as Industry 4.0, offers new ways to tackle this issue. The aim of digital networking is to optimise the entire value chain, and this includes the after-market servicing sector. Industry 4.0 therefore has a direct impact on this sector, leading to the establishment of the term ‘Service 4.0’. The technical possibilities offered by Service 4.0 have seen a number of interesting options emerge. Among other things, these new solutions enable rapid on-site servicing to be carried out without a specialist necessarily having to visit the systems concerned. The solutions are based on technology such as augmented reality, cognitive computing, robotic automation and smart data.
Service 4.0 for weighing and inspection solutions
Where are efforts being targeted and what is the aim? “From our perspective, the main aim of Service 4.0 support technologies and concepts must always be to ensure the agreed system performance level in terms of throughput, quality and availability in a reliable and sustainable manner, and in particular to avoid unplanned system downtime,” explains Michael Tappe, Global Service Product Manager at Minebea Intec. “In many cases, the failure or deterioration in the performance of system components is evident some time beforehand, e.g. unusual noises coming from engines or abnormal temperature behaviour. If you respond quickly and can get an expert opinion where needed, then you are usually able to arrange for any replacement equipment required and carry out repair or replacement work in a planned manner.”
Minebea Intec is a leading provider of industrial weighing and inspection solutions, which are used in a wide range of sectors worldwide. “We are observing the same trends in our field as in other industrial sectors: the complexity and individuality of modern systems is constantly increasing. For our customer service, it is therefore becoming increasingly challenging to support systems around the world in an efficient manner at all times and to do so at a defined, consistently high level. Describing a problem over the phone leaves questions unanswered and can cause misunderstandings and ambiguity – not least also because of potential language barriers. Often, a picture says more than words ever could in this situation.” For Minebea Intec, this is what sparked the launch of the new service tool miRemote, which the global company introduced in autumn 2018. The tool enables a virtual, immediate on-site service to be performed no matter where the system is and provides direct access to the company’s services.
miRemote is based on augmented reality technology, in this case supplementing system images or verbal video chat communication with additional information that a service employee can send to a user directly via a smartphone or tablet. “Augmented reality enables information to be shared between the customer’s employees or service technicians on site and remote technical experts in a simple and efficient manner at any time across countries and time zones. Using this technology, a qualified status analysis of potential error sources can be carried out so that the appropriate action can be taken quickly,” explains Tappe.
Wide range of communication options
miRemote offers a range of intuitive communication options for this purpose, such as the ability to make gestures via hand overlay technology, which enables the simple, clear visualisation of complex movement sequences and thus immediate, controlled implementation on site. The expert connected in the Minebea Intec service centre can see exactly what is being recorded by the customer’s smartphone or tablet camera. This enables the expert to help the user on site, e.g. with how to handle the tools needed for the process, in real time by taking the user through the instructions clearly step by step and checking that they are implemented correctly. Even untrained personnel can be guided through an operation or repair process using finger pointing without written instructions. During the work, it is also possible to display important documents or communicate via voice and supplementary text communication if required. “In certain cases, it may also be useful to record current situations and processes on video and have these recordings assessed by experts at a later point in time if necessary,” says Michael Tappe. “miRemote also supports this option.”
The requirements for using the versatile service tool are minimal: Minebea Intec uses an app which runs on all common smartphones and tablets currently available with an operating system such as Windows 10 64-bit, Android 5.1 and above or iOS 9.0 and above. As long as the user has an internet connection and a corresponding service contract with Minebea Intec, the user can access the rapid support of the company’s experts in this way.
Problem-solving in real time
The benefits of miRemote for users are obvious: thanks to the option of being able to contact a Minebea Intec expert directly at any time, no matter where the user is in the world, any deviations from the device specifications can be assessed at an early stage without any delays or travel costs and the necessary measures taken before a real fault occurs. The service technician can use gestures, for instance, to give clear instructions and manage operations verbally in order to gain a full picture of the current situation on site. The early support optimises the technical availability of equipment and systems and increases their service life and operating efficiency. “This new technology enables our customers to significantly reduce the costs of secondary and indirect damage over the entire service life of a system,” says Tappe, emphasising the significance of the service tool. “miRemote closes the gap between preventive service measures and corrective repair activities, forming part of a consistent prevention strategy.”
The Global Service Product Manager can see miRemote being particularly effective in areas where system downtime could potentially involve high risks and costs. “The decision regarding the extent to which a user wishes to use this service tool will depend largely on a risk assessment of the user’s relevant processes. For instance, the failure of production lines for foodstuffs or in the pharmaceutical and chemicals industry usually involves significant costs.” In these areas, miRemote will therefore pay for itself particularly quickly, but the Global Service Product Manager can also see huge potential for users to reap the substantial rewards of Minebea Intec’s new service tool in industries such as logistics, cosmetics, electronics and recycling, to name a few.
However, as Michael Tappe explains, miRemote is not all that Minebea Intec is doing when it comes to Service 4.0 as a subset of Industry 4.0: “We are always striving to optimise the interfaces of our systems to improve vertical and horizontal communication between the machines and higher control levels. The benefits of the increasing digitalisation of our products and processes are obvious: simple integration into our customers’ network and processes to ensure the quality and safety of their products in the long term.” Minebea Intec has made an innovative move in this direction with miRemote. Other tools under the umbrella of Service 4.0 are currently in development.