How IoT helps robots and humans to work together - in the field

Joe Kenny Profile picture for user Joe Kenny September 12, 2017
IoT data collected from machines is changing the role of field service technicians. ServiceMax's Joe Kenny explains how robots and humans can work together

Ford Dearborn F-150 assembly line 740px © Sam VarnHagen/Ford Motor Co
Picture this — on the assembly line at a Ford factory, a large drill cements screws on a door handle into place. No one is operating the drill — in fact, it’s a machine that operates entirely on its own. Until one day, when it stops working entirely.

Luckily, that’s where field service comes in. Even before the machine sputters and stops, a technician has been dispatched onto the scene. How? One word — data. Because this machine is built with sophisticated data-collection capabilities, manufacturers can track and plan when outages may occur — ensuring that a human is on the scene to make repairs when needed.

Digital revolution of IoT

Manufacturing, like many sectors, is going through a rapid adoption of new technology, but the biggest impact is not necessarily from robotics. Rather it is in how organisations are re-shaping and re-focussing on data.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is essentially triggering this change. What this data – collected from machinery, products and factories and fed back into analytics software to be reviewed by specialists – is doing is forming the backbone of manufacturer decision making. It’s a digital revolution that is enabling more informed design, processes and innovation, but only if it has context.

In a manufacturing context, digital goes through the whole piece, from the design concept, to actually modelling the manufacturing process before you’ve even cut metal. And then through to manufacturing environments and collecting performance data, which is all about understanding manufacturing capacity.

Differentiate through service

What is often overlooked is that digital is in fact driving which products and services manufacturers actually deploy. While we know that servitization is increasingly central, and that a lot of companies are extracting a lot of value out of delivering a service rather than a product, the fact is that service should now be integrated within a business and not be viewed as a bolt-on, a nice to have. It should provide the intelligence which shapes and determines the future of manufacturing.

And this is the point. Technology is enabling manufacturers to differentiate through service and even make money. Now increasingly the vehicle for customer and product intelligence, service is no longer a cost center but a profit center, with the ability to upsell as well as feedback vital customer information.

Changing role of field techs

Of course, the role of the field service technician is changing too. It has to. As the importance of service grows, so the field service techs have to evolve with it, and develop new skills. That means working with more functionality on their tablets, phones and even their clothes, as well as handling data collection, reporting and keeping customers happy.

Interestingly, according to the 2016 KPMG Global Manufacturing Output report, 49% of global manufacturing executives plan to significantly change the range of services they offer in the next two years, while 45% are concerned about the relevance of products and services they offer. With 44% concerned about customer loyalty, it’s easy to see how service techs can play an increasingly essential role within the manufacturing sector. Data, and the intelligence surrounding that data, are the lifeblood for innovation and growth.

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