To remain competitive and competitive in the present “era of the customer,” machine manufacturers need to deliver the best possible customer experience throughout the lifecycle of the machinery they build and deploy. The internet of things (IoT), cloud technology, mobility, and modern ERP provide the backbone to make this effort practical and efficient. In today’s blog post, we walk through an optimal customer experience scenario early in a machine’s lifecycle, when it is manufactured, installed, and managed for best performance.
Customer experience as competitive distinction
In machine manufacturing, the customer mind set has changed to demand an efficient, enriching customer experience. Customers’ own clients are looking for prompt, responsive, reliable, always-on service and flawless products. They are looking to machine manufacturers to provide them with such an outstanding customer experience—both to remedy some long-standing pains, but also to benefit from the leadership that demonstrates how this can be done well. Their tolerance for complications and delays is lower than ever, but, if you can meet or exceed their expectations for the customer experience, your chances for building strong customer relationships that can withstand competitive challenges are also very high. If you want to survive and stand out from the field of equipment manufacturers, this is a powerful strategy to pursue.
Challenges of machine manufacturers’ customers
Early in the machinery lifecycle, frequent customer challenges have to do with accommodating the arrival and installation of the machine and getting it up and running in the shortest possible time. Technicians need to be trained in operating the equipment, and they also need to understand how to perform maintenance tasks and adjustments. They also have to know how to obtain and install spare parts.
Traditionally, machine manufacturers’ delivery lead times were not always accurate, and delays not infrequent. Training required key employees to step out of their regular jobs to learn from an instructor. Documentation to do with machine specifications, operation, maintenance, troubleshooting, repair, and spare parts usually came in form of reams of paper. Using it required reading, memorization, and searching with the help of a printed index—all time-consuming tasks that tended to disrupt the flow of productivity.
By making smart use of the IoT, mobility, the cloud, and their back-office ERP, PLM, and other systems, machine manufacturers can create a superior customer experience. It might look like this:
Creating a great customer experience already before the installation
When the machine is still in production, the manufacturer can communicate with customer stakeholders to confirm the agreed delivery date or negotiate changes. From the ERP system, the manufacturer uploads machine configuration data and documentation to the machine cloud that will be accessible to the customer. The manufacturer notifies customer contacts to download the machine app to their devices. Initially, they will use the app to manage—or at least, confirm and approve—the installation of the new machine and receive machine master data and documentation.
The machine manufacturer and the customer can schedule the installation dependably for a certain date. The installation includes setup and activation of the IoT-connected sensors that broadcast data streams about any aspect of the machine’s functioning to the machine cloud. As soon as the machine runs and the sensors are on, the customer can review the data through the graphical, role-optimized reporting capabilities that are part of the machine app. The shop floor manager uses the app to verify that the machine produces within the tolerances and at the proper performance level. Technical engineers can navigate the app’s machine visualization to learn about available spare parts. The machine’s QR code or GPS coordinates can also display engineering information when an engineer with a mobile device is in the vicinity of the machine. The shop floor manager and engineers subscribe to the machine app’s notifications, so they find out about updated documentation or revised maintenance manuals ready for download as soon as the manufacturer saves them from the ERP system to the machine cloud.
Optimizing machine performance
When the shop floor manager wants to review the machine’s performance for her weekly reports, she queries the machine app for KPIs that she set up when operations started, for instance, the number of units of each type produced, throughput, quality assessments, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), and unplanned downtimes. The app provides the data from the machine cloud. Because the OEE is below the target level, the shop floor manager goes a level deeper and reviews more detailed component data, which have never been available this way before. She identifies a component that appears to be causing the problem. To investigate further, she downloads that component’s data into Excel for further analysis together with other factors that might also impact OEE. Data is stored in the machine cloud in an analytical database, with multiple dimensions and measures, which makes it ready for analysis in a pivot table.
The shop floor manager pinpoints the OEE issue to a certain part that can be adjusted to accommodate the planned production runs. She meets with the machine operators to inform them about this action, and uploads her spreadsheet to the machine cloud for future reference.
As you see, nobody has to review stacks of printed documentation. Instead, the machine app provides contextual, easily navigated information. Data from the machine’s IoT-connected sensors verify performance levels and make it possible to answer machine-related questions. In the cloud, machine data remains available for analytical purposes and to support timely maintenance and machine innovation—scenarios we will look at next.
If you want to explore how you can deliver a great customer experience to your clients, let’s talk. Get in touch with me orcontact To-Increase.
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