01 December 2004
Changing role of field support, maintenance
More than ever before, manufacturing companies rely on the speed and efficiency of their operating systems and hardware to meet market demands and provide customer satisfaction. As a result, effective planning, monitoring, maintenance, and repair of these systems is critical to minimize downtime and optimize efficiency—key factors in promoting revenue growth, cost reduction, and maximizing customer satisfaction.
In the past, manufacturers typically used in-house maintenance departments to carry out maintenance functions and system repair needs. However, in recent years competitive and market pressures, along with rapid technological change, have caused manufacturers to reevaluate the efficiency, cost effectiveness, and overall value added of these in-house functions. They have turned to external service providers.
Industry analysts have determined that a typical manufacturing plant system user spends an average of 20% of their total systems acquisition price annually for maintenance and repair; moves, adds, and changes; and other support services over the installed life cycle of the system. Since the average system life cycle is approximately seven to eight years, the total expenditures for services can easily reach two or three times that of the initial price of the system. Businesses and industries are currently spending about $80 billion annually for service and support.
Moves to improve productivity and eliminate nonessential labor costs have, in recent years, led to an increase in outsourcing, as well as downsizing of internal plant maintenance forces. As a result, while the complexity of systems and hardware along with the demand for constant monitoring and rapid response has increased significantly, the resources necessary to effectively carry out these functions are no longer available, or do not present a cost-effective solution for most organizations.
This expanded use of outsourcing has also caused a shift in what many businesses consider their core competencies—hardware service and system maintenance being a prime example. At one point, manufacturers viewed these functions as a core competency; however, growing sophistication and integration of systems and hardware have evolved toward external service providers that can provide the high-tech resources.
To meet production challenges and decrease downtime, there is a rising emphasis on predictive, preventive maintenance techniques, as opposed to merely reacting to situations as they occur. This requires a more strategic approach to the management of maintenance functions—and a more sophisticated integration of these processes. This scrutiny of every functional aspect of an enterprise serves to continually strengthen the quality of products and services, and thus maximize customer satisfaction.
One of the areas field service organizations can do well in is providing customized controls that meet industry or company-specific requirements, offering benefits such as lower cost, increased production, and improved quality. Additionally, field service providers can implement and supply Internet-based applications.
While companies have tended in the past to use separate providers for each of their various systems and hardware servicing needs, there are disadvantages to using multiple service providers.
We have seen studies that suggest manufacturing companies increasingly favor integrated service and support agreement packages by a single provider, with service contracts covering the full span of their control systems' hardware and software. This strategic shift toward full servicing, support, and management of the manufacturer's operating systems is partly due to the rapid integration, networking, and merging of types of manufacturing systems and hardware.
Manufacturers are generally underserved in this market, particularly in the area of total control system maintenance.
As manufacturers do not get the services they need, control system integrators need to push their case to showcase their capabilities.
But it is not for the fainthearted. For both players—the manufacturer and the system integrator—much is at stake.
Behind the byline
Joseph Biehl is vice president and Robert A. Zeigenfuse is president of Advanced Automation Associates, Inc. (A3), an Exton, Pa.-based control and information system integrator. A3 is a founding member of Control and Information System Integrators Association. Biehl's e-mail is email@example.com, and Zeigenfuse's e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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