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Providing service to service technicians

Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Zur Forderung Der Angewandten Forschung E.V. : 15 September, 2003  (Company News)
'Sorry, I don't have the right part with me, I'll have to come back tomorrow,' says the friendly service technician, and departs. If it was 'just' someone's washing machine at home, all it means is waiting another day for clean shirts. But if it's a whole production line in a factory, it can have huge financial implications:
contractual damages for late delivery, increased overheads for rescheduling and running additional shifts to make good the lost time and output. In many cases, plant maintenance is carried out by the vendor's field technicians or an ex-ternal service company. If the fault report from the operating site is inaccurate or incorrect, delays are often incurred because the service technician has to fetch suitable tools or order spare parts after having diagnosed the problem. The production line stays out of action for yet another day.

'Unproductive trips by service technicians account for almost a third of the total repair costs,' estimates Manfred Wojciechowski of the Fraunhofer Institute for Software and Systems Engineering ISST. This led the institute to join forces with a group of systems-engineering consultants in Berlin, GefAA, working to develop a concept for more efficient information logistics. The Web-based Mobile Workforce Management System has been undergoing trials since June as part of a pilot project involving gas stations in the Berlin-Brandenburg region. The system is built around a communications portal that collects trouble reports and forwards them to a suitable service technician by SMS or e-mail. The messages may be sent by the portal management center or directly if the machine is capable of performing self-diagnosis. 'The incoming messages are assigned to service technicians on the basis of job priority, technical qualifications needed, tools needed, and the present location of the technician,' explains Wojciechowski. The MWMS also plans a route schedule to minimize the distance the technician has to travel from one assignment to the next.

Once they arrive on site, the technicians have online access to the maintenance history of the machine in question and the relevant ma-nuals and documentation via the communications portal. If the technician is unable to solve the problem without assistance, he or she can contact an expert by means of a videoconferencing facility. Local support to the technician is the key aspect of the Berlin pilot project. 'We have already had inquiries from plant manufacturers who would like to sell their products as a package including MWMS,' reports GefAA chief executive Hans Weber.
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