New technologies for the after-sale service


Technological innovation becomes protagonist in after sale service activities, modifying in-depth the modalities and the effectiveness of the service execution.

Roberto Papeschi

It was held in Florence last autumn the IX ASAP-SMF National Convention, dedicated to the changes that technology will introduce into the world of the after sale service and in technical assistance activities. A very interesting theme in a context like the current one where, besides fast developments of information technologies, we live the growing trend of enterprises to pass from an orientation prevailingly based on the product to more modern product-service strategies.
Sale modalities change according to this vision. Besides the product, which remains central in the relationship with customers, nowadays the commercial proposal includes a range of solutions that are developed along the whole cycle life of the product, with the aim of improving its performances and enhancing its use. The sale manager, in his relationship with customers, assumes the characteristics of an advisor able to develop the intangible part of a solution in order to create long-term relationships. In this role, he is requested to rely on specific professional and communication competences, suitable for managing a relationship that has objectively become more complex.

Mario Rapaccini, national coordinator of the Forum about after sale services, opened the proceedings of the IX Asap SMF National Convention.

A changing world
In the two days of the Convention they presented some significant experiences of the evolution in course and they examined several organizational aspects involved in the passage from product enterprise to product-service enterprise. A critical shift from many points of view, and for which univocal rules do not exist. Problems, in fact, are different from company to company and depend on the particular product typology, as well as on the evolutionary and cultural course of each company. Generally speaking, however, we can notice the opportunity of involving all the business organizational units in the change. Besides, the Service unit should be organized as autonomous Business Unit, with a well-defined strategic-operating role and with full administrative responsibility in terms of profits and losses.
In his speech Lucio Lamberti, researcher of the Department of Industrial Engineering and Management of the Milan Polytechnics illustrated the changes occurred in the relationships between service supplier and customers, in a globalized market where, out of 7 billion individuals in the world, 5.4 Billions make use of electricity, 5.3 Billions use portable phones and 2.4 Billions are connected in Internet, while over 40% of them communicate on Facebook.
This revolution implies a different attitude of customers, no more passive subjects but interactive protagonists in communication, with a multimedia and multitasking use of media. Today, in fact, in addition to the television, people simultaneously use other media, such as the telephone, the tablet and the PC, dedicating reduced attention to each of them. With this information use modality individuals affirm their identity, refusing standard behaviours and claiming to be actively involved in communication processes.
The product value chain changes for these reasons, as different elements become perceivable in it, since conditional, cognitive, emotional and social values are established besides functional ones. The enterprise has to deal with its capability of producing and communicating these values along the whole life cycle of the product, from its production to the use and destruction. In many cases, the company even involves the customer in its product design choices, through advanced marketing processes.

REAL system, developed by VRMedia and by Saint Anne School on behalf of Sidel, is a solution of “Augmented Reality” that can be worn by an operator for after sale service activities.

The developments of the “Augmented Reality”

The so-called “Augmented Reality” is a sector where important developments have recently occurred, as reported by Franco Tecchia, researcher and project leader of the Group Computer Graphics and Virtual Environment of Saint Anne School. This technology consists in the addition of visual information, useful for the execution of service activities, thanks to the use of appropriate visors that can be worn by the Service operators.
The first applications of this technology were presented in 1992 and then developed by Boeing starting from 1997 for aircraft assembling operations. These solutions, which provided for mobile computer systems, which could be worn and were equipped with GPS tracking, included a visor and a terminal with high calculation capacity, as well as the use of particular “intention metaphors”, like the virtual keyboards projected on the operator’s hand palm. BMW itself has used this technology in some after sale service operations.
In Italy, upon the initiative of Sidel-VRMedia and of Saint Anne School, in 2007 was developed the R.E.A.L. system that permits the remote service with “Augmented Reality” of industrial plants. In this system, for which the SiTrue visor of military origin has been used, the operator sees the superimposition on the observed reality of images that suggest in sequence the execution of the various activities.
A significant example of application of the “Augmented Reality” was illustrated by Carlo Ruggeri, Service manager of Ocè Italia that is part of Canon group.  In this application, which has been tested on numerous systems in the field but it is not of general use, yet, an expert suggests the sequence of interventions to be executed to the operator. In this process two tele-cameras are used, the first of which allows superimposing the image of the hands of the expert who is simulating the intervention (“ghost hand”) on the operator’s vision, while the second tele-camera enables the expert to see the situation on the field and to check the correct execution of the operations that he has suggested.
The interconnection between the systems, of the expert and of the service operator, which occurs on Internet net, has allowed verifying the great efficacy of gestures in the operations of remote assisted maintenance, much superior to what already happened with the phone use, overcoming also the linguistic and training differences, especially when the maintenance intervention is of mechanical type.
In perspective, with the shift from the 2D representation to the 3D one, we expect a progressive improvement of the man/machine interface, while the reduction of the sizes of the systems that can be worn, which might be limited to a simple helmet for the computer and a pair of glasses as visor, together with the simultaneous rise of the processing and system vision power, will make their use more and more effective and flexible.

The natural technological evolution will allow developing solutions of “Augmented Reality” characterized by small sizes and big calculation power.

Study cases

An example of the increased attention to customers in service activities was illustrated by Pier Lorenzo Dell’Orco, Customer Management Director of Solgenia SpA, primary private company that operates in Italy in the production and distribution of electrical and gas energy.  It is part of this enterprise’s strategy the transformation of the service to customer into an advice activity, aimed at enriching the “energy bill” with a range of services mainly oriented to the energy saving and to the use efficiency.
According to this vision, customers are followed with customized service modalities, differentiated for big, medium and small enterprises, professionals or residential users. Among the initiatives that Solgenia has accomplished towards this direction, they reminded two interesting solutions, the first of which is represented by “EnerGenio”, an energy monitoring system that allows an aware use of consumptions to customers. With the other solution, called “MyPresa”, the customer is supplied with a smart electrical outlet able to manage at best the consumptions of the devices connected with the outlet itself, thus eliminating also the appliance consumptions in standby conditions.
In his turn Zied Ouertani, researcher of ABB, illustrated the technological developments in the sector of the after sale service in industrial field with the “Remote Service” for the troubleshooting and the remote monitoring. The advanced communication technologies allow in fact reducing maintenance interventions in faraway areas and permit the remote knowledge transfer, as well as the reduction of intervention times and costs. In these cases, the requests that are submitted to ABB Call Centers are shunted to the various competence areas, which afterwards intervene for the solution of problems with adequate methodologies, including the vocal dialogue with robots. Of particular relevance, in this field, are the remote service activities on about 3,000 ABB plants installed on ships and marine platforms.
Davide Cracco, Europe Service project leader of Carrier Group that operates in the sector of the industrial refrigeration and conditioning, reported about the problems and the solutions developed to allow the monitoring and the remote management of plants whose failure can cause particularly critical consequences. They include the food preservation plants of Supermarkets and Big Distribution Centres, to which the safety and the continuity of the refrigeration chain must be guaranteed. A difficulty that the Carrier Group must face in these cases is constituted by the great variety of communication standards adopted by customers in the different Countries, to which service coverage in local language must be assured, extended for 24 hours a day.
Finally Cesare Grasso, After Sales Operations of BMW Italia, intervened on the after sale service theme in a sector that has lived the evolution of the product concept to the mobility service one. In the latest BMW applications, aimed at the medical and mechanical assistance for customers, today are available Teleservice solutions with automatic call directly from the vehicle or with the manual call from the user. After the call, they provide for the identification and the localization of the vehicle, therefore prearranging the opportune interventions in which the reference BMW Net is directly involved, also for the possible commercial offers that the after sale service can propose in the different intervention circumstances.