Industrial enterprises, for example in mechanical and plant engineering, have recognized after-sales service as a strategic success factor. Particularly in times of economic slowdown – when sales of new machines slump significantly – the service sector proves to be the stabilizer for turnover and profits. This must be exploited. It is therefore of fundamental importance to keep an eye on current developments and trends in after-sales service.
In this blog post, we will show you from our expert's perspective which trends are currently shaping the after-sales services sector in the mechanical engineering, plant engineering and equipment manufacturing industries and among their operators. And which trends are likely to continue or even intensify in 2022.
Trend #1: Digitization in After Sales Service
The trend of digitization in after-sales service is still of increasing importance and will continue to do so in 2022. Where did the journey begin and, above all, where is it going? In the following, we would like to show this in four stages.
Stage 1: Isolated tools – managing isolated data sets.
The first stage of digitization describes how manufacturing companies used tools such as Excel, Word, or PDFs to record and organize information about their spare parts and, if necessary, to place spare parts orders. Thus, isolated tools created isolated data sets.
Stage 2: Coexisting solutions – linking disconnected data silos.
Web development gave rise to new technologies such as document management systems, ERP systems or CAD systems with 2D and 3D data. All relevant information, including machine information or spare parts information, was recorded in these systems. Consequently, access options to the individual systems emerged - this allowed information from different systems to be merged into a digital spare parts catalog.
Stage 3: Integrated solutions – working with integrated data.
Cloud technologies, Everything as a Service (XaaS), unified APIs, Big Data, Internet of Things and other technologies have contributed to the emergence of a new generation of service information systems. In this stage, data integration is a major advancement. There is still feature-centric thinking, but increasingly asset-centric thinking. This means taking a holistic view of the system and optimizing it on an ongoing basis. In after sales service, this means the following: It is no longer about repairing a single machine, but about looking at and, if necessary, optimizing the entire machine fleet.
Stage 4: Context-oriented use – networking of intelligent information.
In this stage, we are talking about technologies such as digital twins, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and virtual reality. These lead to a next generation of systems: the Digital Information Twin (DIT). In the DIT, information is aggregated in a contextual and customer-centric way.
In summary, each stage of digitization brings an enormous number of benefits. Companies that are at different stages should continue to focus on digitization in order to increase their efficiency in after-sales service in the long term.
Trend #2: One platform for all service information
The vision and long-term trend is the digital representation of all service-relevant information of a machine in a Digital Information Twin (DIT). This form of digital twin can be classified as a digital twin of performance, i.e. it relates to the period from the first use of a product. The aim is to gain a comprehensive, digital understanding of the lifecycle of individual products, machines and systems and to use this for future maintenance and servicing measures.
Within the Digital Information Twin, all relevant (service) information of all product components from the various systems is synchronized in one platform and made available to the user groups. The data is not only presented virtually, but also processed and networked in such a way that considerable added value is generated for the individual user.
In short, knowledge is generated from data and converted into concrete recommendations for action.
Trend #3: Service Evolution & Service 4.0
The subjects of Service Evolution and Service 4.0 deal with the innovative further development of service. In the after-sales sector, these subjects continue to be important trends and it will be impossible to imagine 2022 without them. Why is this so and what is an operator model in this context? We would like to explain this with the help of a practical example.
A customer buys a production machine. When this machine needs maintenance or suffers a complete breakdown, traditional services are booked. A maintenance expert from the manufacturer repairs the machine and is billed on a time and material basis. With the service evolution, more and more new service offerings are emerging around the manufacturing machine, such as ordering spare parts via a B2B web store or an overnight service for ordering spare parts. These and other services are referred to as Smart Services and thus improve the overall product offering. Smart services are based on smart information. As a result, not only the product (production machine) is important, but also the service around the product is becoming more and more important and is coming to the foreground.
Thinking one step further, a model known as the operator model emerges. In this model, the product - in our example, the production machine – is completely pushed into the background. Only the service that is generated with this machine is offered and thus placed in the focus. This means that the costs of the machine itself become less important. The costs for the output of the machine become of essential relevance - much more is being invested in this area now, but also in the future.
For the commercial department, it means that the use of capital goes from CapEx (investment for the purchase of the machine) to OpEx (investment for the output of the machine, variable costs). In the future, the manufacturer will no longer simply sell machines and offer service for them as an add-on. He is now the operator of the machine and sells the output of the machine to the customer. In other words, he himself must ensure that the machine is well maintained and always ready for use.
What does this mean in summary for after-sales service?
In after sales service, the focus is changing away from the old supply-oriented approach to a new demand-oriented approach. The focus of Service 4.0 is no longer viability and practicability by technology or the manufacturer, but rather more acute customer needs.
In a nutshell, owning a machine is becoming less important - the service that the machine provides is becoming more and more important.
Trend #4: Higher customer expectations and demands regarding support and service
As in previous years, customer expectations will continue to rise in 2022. In the area of after-sales services, this means that customers' demands on support and service employees will also continue to increase. In addition to technical expertise, communication skills and in-depth knowledge of the products will also be required. To provide the best possible assistance to support and service staff, it makes sense to have an intelligent, digital platform that employees can also access in the field via mobile devices.
If technicians are also working in remote locations or at other sites without Internet reception, an offline version of this platform is necessary. Using extensive search options and linked information, service technicians can quickly access the information they need at that moment. Knowledge and experience, as well as maintenance measures that have already been carried out, can be recorded via the digital system and thus made available to all support staff.
The goal: A 360° service view of all machines and systems as the basis for satisfactory service
Trend #5: Digital transformation in maintenance and service
A revolution is taking place in the field of maintenance, repair, and service: with the feedback that IoT technologies enable from the machine back to the upstream processes, not only is valuable information being fed back into the upstream processes. Completely new services and business models are becoming possible. On the way to the new service world, there are many intermediate destinations and advantages - if you know where you want to go.
The 6 evolutionary stages of the maintenance pyramid make precisely these intermediate goals and advantages accessible. For manufacturers and operators, this means that the trend of digital transformation in maintenance and service will continue in 2022 and in the coming years.
The 6 stages of the maintenance pyramid
The individual stages of digital maintenance range from simple Reactive Maintenance, through Preventive Maintenance, Condition Based Maintenance and Predictive Maintenance, to Reliability Based Maintenance and Financially Optimized Maintenance, which makes a strategic contribution to corporate value creation. With each evolutionary stage, the effort required for implementation increases on the one hand, but on the other hand the advantages and opportunities offered by the maintenance strategy also increase. Currently, the higher levels are very rarely found in practice, and many companies also implement only parts of the maintenance strategies presented - the digital transformation in maintenance and service is a lengthy process.
In our Whitepaper "Smart Information: Data makes maintenance intelligent", you can learn more about the individual stages and ways to implement the individual maintenance strategies.
Trend #6: Demographic change
Demographic change is and will continue also in 2022. The aging of society and even more the departure of the baby boomers from working life hold great challenges for companies - one of them is the loss of knowledge due to the number of employees who will go into retirement in the next few years.
For after-sales service, this means that more and more service technicians are retiring, which means that a lot of experience is being lost. In addition, there are only a few new service technicians and, at the same time, the machines and systems that need to be serviced are becoming more and more complex. And in parallel, customer demands are rising (see Trend #4). This means that new and/or different skills are also required, which can be supported by technology.
For this reason, more and more companies are using digital platforms, for example a service information system that stores all service information and combines it smartly. The service technicians receive all information at a glance - in ONE system, always and from everywhere.
Conclusion: Successful after-sales service in 2021 will be achieved by smart, digital platforms
After-sales service will remain a stabilizer for turnover and profit in 2022. The vision and long-term trend is the development of a digital information twin. However, this is not a detached product, but a platform that usually requires an extensive digitization process. Create the basis for this now by digitizing your (service) information and bringing it together in a central system.
Our service information system supports you in this.
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