Field service software has been a boon for our industry, bringing shorter response times and increased productivity. It has landed an incredibly flexible and powerful tool into the hands of those who make their living repairing machines in the field. Smart devices are the tool of choice for most who rely on dynamic dispatch to guide their service technicians. In turn, techs have found many uses for this amazing device that are having a big impact on their effectiveness as troubleshooters and field service professionals. Here are just a few ways field service techs are using smart devices in the field.
There may come a time when technicians have no need for heavy tool cases or laptops; service vehicles become a thing of the past; parts ordering and replenishment go away; and service reps may not even need to leave their homes. Here are four burgeoning technologies and what they could mean for the field service industry.
1. Wearable Tech
Currently used to ensure safety (https://www.ft.com/content/d0bfea5c-f820-11e5-96db-fc683b5e52db) and monitor worker health, (http://www.ge.com/reports/post/98826357635/ge-scientists-are-building-a-wearable-brain/) this very promising technology is bound to evolve to the point where technicians’ shirts replace their smartphones and laptops. (https://www.theverge.com/2017/3/12/14899468/google-levis-project-jacquard-jacket-hands-on-sxsw-2017) With an increasing amount of adjustments becoming computerized, wearing the right clothing might become more important than having the right tools.
2. Shared Vehicle Fleets
Experts are predicting that the end of vehicle ownership is on our not-so-distant horizon. Vehicles will be self-driving and you will order one when you need it. (http://time.com/money/4797898/self-driving-cars-could-soon-save-the-average-family-at-least-5600-a-year/ ) Could this possibly mean a field service company won’t need to maintain a service vehicle fleet? Yes. It also means millions of dollars in savings for field service companies. What about the tools techs need to bring along? They’ll be wearing them.
3. Drone Delivery and 3D Printing
The dynamic-duo of near-future parts replenishment, drone delivery and 3D printing are poised to take the lead in the battle for the next field service paradigm-shift. Amazon is currently offering drone delivery of certain products in limited cities (https://www.amazon.com/Amazon-Prime-Air/b?node=8037720011 ). Numerous supply chains are watching and hoping that Amazon’s delivery experiment is a success. Why carry a part or have it delivered when you can print it on your portable 3D printer? The United States Marine Corps are asking the same question about the drones their soldiers use in the field. (https://finance.yahoo.com/news/3d-printing-revolutionize-marine-corps-133000649.html ) Technology developed for warfare often finds its way into business.
4. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality
Already being experimented by Caterpillar on their XQ35 generators (http://www.engineering.com/DesignSoftware/DesignSoftwareArticles/ArticleID/12434/Is-Augmented-Reality-a-Breakthrough-for-Field-Service-Teams.aspx ), augmented reality gives technicians an enhanced view of machinery through computer imaging. It takes less computer power to pull this off, which is why it will go from #4 on my list to #1 of the soon-to-be implemented field service technology breakthrough. However, virtual reality makes for a much more enjoyable technology fantasy.
Imagine field service reps using VR goggles that gives them a perfect 360 degree view of machinery that is in another part of the world. They reach out into the virtual world and ‘touch’ a machine in need of attention. Sensors and micro-motors in the clothing they are wearing control a repair drone and provide tactile responses to perform a flawless repair – all from the comfort of their living-room recliners.
Obviously, new technologies will come along that will shape the future in ways no one can predict. And little things like ‘profitability’ and ‘viability’ will limit much of what our imaginations can conjure. However, as the example of how technicians are using smartphones in ways that were unintended to enhance their jobs, it’ll be imagination and field-level innovation that will make any new technology well worth the cost behind the investment.