The catastrophe of non-catastrophic failures

Heavy equipment manufacturing has a specific DNA.  It’s made up of equal parts of Okuma, Mazak, Fanuc, Seiki and many more. These are the tools needed for the trade. And in our manufacturing world, the OEM stands as the lone resource ready to rescue the day from downtime. Right?  Not quite.

Although the OEMs do a fine job of selling, scheduling service and stocking parts, they sometime seem a bit perplexed when little things go wrong. In other words, when a critical machine goes down, it’s not always a catastrophic failure — it’s sometimes due to an annoying machine nuance, like a simple fault reset sequence or a misaligned tools arm changer.

It’s situations like this that send a maintenance technician to the Internet for help. After searching through equipment-fix blogs, technical forums and advice from guys with a handle like CNCGUY, a half day of production can sometimes be lost. So wouldn’t it be great if someone had the foresight to put all of this equipment knowledge in one place?

Advanced Technology Services, has done just that. Through a new service called TechConnect®, maintenance technicians can connect with machine experts who have access to literally thousands of machine records. And those machine records represent the largest knowledgebase of technical information from the 2,500 maintenance professionals that ATS employs. And they’ve been inputting machine data — including annoying nuances — for over 25 years.

When you do the sums, that’s a lot of records and a lot of years of experience. But what it really means is that when one of those costly machine nuances creates a non-catastrophic downtime event, a tech can simply connect to the database online or on the phone for faster resolution.

One of the keys to the success of the TechConnect® service is the company’s network of subject matter experts. These experts are some of the most knowledgeable technicians in the industry, with literally hundreds of years of combined experience on hundreds of brands and types of factory floor equipment.

Not all the calls coming onto the TechConnect center are extremely technical in nature. Derek Hill, ATS UK Managing Director describes as an example, “a recent call from one of our sites was for an Okuma lathe that was reporting the following alarm: “0865-16 alarm – MCS encoder initialization failed.” The onsite technician was not able to quickly diagnose the issue and placed a call to our TechConnect centre. As this was an Okuma issue, the call was transferred to one of our Okuma experts. During his initial investigation, he learned that a new axis motor had been installed on the machine just prior to the alarm being generated. The expert then asked if the new axis motor included a new encoder. Upon confirming, it was determined that the new motor was shipped without an encoder. The encoder was installed and the problem was solved. This information was all documented and is now a part of our database. Sometimes, all it takes is experience and a fresh set of eyes.”

The company traditionally known for its maintenance service has been providing additional call support to some of the largest companies in the world for many years. Managing the hundreds of incoming requests for support is handled by ATS’s Technical Operation Centres (TOC) globally. TechConnect® providing 24/7 coverage to all its sites. It is fully integrated into these call centres and gives ATS the unique ability not only to link an expert to a problem around the clock with just one call, but also manage, escalate as needed and document each call taken.

Add to this equation the emerging technology of mobile devices such as IPad’s for manufacturing, which ATS have just rolled out to all staff – enables maintenance technicians the ability to review historical information online for each machine on the factory floor. They can also open and close work orders and with the tap of finger. And they can access complete parts inventory information all from the same mobile tablet device.

Another area that this mobile technology is bringing real value to the manufacturing floor is in the ability to connect factory floor technicians directly to the central TechConnect® centre using live audio and video. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a live video connection between the TechConnect® centre and technicians on the factory floor has proven to be worth much more. The TechConnect centre also has the capabilities to connect directly to the machine tool remotely in many cases. The ability for our technicians to connect directly to a machine of the factory floor hundreds of miles away opens up a myriad of possibilities.

The use of mobile technology on the factory floor is still in its infancy. As companies begin to see the value emerging technologies can have on their bottom line and begin to invest more capital in the infrastructure to support them, the sky is the limit.

Hill noted that “as a result of the metrics we are monitoring from our new TechConnect® service we are gaining valuable insight as to what information our technicians need most, on what equipment, when. This information is sent to our technical training department so common issues can be addressed by providing a documented process or, in many cases, a how-to video that can be accessed from our knowledgebase by everyone.

Knowledge and mobility is coming of age on the factory floor. It’s a trend that is saving one half hour per tech per day. And a trend that will no doubt lower the cost of manufacturing in the years to come.

Written by Ailsa Kaye – 9 September 2013