During the corona, spare parts were also replaced remotely – “Now we have learned new ways to act”

Nora Nirhamo | 2020/08/26

Remote work also took a huge step forward in manufacturing. Wärtsilä and Kalmar have been developing remote maintenance services for years, but now they finally got a breakthrough.

Compulsion is known to be a good motivator. Now this is also visible in the maintenance, as with the corona pandemic, remote maintenance services have got a breakthrough.

– Everyone has had to think about how to maintain operations when we can’t get on the site as easily, says Lasse Eriksson, a port cargo handling equipment manufacturer Cargotec´s subsidiary Kalmar´s CTO in a video interview to the news agency Startel.

Marine engines and power plants manufacturer Wärtsilä´s Stefan Wiik, director of resources for marine engines and power plants, also says that customers have been inevitable to learn what kind of maintenance services the company can provide remotely.

Jani Suomalainen, Purchasing Manager of automation manufacturer Valmet, told Talouskriisi.fi in May that the corona crisis has “given a boost to digitalisation” because the company can remotely service many devices.

The exact figures for the increase in remote maintenance services are not provided by the companies.

Remote maintenance services providing software company Softability´s business unit executive Juha Asunmaa provides some picture of the demand for remote maintenance services.

– Demand has clearly increased. We have never had so much customer activity. But we have also been very active in selling our service, which has had a strong impact.

A video connection on a smartphone is enough for the service

Compulsion has also been a good motivator within companies. Earlier our service engineers have visited the site because it has been familiar and safe. Now we have learned new ways. We have also learned that we can do more things remotely than we previously thought, Wärtsilä´s Wiik says in a video interview.

In industry, maintenance services are diverse. At its simplest, you need to update the software on your machine.

At the other end is a broken device that needs to be replaced. To replace a part, you need an installer who has traditionally been a specialist in their field.

With a remote connection, the installer does not need to have any special skills. The company installer can make a video connection to the service center on a smartphone or tablet, and from the service center, engineers will guide the installer step-by-step through part replacement.

For example, Wärtsilä’s service allows an expert at a service center to draw instructions and send them to the installer.

Softability’s Asunmaa says that one important feature of their service is that the service center expert can send the installer manuals and save the entire maintenance with its steps. This allows the company that performed the installation to take advantage of the help later.

Between these extremes is the anticipation of maintenance. Wiik says that with the help of data collected from the equipment, the company has now been able to tell customers in exceptional circumstances what the risk is of postponing scheduled maintenance of the equipment.

Wiik says that Wärtsilä can handle little less than 90 percent of maintenance requests remotely. The company does not tell what this percentage was before the corona or how much more the company now maintains remotely.

Traveling is inefficient

The benefits of remote maintenance for the service company are clear. Experts do not have to travel, but can offer their expertise to multiple clients at the same time.

– Experts do not grow on trees. Their expertise has accumulated over the years. All the time spent traveling is out of business time, says Kalmar’s Lasse Eriksson.

Neither Eriksson nor Wärtsilä’s Wiik want to assess what time efficiency could mean for companies in terms of cost savings in maintenance services.
Softability’s Asunmaa tips that there are also studies about the benefits. Based on the information gathered, the technology consulting and research company ABI Research has calculated that thanks to the remote maintenance service, employee efficiency will increase by an average of 18 percent.

The benefit to the customer can be even greater. Eriksson says that if the device they make breaks in the middle of a rush-hour, it will delay unloading or loading. The impact extends to the entire logistics chain.

Asunmaa gives an even bigger example in terms of its effects.

– If the device breaks e.g. in South Africa, there may be a break in production for many days when a service person travels there. Remote service can solve the problem in a matter of hours. The cost savings can be very significant.

Long-term groundwork produces results

Remote maintenance services have not been kicked off in an instant. Wärtsilä’s Wiik says that the first solutions were developed 15 years ago.

– The corona is a challenge for everyone, but our advantage is that we have built technology and operating models for a long time.

Work has also been done at Cargotec for a long time. In 2015, the company launched more systematic work than before, where digital solutions, remote monitoring and remote maintenance services began to be developed.

Eriksson says that last year, for example, this was reflected in the fact that many older devices used by the customer were retrofitted with remote monitoring devices.

Eriksson sees that functional remote maintenance services are also a competitive advantage in terms of customer relationships.

– In a pandemic situation, we have been able to show customers that we can support them. This can give benefit in the long run when customers find that they can rely on our ability and willingness to help.

All those interviewed for this story also believe that the digital leap taken now will change practices permanently. At least to some extent.


The interview was originally published in Taloussanomat in Finnish, by Pekka Leiviskä.

Article picture: Mick Ryan/Cargotec

More information about Softability´s remote support solution XReach:

Juha Asunmaa, business unit executive, juha.asunmaa(at).softability.fi


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