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sts.components.contact.mr.placeholder Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel

Editor-in-Chief

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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation
 

Simulation and Virtual Reality

Service Models of the Future: Information on Demand

Siemens researchers are developing new tools for diagnosing and repairing complex systems. Here, 3D information is integrated into a technician’s field of view

As machines and entire facilities become increasingly complex, service providers and on-site technicians will need access to specialized information. Siemens is developing the Service Models of the Future in order to maximize efficiency.

It’s a production manager’s nightmare: Assembly lines come to a grinding halt, electronic systems are reduced to a cacophony of alarms, and nothing works. Rapid crisis management is needed, because every minute of lost production time represents lost revenue. No company can afford that, especially if it has to manufacture its products with top efficiency and short delivery times under pressure from global competition. Proactive maintenance is therefore a growing market within the service sector.

Why Smart Products and Good Service Go Hand in Hand.

Siemens has been operating in this market for a long time. For example, when an electricity supplier buys a gas turbine from Siemens, it can also sign up for a service contract that has been tailored to its individual needs. Siemens then takes care of routine inspections, maintenance work, and any technical emergencies while the company is in full operation; the customer doesn’t have to worry about a thing. “We no longer offer the customer only the components; we sell him the availability of his plant,” explains Bruno Ratkovic, who is responsible for program management at Leverage Service@Siemens in the Siemens Corporate Standards and Guidance unit in Munich.

This level of service is possible in large part because of smart products. Equipped with computer intelligence and sensors, complex systems such as gas turbines can continually provide data regarding their current condition and thus be monitored around the clock. Specialists at a service center can use this information to remotely diagnose faults and support customers via the Internet, helping to ensure, for instance, that defective components are promptly replaced.

From Data Analytics to Personalized Services.

All of this can result in a welcome side effect. Over time, the data gathered from installations around the world form a gigantic pool of information showing, for instance, which components displayed irregularities at what times, where, and in response to what loads. Analysis of this data provides valuable empirical information that enables Siemens to make accurate predictions about wear and tear and the lifespan of individual components. Such data is also the basis of value-added services – in other words, services that create long-term value for the customer on the basis of accumulated knowledge.

Essentially this is a process of gathering data and analyzing it with the help of powerful software, and using it to develop personalized services. This trend toward “big data analytics,” also known as “data gold,” can be seen in a number of sectors. Experts in the field are already talking about a revolution in services. They believe that complementary services that go beyond simply selling products to instead offering customers tailored solutions that match their individual needs will be a fast-growing key market of the future. As a result, companies are being transformed from manufacturers of material goods to providers of hybrid combinations of products and services.

Envisioning the Future of Spare Parts Logistics.

This strategic transformation, which is known as “servitization,” has been addressed by Siemens as well. For instance, Siemens researchers are developing ideas for innovative services in the area of replacement parts delivery within the context of a project known as “Pictures of the Future Spare Parts Logistics 2025.” To name just one example, they’ve developed an online portal that customers can use to access a broad range of products from anywhere and at any time, just as they do at Amazon.

This process is still a vision, but by 2025 it could function as follows: At a production plant, a system component discovers, with the help of its integrated sensors, that it will probably soon break down, and transmits an associated report. As a result, a service employee uses a mobile terminal to photograph the component. A special application automatically registers exactly which component is involved and transmits the material number to the service center. The center, in turn, organizes the delivery of the appropriate replacement part. “This development helps to deliver the right part to the right place at the right time,” explains Ratkovic.

Companies are being transformed from manufacturers of material goods to providers of hybrid combinations of products and services.

Accelerated Component Replacement.

In the ideal case, the required replacement part is available at the production facility. If it isn’t, a part can be produced very quickly by means of a laser melting process. Finally, the replacement part is delivered and installed by a service employee during a period when the customer’s production process is routinely turned off, such as at night, so that production is not interrupted. In Ratkovic’s vision of the future, the whole process will take only a day. “The customer will detect the problem in ten seconds, he will order the appropriate replacement part with the help of an app in three minutes, we will produce a finished component in ten hours, and it will be installed within 24 hours,” he says.

Researchers at the Corporate Technology unit of Siemens’ Research Center in Princeton, New Jersey, are thinking even further into the future of services. For instance, scientists Terrence Chen and Gianluca Paladini are working on processes that will superimpose information on the real world (augmented reality) in real time, thus helping a technician to navigate a complex environment and locate and repair a target device. The idea is that, using a cloud-based infrastructure, a device with a defective part would request help.

Augmented Reality in the Picture.

Using a tablet computer or data glasses connected to the cloud, a technician would be able to virtually see through the device, where the target problem would be highlighted. The part’s service history, as well as notes from previous technicians would also appear in the technician’s field of view. What’s more, should the technician require specialized assistance, he could share the data with an off-site specialist for step-by-step assistance. The digital, decentralized, and inexpensive services of tomorrow harbor tremendous potential.

Michael Risel