Witnessing a laser head traverse across a sheet of metal at lightning speed can be quite impressive. Besides the sheer wow factor, it’s demos like these that help business owners better understand the benefits that could potentially be realized with a piece of new equipment.
Making a purchase decision isn’t always easy, though. It’s hinged on the level of productivity and quality purported by a piece of equipment, which are major components for calculating return on investment.
Unfortunately, some business owners might unknowingly overlook the service and support aspect of a purchase agreement. And that could have a big impact on ROI. If a machine can’t be properly supported or serviced, downtime will elongate the amount of time it takes to recoup the investment.
For business owners in the market for a new laser machine, the team at Shop Floor Lasers worked with some of the top OEMs to determine what should be taken into consideration when discussing the service aspects. Those considerations range from the expected – phone support and the ability to acquire spare parts – to other less-expected considerations, like monitoring software.
Bystronic’s Observer software includes features such as remote camera viewing, active cutting plan, job list viewing, error message monitoring and machine selection viewing.
Phone and in-person support
Laser equipment manufacturers arm their new customers with manuals, training and online resources to help them keep their machines up and running to their fullest degree. From time to time, however, questions can arise. And in those situations, it’s imperative to be able to speak to a real, live human being who can walk a user through a service issue.
Fortunately, many OEMs, like Trumpf, offer a call-in hotline that’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Others offer free phone calls to technical support during regular business hours. After hours, those customers can call into an answering service and expect a return call during the next business day.
In addition to ensuring that the OEM does indeed offer phone support, it’s a good idea to ensure that the support is offered in your native language. Many OEMs in North America are able to offer assistance in Spanish, as just one example.
When minor, over-the-phone troubleshooting isn’t sufficient, in-person service calls are often the next step. Tom Hejlik, technical services manager at Cincinnati Inc., explains that customer needs vary and therefore, on-site service requirements can depend on the complexity of the machine and the customer’s maintenance capabilities.
“A job shop may not have anyone to fix equipment. However, a large enterprise, like John Deere, may have a maintenance department that sends its people to Cincinnati to train on their equipment,” Hejlik says. “No matter the customer’s capabilities, we want to help them by phone to expedite their return to production, minimize their overalls costs and be happy with their equipment. But, even customers who need a serviceman to fix a machine, will benefit by calling technical support first to determine the parts needed so that those parts can be on-site when the service technician arrives.”
When working with reputable OEMs, service calls will always be an option, but it’s key to discuss the details behind what an on-site visit entails. This could include the lead time required for a service call as well as any costs that could be involved.
Cincinnati, as an example, doesn’t charge travel time or expenses and has people stationed across the country and in Canada to quickly respond to its customers. “When a customer’s machine is out of commission, he gets the next available regional serviceman,” Hejlik adds, “even if we have to fly him in.”
As with all aspects of service and support, it’s important to have the OEM provide written documentation regarding phone and especially in-person service support. A reasonable amount of time to expect an in-person service call is one to two days, and those specifics should also be documented.
For the service team at Cincinnati, “We try to respond to service calls based on actual need,” Hejlik says. “A customer whose machine is down gets the next available serviceman; it may be the same day or the next. A customer who is having problems, but is still running is next. And if a customer has a simple routine, such as planned maintenance, he is third in priority.”
Reiterating the need to have written documentation, Hejlik says that Cincinnati’s customers have a clear understanding regarding the manner in which the company places priority on service calls. He says that they understand those priorities and appreciate the consideration.
Cincinnati Inc. doesn’t charge travel time or expenses and has people stationed across the United States and in Canada to quickly respond to its customers’ service needs.
Ample and available spare parts
Expecting available spare parts is typical, but it is worth inquiring about the turnaround time required to receive a part. Most OEMs maintain a broad inventory of repair, maintenance and consumable parts, but that inventory is only valuable to the customer once it’s in their hands.
Thanks to the sophisticated logistics industry, overnight and sometimes even same-day delivery is possible. That goes for most regularly used parts, and for OEMs like Bystronic Inc., customers can get a spare part in short order.
“Bystronic ships approximately 18,000 spare parts per month with over 95 percent availability for next-day delivery,” says Peter Kyc, vice president of customer satisfaction. “Large component shipments as well as special orders typically take longer than one day.”
So because lead times can vary for specialty parts or manufactured parts, it’s recommended to ask the seller about their process for getting specialty parts to customers as quickly as possible. This gives them the opportunity to boast their customer service skills and turnaround times, and it gives the customer the chance to establish reasonable expectations.
The Visual Online Support tool offers the ability to exchange image, audio and video files with Trumpf’s Technical Service Team to help solve complex cases without the need of an on-site service visit.
Boosts from technology
In today’s day and age, there’s hardly an aspect of life that hasn’t benefited from some type of technology. And service departments at many of the biggest OEMs are privy to that convenience. Therefore, they are developing and integrating software and mobile apps into their offerings to streamline maintenance and repair operations.
When discussing the potential purchase of a laser machine, it’s good to inquire about new technology that’s coming online. Equipment monitoring software and data collection abilities, as just two examples, could give users a big leg up when it comes to not only maintaining equipment but being proactive about a machine’s service needs.
According to Trumpf, its customers have that leg up thanks to the company’s Visual Online Support (VOS) available for most mobile devices. “We have developed a tool which substantially improves our cooperation,” the editors at Trumpf explain. “VOS offers the ability to exchange image, audio and video files with our Technical Service Team. In addition, image files can be processed live and enhanced with additional information from both sides. Therefore, even complex cases can be solved without on-site service visits.”
If an issue arises, a service engineer will start a teleservice session to then generate a connection between the VOS and the machine using a wireless operation point. Once the connection is made, images and audio and video files can be exchanged and then edited.
This enables quick diagnostics as well as quick identification of the required spare parts, if necessary. The goal is to reduce downtime by reducing the need for on-site visits.
For Bystronic machines, there are several levels of software to help keep businesses informed. At the basic level, the laser machine has a standard feature called Maintenance Messenger to provide real-time monitoring of maintenance tasks directly at the machine. With this feature, operators can access a real-time maintenance task list, which is kept in sync with the number of hours that the machine has been in operation. The system produces prompts when maintenance is due on all aspects of the machine. At this point, an operator can select the adjacent maintenance icon, which takes him or her directly to instructions to perform the specific maintenance task at hand.
“At the next level of information knowledge capability, Bystronic has a software option called Observer,” Kyc explains. “The software takes all of the information from the Maintenance Messenger and also includes features such as remote camera viewing, active cutting plan, job list viewing, error message monitoring and machine selection viewing. The interface requires a network connection to the software and can be accessed anywhere via a standard web browser and an internal IP address. Managers can access the Observer through a network-enabled smartphone, touch pad or other network-enabled devices for viewing. If external to the company, the same information can be obtained via a VPN connection and a standard web browser.
“At the highest level of information knowledge is the optional OPC Interface software,” he continues. “The OPC software serves as a data interface to third-party OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) software for high-level analysis of manufacturing processes, machine performance and machine uptimes. With OEE data, companies can identify opportunities through analysis, where predictive measures can be implemented to offset unplanned downtimes. Preventative planning and exchange of critical spare parts can be implemented to minimize the risk of unexpected downtimes and provide a proactive approach to maintenance tasks.”
For Amada America Inc. customers, a remote maintenance and diagnostic network provides remote service support. The Amada Digital Support System, or ADSS, features remote checkup, alarm monitoring, remote analysis, and operation status reporting. The remote checkup feature tests the machine health, and based on the result of a monthly checkup, Amada can provide maintenance advice to keep a machine working at peak performance.
The alarm monitoring feature allows Amada to detect problems closer to when they occur by monitoring key alarm/warning occurrence. This helps prevent more serious problems and machine stops that require unplanned maintenance.
For further insight, Amada’s remote analysis feature is a new failure analysis method that helps quick recovery from the failure condition. The Amada analysis team can then determine the cause of a failure by analyzing a machine’s operation logs. Amada’s operation status reporting can also provide a full-range overview of the machine operation in the previous month based on the remotely collected data.
If an OEM doesn’t yet offer its own service software or apps, third-party tools like TeamViewer can also be inquired about. TeamViewer, also available on most mobile devices, connects to the machine’s controls and gives the OEM’s service techs the ability to essentially share screens with a customer who is experiencing a problem.
Although techs can’t operate the machine remotely – for safety purposes – techs can gain remote access to manipulate an Excel doc, for example. Techs could also download files and do software updates without ever having to make a service call.
In regard to software from the OEM, there should be service available for that, as well. Business owners are recommended to ask about software service needs separately. Trumpf, for example, addresses software service needs in a specific software agreement. No matter the OEM, the availability of software updates, diagnostics and customer support should all be addressed prior to purchasing the equipment.
Clearly, there is much to consider prior to the purchase of a laser machine. To get the most out of the investment, business owners must be willing to ask all of the important questions – not just how fast the laser head flies over a sheet of metal. To ask those questions, Cincinnati’s Hejlik suggests that the buyer be connected with existing customers.
“Look at the long-term history of the company,” he says. “Look at the long-term service from current users and fellow industry members. See what they say about the machines and the service. Talking to other customers is where you’ll get the true picture. And do your research. The more you do, the better you’ll be prepared.”