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Why Make Maintenance Harder Than It Already Is?

March 18, 2021
Offering helps equipment manufacturers streamline the documentation process, eliminating common service delays.

When a piece of equipment goes down, it can be a stressful time, disrupting production and hampering regular operations. And, the complexity of equipment deployed today only compounds the issue. As a result, getting equipment back online can get expensive quick, and the last thing any manufacturer wants to do is pay for “wasted time” as a technician searches for the information needed to make a proper repair.

Unfortunately, it is all too familiar scenario, explains Tim Williamson, COO and co-founder of Lackawanna, N.Y.-based QTH 54 Inc. “So many of today’s machines are custom or very complex, and often have extensive documentation intended to help the field technician resolve any issues. Often the process of locating the manual and the wealth of supporting documentation can easily consume 15-45 minutes,” he says.

Consider the example of Simmons Machine Tool in Albany, N.Y. Simmons makes custom machines for the railroad industry. “These are huge, custom, purpose-built machines with manuals ranging between 5000-20,000 printed pages,” says Williamson. “And because they are printed, there's no convenient way to update them. When a technician has to service a machine at a facility, it is hard to be confident that all the technical service bulletins were addressed or that the advice accompanies the manual.”

According to Williamson, the documentation issue can quickly compound when a machine changes hands since the valuable chain of information rarely follows. As a result, when the machine manufacturer emails out service bulletins, and a company no longer owns the machine, the usefulness of the update hits a dead end. "They're not going to stop their day and look up who they sold it to just so they can pass along the email.”

The product QTH 54 offers, known as Machine Document,  addresses these issues by providing technicians with easy access to whatever information they need including real-time service bulletins. All a technician needs to do is scan the QR code on the machine, and the code provides a direct link to machine specific information on QTH 54’s secure cloud-based system – information that a manufacturer can also passcode if desired. “Since the QR code does not go to a URL address, it means there is no webpage maintenance to worry about. It's essentially a key allowing a technician to engage the system,” he says. 

Machine manufacturers can include any type of documentation they desire, explains Williamson. For instance, PDFs, e-books, manuals, service updates or videos that show step-by-step instructions on installing, clean or otherwise servicing a component that may be unique to that specific piece of equipment. “There are a lot of processes that people can comprehend much faster when they have the ability to watch it in action rather than trying to read just text on a page,” he says. “The dataset could easily evolve to include 3D print files to enable a technician to use in-house additive machinery to create parts that are not otherwise available.”

Beyond maintenance, the same system can play a pivotal role in training in-house personnel on various key equipment specific components.  “When somebody's out training on machine and they need to know how to set something up for a particular task, having digital access to training manuals and videos can streamline the process,” he says.

Williamson has other planned evolutions in mind including the ability to order parts right from the online manual to eliminate a few steps and streamline the repair process. “There is also the possibility of enabling equipment manufacturers to create documentation that follows a machine all the way through the build process,” he says. “Adding this functionality would help ensure that manufacturers never pay the consequences for missing a piece of documentation.”  

About the Author

Peter Fretty | Technology Editor

As a highly experienced journalist, Peter Fretty regularly covers advances in manufacturing, information technology, and software. He has written thousands of feature articles, cover stories, and white papers for an assortment of trade journals, business publications, and consumer magazines.

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