For many robotics manufacturers, enabling such an approach will require far-reaching adjustments across the entire product cycle. While after-sales service is already an established part of the business model for most, ensuring reparability on a large scale and over long periods of time will require new approaches to storage for spare parts, extended service infrastructures and, ultimately, recalibrated business models. So, is the right-to-repair movement a pain for the industry? Not necessarily. With the right strategy in place and some willingness to adapt, the shift towards a more service-oriented industry can benefit customers and manufacturers alike.
Step one: Engineering for longevity and reparability
How can manufacturers make sure they don’t get overwhelmed by an incoming flood of new repair requests? One way is to bring down the service interventions needed in the first place. A focus on reliable products that will run without major problems for a long time is a first and crucial step towards providing excellent service. For automation companies this means to test and refine the reliability of their products under real-life conditions. All production sites of FANUC, for example, are almost fully automated using its own robots and other products, which gives us a clear understanding of their capabilities. In addition, we maintain a 20,000m2 Reliability Evaluation Building where we subject our robots and other products to a range of stress tests, to analyse in detail their long-term resistance to harsh production environments.
There is another aspect that needs to be considered as early as the product development process: Manufacturers should create products that allow easy access and reparability further down the road. While this might entail some initial investment in a smart design, such a product will save significant service and repair expenses as the robot enters the maintenance cycle. Our answer to this challenge for decades has been “Use less parts” when designing new products, as less parts translate into lower risk of future failure.
Step two: Build up repair capabilities
Still, for manufacturers it is easy to lose their know-how of products that they brought to market a long time ago. Therefore, to offer long-term repair to customers, repair capabilities need to be build up early on. At FANUC we stock up on electrical components and spare parts as soon as we decide to discontinue our products such as robots. By thoroughly analysing production numbers and taking into account an average service life of sometimes more than thirty years for our robots, we accumulate those parts in our warehouses and repair centers around the world. Even after that, FANUC can recondition all spare parts in our own Repair Centres and make them available to customers as long as they use our robots.
In Europe for example we have reached a local spare parts availability of 99.97 percent for the year 2021. This means that only once in every 4.000 cases we did not have a necessary spare part on stock in Europe and the part needed to be shipped from another FANUC location around the world. This included spare parts for products that have long been discontinued. Thanks to this high spare parts availability and a dense network of service locations throughout Europe we managed to achieve an average repair time of less than 20 hours for our robots – from the initial customer call to putting the robot back in operations. Impressive as this might be, when it comes to service, time is of the essence – as every hour of downtime the customer will lose money.
While the benefit for the customer is easy to see – the question arises how operating such an elaborate and extensive service operation does not become a massive drain on a manufacturer’s resources. A realistic answer needs to acknowledge that shifting the business model towards such a “Service First” approach is no small change process and will likely require substantiate investment supported by a strategy for long term customer satisfaction. While few companies already offer something similar to a “right to repair” for their customers, manufacturers that might want to start moving into a similar direction will need to get over some speedbumps along the way. In the long term, however, a robust and attractive offering around after-sales services will allow them to earn customer loyalty and even open up new revenue streams, all the more so as digital technologies like predictive and Assisted Reality supported maintenance are making it easier for customers and manufacturers to respond with speed as well as diligence. Thus, the effort is not only likely to pay off – in times where customers’ expectations around service are changing, manufacturers that don’t get on board risk getting left behind. The sooner they start their transformation towards longevity of products and reliable repair and maintenance services, the better prepared they will be for the challenges ahead.
image: © FANUC