These themes are demonstrated in action by taking a look at a healthcare device manufacturer’s particular experience solving a system performance issue. The manufacturer featured here is a multifaceted healthcare leader developing a range of surgical tools and systems, with its proven, core platform passing the 14-year mark in global deployment.
1. Score Your Product Reliability
The manufacturer’s service partner—supplier of the industrial compute system behind the device—maintained a Pareto report documenting any service issues for this platform. When reports of sluggishness with their compute platform were noted and tracked, they were quickly validated by the industrial compute supplier as a temperature-related issue that was ultimately degrading CPU performance. The service team determined the system’s relatively inexpensive fans were overworked and under-performing. These low-cost fans were proactively replaced in all deployed systems, an activity conveniently added to every routine service call. Not only was this a low-cost part, but proactive replacement prevented more serious and expensive failures from occurring.
In contrast to their experience, a computer with a performance question may often just be pulled and replaced, with the assumption being this ensures a high level of customer service. In reality, replacement without reaching for more insight on the problem can drive reliability problems to soar, resulting in a corresponding drop in end-user satisfaction. As a manufacturer, look closely at your internal organization and score yourself on whether service is handled quickly or subverted with a replacement policy that is potentially more costly and far less efficient for long-term success.
2. Grade Your Responsiveness
Without a clear process for customers to request assistance for a system issue, device manufacturers may be perceived as lacking responsiveness. When there is no inherent path to easily diagnose and service machines, any issue has the potential to be big and costly, involving both software and hardware challenges. In this type of framework, there is no such thing as a simple maintenance matter. A combination of issues can contribute to the root of this problem: Medical device manufacturers’ expertise is typically centered on their instrument, with understandably less focus on the computing system behind it. Once the system leaves the warehouse and lands in a healthcare provider’s real world environment, there is commonly loss of control over potential service methods.
To combat this, the device manufacturer’s industrial compute supplier worked closely with their repair depot, developing consistent protocols for verifying repairs before systems were returned to the field. Using remote diagnostics, test packets are downloaded and run on-site, testing devices at the repair depot with guidance from the manufacturer. Repairs are now validated more intelligently and quickly than prior to connectivity deployment, ensuring the issue is solved and reducing the need to return systems for further examination.
Manufacturers must ask themselves some tough questions. When a system is down, does your slow phone response or unhurried arrival for onsite maintenance meet end-user expectations? Once service techs do respond, are you fully confident the issue is handled to complete resolution every time? Inadequate follow up and parts availability should be part of a strategic review, as they are issues that intensify end-user irritation over service calls. This pass or fail grade is less about the actual technical issue at hand and more about your group’s culture of service.
3. Consider Hidden as Well as Hard Costs
On an annual basis, a manufacturer needed to re-image and execute patch maintenance on a deployed base of more than 3,000 devices worldwide. Each traditional service visit could be pegged at a cost of $1,800, including vehicles and vehicle insurance, fuel, and tools, along with the field service engineer’s salary. Inspired by the success of proactively replacing system fans as well as a more efficient repair depot, driving down costs became a company-wide priority.
As a first step in gaining greater efficiency, the manufacturer’s industrial compute supplier deployed remote diagnostics on the manufacturer’s service bench. All field repairable systems were being processed through a central repair depot, with as many as half returning to the field noted as either “fixed” or “no problem found.” A deeper dive into repair depot processes uncovered operations far less stringent than they needed to be, as well as testing environments that did not properly replicate actual deployment. By installing a simple connectivity framework, the manufacturer was empowered to connect in real-time to its service team, running test packets on multiple devices simultaneously. Any service recommendations that follow are generally executed at the manufacturer’s service depot; once complete, test packets are run again to validate the system as ready for release back into the production environment, such as a hospital or clinic.
Importantly, this process adds long-term design value, capitalizing on longtime performance data and comparing test results for every serial-numbered device with those conducted at its original date of manufacture. All test data is compiled and stored, building a database of insight that continually gets smarter on the manufacturer’s behalf. As performance data grows, it has the potential to drive new tests and development strategies, reducing the manufacturer’s costs even further.
The question here is whether or not a manufacturing organization is properly treating the cost equation. Salaries, fixed vehicle expenses, inventory, tools and their care and calibration, as well as travel to and from remote locations—all these factors must be part of evaluating service costs. Also, beyond basic repairs, more urgent service requests can quickly escalate costs further. With planning and a smart, phased approach, traditional service can be transformed into a highly responsive, yet cost efficient, white glove support strategy. This in turn drives improved product reliability, reduced costs, and better staff retention—positioning the manufacturer for a much more competitive future.
4. Evaluate Company-Wide Awareness or Resistance to Remote Connectivity
The lion’s share of service issues can be assisted or solved with a smart remote connectivity strategy. To address a software issue, remote imaging can typically solve the problem. To manage a hardware issue, remote diagnostics can determine a failed component and its repair path. Extended strategies can even reach the medical device through its compute engine, obtaining and analyzing thresholds for error states and alerting the medical device manufacturer to a pending problem or an existing failure.
Manufacturers can ultimately track failure of hardware components in a more comprehensive manner, becoming better armed with a stronger field front stock and inventory for the service engineer. No service staff needs to visit the deployment site for routine activities like patches or updates. Indeed, a different skill set emerges for field service engineers, powering a bigger career path and long-term job satisfaction. Will connectivity as a strategy become a clearer priority for your organization when all the stakeholders on the product manufacturing team are tasked with reducing costs and keeping customers happy?
Embrace More Innovative Service Strategies Before Competitors
As this medical device manufacturer modernized its strategies to be more competitive overall, the phased approach was empowering. Incremental successes created advocates within various teams across the company, pointing to early advantages such as specific validation of cost savings or reduced failure rates.
In changing its service mindset, this medical device manufacturer accepted that there are secure, palatable methods to access and diagnose compute systems remotely. In their case, all communications between server and client are encrypted and no end-user data (i.e., patient records or other sensitive or personally identifiable information) is accessible; connections are at the kernel level, outside of the operating system, and require authorization each time they are performed. As their repair depot proves this secure approach, the next phase of the remote strategy has field engineers carrying service keys. Systems can be diagnosed while they remain in their deployed environment, enabling real-time troubleshooting and eliminating unnecessary repairs—as well as remote re-imaging or installation of patches.
Reap the Rewards of Remote Service Models
When system uptime is crucial, tapping into remote diagnostics is both expected and necessary. It is ambitious too, which may be why barriers continue to exist at various levels of management and engineering in many industry-leading medical manufacturing organizations. In reality, there are ways to collaborate to ensure maintenance processes are both efficient and compliant. By sharing information with a mindset to transformation, industry leaders can better understand what they need to give in order to establish effective remote service models and what they can expect in return.
Mark Villanova is service operations manager and sustaining engineer at Dedicated Computing. Heading service operations for the company, he has more than 25 years in management with leading manufacturing healthcare corporations, and deep expertise in medical laboratory device service support worldwide. He can be reached via LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org.