By: Andreas Markpfleger
Bringing our service closer to you
Today, providing good service for machine tools is a must. Repairs, spare part sales and retrofitting measures must be handled quickly and flexibly. Yet some machine tool manufacturers still seem to neglect the importance of these services. We spoke to HELLER Service Manager Andreas Markpfleger to find out about HELLER's service concept and its implementation.
Mr Markpfleger, what do HELLER customers expect from the services the company provides and which criteria need to be met in order for your customers to be entirely satisfied with the service level you are offering?
In order to provide good service you need to satisfy a range of different factors. First of all, you need to guarantee short response times and arrival times as well as comprehensive, personal support on site. Another important factor is your reliability as a supplier: are you meeting your promises? Can your customers rely on you? Does your staff have the necessary competence for solving the problem? How well organised are your logistics? Another aspect within the control of the company is the customer experience. That means: how do staff behave towards customers? How professional is their behaviour and their equipment? One major factor that distinguishes excellent service from bad service is the staff's understanding and sensitivity to the customer's needs and the willingness to provide support outside official service hours. This requires that your staff need to be aware of these values and live them. Another factor is the availability of materials. This is not so easy at the moment due to supply bottlenecks at our suppliers on account of excessive demand.
So customer proximity is another important factor in terms of service quality. What does HELLER do in this regard?
Our motto is: "Just closer to you." One way to achieve this was the strong decentralisation of our service operations in recent years. In Germany, for instance, we provide customer support from six service bases. That way we can reach all our customers within a maximum of four hours. This is important because today customers will no longer accept any call-out fees. This way, our service engineers can be on customer site on the following working day at the latest.
Apart from geographical proximity other decisive factors must be playing a role considering the fact that users are prepared to wait four weeks for a service engineer?
Being closer to the customer also means creating an intellectual and cultural proximity and being familiar with his needs and production facilities and providing the necessary human resources. HELLER currently employs more than 100 field service engineers in the company's German organisation alone.
In how far is HELLER making use of advanced technologies such as Condition Monitoring and Teleservice?
We provide our own products for teleservice named RDS and CDS. RDS is a kind of remote service that provides the benefit of using the standard ports of typical firewalls for communication. Therefore our customers' IT specialists consider it safe. Another advantage is that the error does not have to be present on the machine, when our experts access the relevant data.
CDS (Condition Dependent Services) evaluates the condition of the machine for the purpose of planned preventative maintenance measures. This way a ball screw can be replaced within an individual time frame before it reaches the end of its service life. As a result, a planned service action can help to prevent unscheduled production downtimes. Contrary to classic preventative maintenance we are taking the condition of individual assemblies into account.
Currently approx. 600 machines of our customers around the globe are connected to this innovative teleservice solution.
Apparently, there is a trend towards preventative service action, i.e. maintenance according to schedule. That would be a positive change for machine tool manufacturers, wouldn't it?
Yes, I agree, preventative measures are becoming increasingly common, but there is a broad range of options. Starting from simple maintenance agreements through to full-service schemes where we as manufacturer look after the production systems guaranteeing highest availability. Unfortunately, too many customers still believe they can do without preventative maintenance. As a result, only few components are replaced before they fail for cost reasons, although that could result in sustainable cost savings.
How is the demand for service/retrofitting measures developing in these still economically challenging times and is demand subject to specific cycles?
In principle, the demand for overhauls and retrofits of existing machines increases significantly when new machine sales decline. However, during the past economic crisis it often became necessary to take machines out of production completely. As a result, neither services nor spare parts were needed, whilst the demand for maintenance training rose.
You mentioned decentralisation of services. Does HELLER provide services on an international basis?
Currently HELLER runs its own service bases in 14 different countries. In other countries - depending on size - we provide decentralised service staff or we co-operate with service partners.
Most recently we set up service bases in Slovakia, Sweden and India. Currently we are in the process of setting up locations in Russia and Switzerland.
What is HELLER offering in terms of rebuilds/retrofits?
Heller is offering a comprehensive range of services in these areas. From simple upgrades, such as retrofitting of a measuring probe through to general machine overhauls including control modernisation.
Some of our solutions provide features that were still unavailable at the time the machine was sold, e.g. functions to increase energy efficiency.
For such cases, we can calculate the payback period, if required.
New EU Directives regarding energy efficiency will certainly provide a boost in that area?
That is correct. We optimise the process parameters but we are also offering standardised retrofit kits to reduce energy consumption. For instance, we provide a kit for converting the high-pressure coolant pump. The use of a frequency converter allows cutting energy consumption by up to 17%.
Let's conclude with the following question: what is HELLER offering in terms of service today?
A German customer recently said: no one is faster than HELLER. However, that's no reason to rest on our laurels. We are aware that our customers’ demands on service quality are constantly increasing.
In the near future we aim to maintain our high service level in Germany and to expand our market position.
At the same time, we are working hard to implement the same high level of service in our international markets.