Yet, as businesses begin to take service more seriously, that separate and not equal mindset is starting to change, Kevin Wrenn, general manager for PTC's Arbortext division, told Design News. "Service can help drive profitability and foster a better relationship with customers," he said. In fact, companies can generate more revenue and better margins during the serviceable part of a product's lifecycle, making service a more profitable business engine than traditional product sales for many companies.
While development groups learn a lot about how to evolve a product design during the iterative design stage, there is plenty to glean long after a product is put to work in the field -- especially if the product has a relatively long life span like an airliner or even an appliance. For example, a field service crew working on regular maintenance on an airplane could feed repair records directly into the main PLM repository, giving engineers access to that information as part of their ongoing design work. Taking the scenario a step further, engineers could apply product analytics tools to drill down into the repair data to uncover common points of failure that could subsequently be addressed in upcoming designs. In addition, engineers could garner intelligence on whether a specific part failure was tied to any one particular supplier, affording an opportunity to spec an alternative part or tweak the part design in the next iteration of the product.
"We have to take the lessons learned and feed them back into product design and manufacturing," Barkai said. "We have to fully understand [product] quality, durability, and customer experience." By understanding product failures, especially the ability to tie them back to a specific range of serial numbers, Barkai said engineering organizations can conduct root cause analysis much more effectively, remedy any outstanding issues more expediently, and, as a result, have to contend with fewer product recalls.
This kind of closed-loop feedback isn't always about avoiding the negative, either. According to Barkai, by having insight into what works well in a product design over a period of years of service in the field, engineering organizations gain invaluable insight into what constitutes a proven design, giving them greater opportunity for reuse, and avoiding the high cost and time associated with constantly reinventing the wheel.