Every member of the team at a manufacturing facility plays a crucial and indispensable role in the operation’s overall success, but no one more so than those responsible for keeping the machine tools not only up and running, but doing so at maximum capacity. Downtime must be avoided at all costs, and should it occur, it must be remedied ASAP. But even the most ironclad of service contracts generally require site visits by a technician, sometimes requiring travel, and other related delays. Meanwhile, frustration builds at the plant as questions go unanswered and production backs up. Wouldn’t it be great if that plant service manager had an OEM tech expert in his or her pocket at all times to walk them through sticky situations immediately?
Help Lightning, of Birmingham, Alabama, markets a patented technology known as “Remote Expertise” that allows just that type of interaction between those who service, operate, and maintain various equipment on the front lines and OEM experts who can provide immediate answers to questions via smart devices in an interactive manner; meaning hands appear onscreen manipulating the parts in question, circles and arrows can be drawn illustrating points being made in the conversation, and the proper nomenclature for what’s being discussed can be clarified visually, avoiding unnecessary confusion.
Gary York, CEO, says the technology was developed by a neurosurgeon at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) Medical Center and was initially used in maintaining medical and other complex equipment. “We launched the technology in 2016, and we refer to what we’re providing as ‘Remote Expertise,’” he says. “It brings the OEM’s technical professional and the manufacturer’s service personnel in direct contact immediately using the smartphones and tablets most of us are already carrying around with us everywhere anyway.”
As can be imagined, the potential applications are endless, so the company has been prudent in identifying and learning about prime new markets as it has grown and moved forward. Its success in complex equipment applications — resulting in some 50,000 users around the world — brought it to the attention of Greg Wilson, director of service at Cincinnati Inc., who encountered York and his partners at a trade show held in Amelia Island, Florida. “I immediately realized how valuable the technology could be to us as a machine tool OEM, so we started a conversation that led to us inviting them to share our booth at Fabtech two years ago. They were astounded by the scope of a show that completely filled McCormick Place in Chicago. They’ve joined us twice more since.”
Demonstrations went well, so manufacturing became the next logical target market for Help Lightning to concentrate on. Cincinnati began offering the technology with all its machine tools at around the same time, offering different options during service package negotiations at the point of sale. Wilson says that the experience has been positive, and that benefits continue to be revealed.
“For instance, there is a certain category of customer who is of a size where they might not need service assistance but once or twice a year, so we have an option that is ideal for their situation,” he says. “And it’s also helped eliminate the ‘judgment call’ factor when running tests after a repair since the OEM tech might not approve the same results that were found on the floor.”
Wilson goes on to say that customer input is invaluable and has led Cincinnati to develop a survey that is automatically generated to both the OEM and the end user after each remote expertise session, allowing the company to gather metrics both for its own internal use and to share with Help Lightning as well, leading to modifications such as product documentation that can be pulled up during help conversations.
York recalls a recent visit made by the CEO of a Fortune 100 company that requested a demonstration of the Help Lightning technology. Impressed, she admitted that on many of the service calls her technicians made to assist their customers, they didn’t actually need to be there, physically. “And that’s really at the very center of what we’re addressing,” he says. “Finding the most efficient way of working faster, smarter, and with enhanced teamwork via new technologies.”