Augustin Celier, co-founder, Uptime, discusses why industrial manufacturers need to be held equally accountable for fair, open and transparent offerings as the recent EU Right to Repair laws have demanded from our consumer electronics
This year, new EU ‘Right to Repair’ laws, requiring consumer electronics manufacturers to ensure their goods will last at least a decade, were welcomed by consumers and environmentalists alike. It’s certainly long been an open secret that consumer device manufacturers deliberately limit the lifespan of their created equipment to increase profit margins from new sales and repairs, so these laws are a great step in the right direction to curb this trend.
What receives less attention is that often, industrial equipment follows a similar trend. The manufacturing industry, like many others, encourages an inefficient model where providers rely on failure rates of devices and technology for profits, therefore the quality-of-service end-users receive also declines. So while 2021’s Right to Repair laws are currently limited to consumer electronics and appliances, we must shine the light on how industrial manufacturers need to be held equally accountable for fair, open and transparent offerings if our connected cities of the future are to become a reality.
Dismantling an archaic system
Despite today’s connected world, many manufacturers still rely on breakdowns to make money as they are able to invoice expensive repairs, which continue to grow in price. The cost of automotive repairs, for example, rose by 4% in the first half of 2019. If we look at elevators, one of the most-used big-ticket technologies used every day, across the globe – every year, approximately $12 billion is spent maintaining elevators across Europe. Yet despite frequent service visits, they still experience an average of five failures a year.
Clearly, the current maintenance model is broken. With elevators in particular, maintenance currently provides around 75% of the elevator industry’s total profits. For an industry that commands $90 billion market worldwide, it’s easy to see just how reliant on maintenance service providers have become.
The problem with industrial device contracts such as elevator provision is that today, clients are purchasing ‘means’ – that’s the number of visits and breakdown response – as opposed to the ‘results’ – i.e. a guarantee that the elevator works. For example, the original elevator model was designed to service an installed base of elevators under fixed terms. Clients – the property owners and building managers – receive a maintenance contract that enforces a set number of mandatory visits and includes emergency breakdown response, with additional repairs sold on top of the contract. The repair money is already built into the system upon installation. This original model means that elevators end up having more maintenance visits than needed, yet still leading to breakdowns or downtime, frustrating building occupants. The devices are unfortunately not fulfilling their purpose, due to the broken repair model.
Arming operators of the future
As many of the world’s enterprises transition to more automated ways of working, catalysed by the pandemic, it would be fair to say that city infrastructure is also racing in this direction. Technologies like artificial intelligence and smart sensors are increasingly being embraced, from building managers to automotive companies, in order to help navigate smoother, safer and more efficient operations. A new dawn in the predictive maintenance industry certainly lets anyone managing industrial devices know when and what it needs in terms of repairs, instead of incrementally costly check-ups.
For buildings in particular, as the world transitions to a hybrid way of working, elevator usage patterns are likely to change due to people’s evolving habits. Post-pandemic, building occupants will also be cognizant of social distancing in shared spaces, meaning ensuring fewer faults and minimising downtime of technologies like elevators will be a priority.
As such, industrial device providers, perhaps even more so than consumer electronics manufacturers, must recognise how improved access and analysis of available data can allow them to better understand the inner workings of their own devices. With elevators, for example, data enables service providers to utilise ‘predictive maintenance’ – which combines all aspects of IoT including real-time sensor data, to determine the optimal time to perform specific maintenance tasks and allow engineers to always improve their service visits. This would reform the broken industrial repair model, without requiring legislative interference.
Committing to results
The industrial maintenance model must shift from a focus on selling these maintenance-first contracts, and instead, we must encourage end-users to demand performance-based contracts, which are based on a commitment to results.
While this may initially appear more expensive for users, over time this model reduces costs, improves the quality of operation and most importantly, cuts down the number of breakdowns. In turn, this will lead to greater relationships between service providers, operators and end-users – and ultimately, build trust that technology can indeed help us achieve smart, safe and efficient cities of the future.
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