June 12, 2018

Expensive...Compared To What?

How many times have you looked at a quote for a service visit and rolled your eyes at travel charges?  "Yikes, that's as much as the service labor itself!" Often, you will see "Zone Charges" which reflect the manufacturers placement of service engineers in key geographic locations. If an engineer is in your 'zone', your costs are lower. Need an engineer to travel a distance, perhaps by air, and the costs will increase.

When working with third party service organizations, clients are generally looking to reduce costs, as most such firms offer lower prices than instrument manufacturers.   But, because these businesses are generally smaller or constrained to one or two physical locations, their travel costs can often make them as expensive as the manufacturer.  Or, so it might seem...

Here is something to consider; When calling the manufacturer of an instrument, you are paying for a very narrow service on just that instrument.  Makes sense, right?  However, that FSE is likely only going to be able to work on just that instrument.   The Beckman Coulter engineer can't  work on a Tecan liquid handler and vice-versa.   When you look at the wide variety on instruments in your lab, the accumulation of service travel charges (and multiple varying labor rates for that matter) can bust even the most generous support budget.

Independent Service Organization (ISO) can help reduce costs. However, when working with an ISO it is important to understand what other products they can work on.   The same engineer who works on a Beckman robot, may also work on a Tecan...or a Hamilton...or an Agilent.    Having one FSE who can service multiple instruments from numerous manufacturers means you can amortize your travel charges across several instruments from different vendors.  That is something the individual instrument manufacturer cannot do, which ultimately makes their seemingly  'lower travel rate' much more expensive.

This is especially important for multi-vendor service (MVS) providers like Agilent CrossLab, Perkin Elmer OneSource, Unity Lab Services...etc.  These large organizations are able to offer their clients single point-of-contact for all their instrument service needs.   They typically have a large network of smaller ISO's who can help reduce labor costs and often, move with greater agility than instrument manufacturers.  When Site Manager and Vendor Relations Managers at MVS companies take the time to understand and maximize ISO capabilities  they can reign in travel costs and provide faster service while managing a smaller number of providers.

March 22, 2018

First Things First...

Scientist are well accustomed to "First Principle" thinking.  It's an approach that dates back to Aristotle and holds that before you can solve a problem, you must distill exactly what is known to be absolutely true.  By focusing on only known facts, it is much easier to postulate a solution which is based upon a solid foundation of fact.  That foundation allows you to speculate on causal factors but such leaps are always based upon core principles.

Sound familiar?   Well, if you are a Field Service Engineer (a good one), then this is the motus operandi with which you approach everyday troubleshooting. The trick here is to ask lots of questions before you even lay your hands on a failed instrument.   Many times, a user or researcher may get frustrated by such probing, so it is important to explain up front, why you are asking.  Just as a doctor cannot prescribe a treatment for a sick patient without reviewing their medical history, an FSE cannot hope to repair a failed instrument without first knowing it's recent history. Both should operate under the "first, do no harm" methodology.  

When was the last time it worked correctly?  When did you first notice a failure?   Were there any environmental changes in the lab (power, air, floods..etc)?   Many times, after such probing, an FSE can find very important facts that will make diagnosis faster and more reliable.   A PC or software upgrade, a robot crash, a spill...etc.

So, to all those researchers who need to get a failed instrument back online, just remember...it is in your own best interest to share as much info as you can to assist the FSE.  And to you FSE's...ask, ask, ask.   First, do no harm.  No guessing.

March 6, 2018

Remotely Possible?

How often do you PM a ....well, anything in your lab?  More often than not, the answer will either be 'once a year' or 'never.'   While the latter response may be due to budgetary constraints, or indifference, it is usually a recipe for disaster.   Things break if you don't maintain them and they generally break when you need them the most.   Periodic Maintenance (PM) is always a good idea, but back to my original question...how often?  Most people choose to PM once a year because that is what the manufacturer recommends.  However, this might not be the best strategy for your lab or a particular instrument as it does not take into account utilization.   It goes without saying that something that is used everyday, or more than one shift per day will require more frequent PM's than something that is used occasionally.   The challenge for many labs is just how to keep track of that utilization and how to pro-actively maintain based upon actual usage.  Figuring that out will help forestall major failures on high usage instruments and also stretch support budgets for lesser used devices.  

A recent report by Astea International Inc.(Horsham, PA) , a leading global provider of service management and mobile workforce management solutions titled "6 Biggest Field Service Trends To Watch Right Now" highlights a sea change shift in field service from reactive to pro-active.   The report highlights the rapid adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) to enable field service organizations to remotely monitor client assets to create added value by scheduling maintenance based on performance degradation or utilization as opposed to "because the manual said so."    Monitoring research lab instruments is very different than production equipment, but at the end of day, ensuring that instruments are properly maintained so that they are available when needed will always be a winning strategy.