Preserving Field Experience For the Future—Perishable Intellectual Property

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Equipment manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to collect and use the experience gained from designing, manufacturing and supporting their products in the field. It’s the kind of information that’s gathered over years of customer support and holds incredible value for improving product quality, reliability and performance. However, getting this information is not easy and preserving/ protecting it for future use can be a challenge as well. A properly structured knowledgebase is an excellent way to preserve this collective wisdom as a hedge against the retirement of experts, and also as a way for engineers to identify failure trends, and for customer support and field technicians to resolve obscure problems.

Field experience is valuable intellectual property (IP), which means that a company’s IP is much more than the traditional portfolio of patent filings, documented processes, and designs. Every time a piece of equipment is repaired IP is generated but unless the problem and solution is properly documented, that IP may be lost—to a dealer/distributor, a competitor or to faulty memories. The consequence is that the next time a similar problem happens, the entire problem-solving task will have to be repeated, which means more downtime, higher costs and lower customer satisfaction. Without an effective knowledgebase, solutions to uncommon problems may have been solved by one or two experienced technicians but that know-how leaves when the technician checks out for the day, or worse when they retire.

From a manufacturer’s perspective their global community of customers is a rich, and mostly untapped, source of IP associated with their equipment. The user community solves equipment problems on a daily basis, oftentimes without the manufacturer’s support. As manufacturers cannot possibly predict every failure mode during product design, many follow the traditional practice of surveying their user base to discover undocumented flaws and tricky problems. While some feedback mechanisms can capture field experience, there are many examples of solutions, work-arounds, hints and tips that simply never find their way back to the OEM. This IP remains in most cases completely undocumented and unshared, driving up cost every time the problem is experienced somewhere else. Undocumented service IP can even become a starting point for competitors to gain a strategic advantage in aftermarket support.

The solution lies in a structured, global and secure equipment knowledgebase that is specifically designed to associate a unique set of problem symptoms with the correct solution, while capturing all the information, dialog, logic and reasoning that has led technicians to the proper repair. Such an approach does not allow equipment IP to leak or perish, but ensures any authorized technician can leverage every bit of experience when solving critical problems in the field.

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