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Top ten technology trends for the field service industry in 2015 – Part Three: Drones, 3D Printing, 4G and Integrated Platforms

Jan 23 • Features, Future of FIeld Service • 2912 Views • No Comments on Top ten technology trends for the field service industry in 2015 – Part Three: Drones, 3D Printing, 4G and Integrated Platforms

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Within the last decade technology has altered the way field service companies operate irrevocably, yet the technology now emerging on the horizon could change the game even further.

Across the last few weeks Field Service News has been looking at some of the technologies that we think will be impacting on field service across the next year.

In part one of this series we looked at Wearables, Cloud and NFC and in the second instalment we focussed on IoT, Big Data and Cyber Security.

Now in this the final section of the series we take a look at where Drones , 3D Printing, 4G and Integrated Platforms will fit into the field service landscape.

A bit of a buzz around Drones…

As we entered 2014 there was still an incessant buzz around Drones that had been sparked by Amazon’s fantastic claims that they were investing heavily in research and development of Drone technology. Accompanied by an incredibly slick video showing an Amazon branded Unmanned Aerial Drone (UAD) picking up a parcel from the depot and happily buzzing away as it delivered it right to the recipients front door.

Whilst delivery drones may seem far-fetched and are subject to an awful lot of as yet undefined regulation, there are plenty of applications for drones that could benefit field service.

At the time Field Service News looked at the proposition including questioning whether it was all just a fantastic PR exercise or whether there was indeed potential for a drone based delivery service.

A year on and Amazon’s delivery drones have still yet to materialise however, with the cost of drones plummeting (a small drone with a camera capable of recording decent quality footage can now be picked up for between £50 to £75) there is certainly potential for drones to be used in field service.

Indeed in the UK there are now over 300 companies licensed to use drones for commercial reasons and whilst delivery drones may seem far-fetched and are subject to an awful lot of as yet undefined regulation, there are plenty of applications for drones that could benefit field service.

For example, a visual inspection on an inaccessible roof of a building could be required. A UAD could provide this visual check without the need to erect scaffolding potentially saving at least a days labour. Or what about large manufacturing plants that can in some cases span many miles. Again manual visual inspection could be a long drawn out process, but with the aid of drones the time to complete the task could be slashed.

3D Printing is on the verge of a true breakthrough…

Perhaps my favourite of all emerging technology for the sheer Star-Trek-ness of it all is 3D printing.  The idea of something appearing out of nothing just seems so, well for want for a better word… cool.

Economies of scale no longer come into play, the cost of producing one unit is the same as the cost of producing thousands of units.

 However, it is not just the ‘cool’ factor that makes 3D printing so exciting. More than any other technology identified in this series 3D printing has the potential to completely change business, as we know it.

Economies of scale no longer come into play, the cost of producing one unit is the same as the cost of producing thousands of units. Meaning that companies will be able to operate on lean methodologies far easier.

Then we consider the benefits for field service. Imagine the impact it could have if a field service engineer is able to print 3D parts on site. No more parts ordering and delays, the engineer having identified a part is worn could simply print a part there and then.

Whilst it might seem like something from science fiction the truth is this technology could just be around the corner. We know that it is possible to create parts strong enough for commercial applications via 3D printing. A recent example being manufacturer of helicopter parts Turbomeca who are now producing fuel injector nozzles for its Arrano helicopter engines.

We have also seen smaller and more affordable consumer 3D printers come to the fore in the last year.

So is it that big a leap of faith to foresee a field based 3D printing solution being rolled out in the not too distant future?

4G – a key enabler across field service

If 3D printing is the most exciting of technologies to make this list then it could be argued that 4G is perhaps the most understated.

The reason I say this is that when it’s older brother 3G entered the scene it was a complete game changer. The leap from WAP to 3G (okay technically WAP to EDGE to 3G) was an unprecedented stride forward in mobile computing. It coincided with early smart phones and it changed the way we work forever.

3G changed the world. 4G just does everything 3G does only better and faster.

By the time 4G rolled along we had already got used to smart phones and fast wi-fi speeds too. So whilst being able to access broadband speed internet on the move is of course pretty incredible – the ‘wow factor’ that arrived with 3G just hasn’t quite been there.

3G changed the world. 4G just does everything 3G does only better and faster.

However, if we take a step back then the impact 4G will have is truly incredible, especially for the field service industries.

The increase in mobile data speed means access to knowledge bases is an easy and quick option for field engineers. Similarly the ability to hold high quality video conferencing from one onsite engineer to another is again made possible through 4G.

And with both Vodafone and O2 promising 98% coverage across the UK by the end of 2015, 4G in the UK at least, will very soon be one of those technologies, like smart phones themselves, that we just don’t remember how things worked before it came along.

Integrated field service platforms will continue to be at the fore…

The final inclusion on the list is one which has been making a slow rise to prominence out of necessity as much as anything else.

Easy integration will be a major selling point for service management providers and those who fail here will struggle to compete.

Across the last year we heard a lot about integrated service management platforms. A number of providers have developed full service lifecycle solutions and with integration issues being at the fore for field service companies looking to move to a next generation solution there is a solid case for exploring such a solution.

However, whilst the platform approach has merits, integration with other systems has also become a significant focus for many providers also and this appears to be becoming a growing trend, which could make selecting various best in class options more readily available.

What is key however, is that whether you opt for a full platform approach or a number of individual ‘best-in-class’ with full integration, your service management solution should no longer have any restrictions when it comes to the flow of data.

The ability to breakdown siloes is key to the successful operation of a field service organisation and the technology is now readily available to make sure this is possible – easy integration will be a major selling point for service management providers and those who fail here will struggle to compete.

 

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