Other Voices: The connected forklift service technician

How to prepare service practices to achieve the best maintenance benefits provided by greater connectivity.

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Editor’s note: The following column by Craig Bruns, director of customer support for Crown Equipment, is part of Modern’s Other Voices column, a series featuring ideas, opinions and insights from end-users, analysts, systems integrators and OEMs. Click here to learn about submitting a column for consideration.


As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to transform the way we interact with machines, data and each other, it is bringing a new level of connectivity that is evolving today’s forklift service call. Today’s connected service technicians, armed with new technology and increased connectivity, are helping to make forklift service calls smarter and more proactive.

Consider this possible scenario: As more data is gathered on forklift performance and operation, the connected service tech will soon be able to arrive onsite before the fleet manager or operator knows there is an issue with the forklift. In certain cases, they could show up already understanding the issue and having the right parts to make the repair.

When needed, connected tools, such as mobile tablets or augmented reality wearables, will assist the technician and even walk them through the steps to fix an issue. The maintenance data from the service call is then uploaded to the service cloud, giving the fleet manager complete visibility to the maintenance issue and repair and further strengthening the service data pool.

So, how long before this connected service tech experience comes to your operations? Time will tell; but regardless of whether you handle maintenance and service internally or work with an authorized dealer, there are a few important steps you can take now to ensure you are fully prepared and capable of realizing the maintenance benefits provided by greater connectivity.

1. Find the right partner
Not only is this the first step, it is also the most important. It is vital that you identify the right partner that can help you create a connected service tech experience and achieve your goals. This can include the company that manufactures your forklifts, the dealer that manages your maintenance and service program or the technology provider behind your operator and fleet management system.

2. Make the connection
Ten to fifteen years ago, the big push was going mobile and paperless. Many saw this as “connecting your service techs.” More accurately, this is a good entry point into IoT. Giving your techs laptops and tablets is a necessary step toward connectivity, but it’s only a start. You also need to connect your assets/forklifts through a forklift fleet and operator management or telematics system that gathers data on operator and forklift performance.

These two connection points create a channel through which vital forklift information, such as event codes and performance data and analytics can be gathered and shared with service techs.

3. Monitor and analyze
Once you have a fleet and operator management system, you need to start managing and using the data. This includes event codes, as well as operator performance and forklift health and utilization information. The right forklift OEM vendor, as well as processes and algorithms put in place, can help analyze that data so actionable information can be shared with service techs to help them address issues more accurately and efficiently.

For instance, let’s say an internal combustion forklift is overheating. An overheating alarm is sent to the dealer service dispatcher through the OEM’s service cloud, along with information on the top issues that can cause this (based on historical data gathered). The dispatcher then decides which service tech, based on availability and on-hand replacement parts, is best suited for the service call. When the tech shows up and determines the water pump is the issue, that information is added to the pool of data associated with overheating. The probability percentage for water pump is then increased slightly for future overheating alarms.

4. Automate and integrate
You’ve connected your assets and technicians, and have processes and algorithms in place to monitor and analyze the collected data. You now need to ensure your system is integrated so information is shared with all relevant groups who have a role in your service and maintenance program.

This is especially important if you utilize an OEM dealer maintenance provider who uses their own business system to manage and dispatch service calls. Ideally, maintenance and service alerts should automatically be sent to your dealer so the alarm can show up in their system and be shared with the technician.

5. Predict and innovate
The final step to building your connected service tech experience is using the infrastructure put in place and the data being collected to transition from a reactive service and maintenance program to a more predictive one. This includes using historical data to help diagnose potential causes to issues before the tech arrives onsite.

It also means using that historical data to understand utilization and schedule regular service and maintenance to anticipate and eliminate potential issues. If your historical data shows that a particular part wears out on your trucks after a certain number of operating hours, you can schedule your replacement accordingly. You can also create a proactive planned replacement product life cycle formula that is unique to your organization.

As forklifts become more connected, it makes sense the techs servicing them would need to keep pace. Creating a connected service tech experience can help reduce your maintenance costs and ensure that your fleet is operational and available when you need it.

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