By Bill McBeath
A Passion to Serve
As products commoditize, the battleground shifts to service
excellence. Delivering exceptional service requires a real
passion infused throughout the organization—a real desire
to serve and make life easier for customers. It starts with
how personnel are trained, not just in the service organization
but across the company. But then it must be reinforced in every
speech, every policy, and every gesture until it becomes part
of the heart and soul of the company.
The Evolving Role of the Design Engineer
When the product alone was the primary basis of competition,
the life of a design engineer used to be a lot simpler. If
you completed your project on-time, within-budget, and met
the “functional spec”, you were golden. No more.
Design engineers are being asked to make an increasingly complex
set of trade-offs (performance vs. manufacturability vs. ease-of-use
vs. material cost vs. environmental requirements vs. time-to-market
vs. transportation costs vs. serviceability vs. localization
vs. reliability vs. duties and tariffs, etc., etc.) This mandates
a very cross-functional and inter-enterprise approach to the
It is widely understood that the majority of material costs
for a product are “baked in” during the design
phase (see figure 1). The design engineer has a much greater
influence on the cost of goods than the procurement professional.
Realizing this, more advanced companies get their engineers
and procurement people to work together before the design is
Source: Boothroyd & Dewhurst
This same concept applies to serviceability as part of the
total lifecycle cost of the product. In other words, the design
of a product has a major impact on the cost to assemble, package,
ship, maintain, repair, and ultimately dispose of or recycle
the product. So in the enlightened company, the design engineer’s
responsibilities include designing for serviceability. Engineers
can improve design-for-serviceability via:
- Parts Rationalization
- Self-diagnostics and remote diagnostics
People usually think of the benefits of parts rationalization
on reducing raw materials inventory. However, when the same
part is used across many different products AND in multiple
generations of the same products it also greatly reduces the
amount of inventory required in the service chain and simplifies
the repair technician’s job (fewer parts to carry onsite).
Self-diagnostics and Remote Diagnostics
Although self-diagnostics do not belong in all products (e.g.
low-cost consumer electronic devices are basically disposable),
the more complex, expensive, and mission critical a product
is, the more that built-in-diagnostics makes sense. And as
the cost of embedded computing and sensors continues to decline
every year, on-board diagnostics makes sense in more and more
products. Built-in-diagnostics help tremendously by:
failure before it happens and thereby eliminating or reducing
- Letting the repair technician know
ahead of time exactly what parts they should bring, often
saving a trip
- Enabling the skilled technician to guide
the end user through simple repair procedures remotely,
resulting in instant correction
of problems and eliminating the technician’s
- Reducing catastrophic failures that
could result in extensive or irreparable damage to
The need for service is reduced when products are designed
to be inherently more reliable. The science of designing for reliability is quite mature, with proven methodologies for
analyzing, predicting, and improving reliability—e.g.
analysis (thermal, worst case, finite element,
fault tree, etc.), simulation and testing (e.g. Accelerated
analysis of field failures to improve future designs, etc.
Ease of Repair
Ease of repair should be an explicit design goal, but it is
often over-looked unless A) the active involvement of service
personnel early in the design process is institutionalized
and B) a mechanism for regular feedback from the field is maintained.
There are many methods to achieving it:
- Rationalize and reduce the number of different
repair tools required across products
- Simplify replacement procedures
- Use quick fasteners, as well as “Fool-proof fasteners” and “fool-proof
connectors”— designed so that only the correct
connections can be made when reassembling
the parts with greatest replacement frequency in the
easiest to replace places.
- “Hot swap” components – that can be
replaced while the equipment is in use.
- Reducing or preferably
eliminating the need for calibration
The methods for design-for-serviceability are not hard to
understand. But they will not be implemented unless design
engineers are measured not just by the usual metrics (budget,
schedule, spec) but also on their contribution to serviceability
and the total lifecycle costs of a product. Very few companies
do that today.
In addition, the design process must be made very cross-functional.
This means moving to an “integrative organization” that
has sourcing/procurement, manufacturing, service, and suppliers
all involved early in the design phase. This is part of a broader
philosophy of cross-functional cooperation that must be driven
from the top. It is difficult for champions to work across
boundaries, even if they are motivated, when the leaders are
territorial and fighting turf wars.
Reaping the Benefits
It may be true that the life of an engineer used to be a lot
easier. But the life of a customer was a lot harder. In an
exceptional service organization, the tables are turned and
engineers put a lot of effort into designing for ease-of-use
The benefits of designing for serviceability are enormous.
Warranty costs are lowered, profitability rises, and customer
satisfaction and loyalty increase. Over the long term, highly
reliable products and rapid service build a very strong brand
(think Mercedes and Toyota) that translates into increased
competitiveness and growing market share. Designing for serviceability
is a great investment with great monetary rewards, but also
the satisfaction of knowing you’ve made life easier for
ChainLink Research, Inc.