Processes in motion

Business processes get smart and mobile

Companies are oozing with IT these days. Almost by default, every business process has to involve IT. But for people who move around businesses or are mobile, things have remained relatively unchanged for decades. Just one example: customer services. Schedulers often spend a huge amount of time preparing orders and technical documents, usually because it’s not possible for the field service technicians to access the documents they need when they’re on site with the client. Multiple copies of contact reports are written out by hand for somebody back at base to type into the system, also manually. These interrupted communication flows – or “media breaks” – can be costly. The Steinbeis Transfer Center Processes in Motion has now developed a smartphone and tablet-based solution to bridge media breaks in technical sales and services and thus improve the integration levels and reach of business processes.

Mobile devices, smartphones and tablets have now become media for the masses, and this brings a variety of advantages to companies. People no longer have to acquire specialist skills just to operate a smartphone, especially in the younger generations. More than anything, however, these devices have reached economy of scale within consumer markets, making them cheap to acquire and, thus, excellent value for money. They are crammed full of network technology, sensors, cameras, microphones, compasses, GPS and acceleration sensors. And because of the new app system, they are highly versatile and adaptable. Yet integrating these solutions into business processes is still in its infancy despite the fact that there is so much money to be saved:

  • Avoiding “media breaks” improves the quality of information: less money invested on editing content or eradicating errors.
  • Processes in the field are easier to plan and organize: less money wasted on unsuccessful work or missing parts; quicker turnarounds in critical client situations.
  • Smart devices instead of expensive special equipment: lower costs due to synergy effects, helping spread load on equipment.
  • Instructions in smartphone apps: lower costs through more consistent processes.

"Processes in Motion for Technical Field Service" is an Android app developed by the Steinbeis experts at the Göppingen Transfer Center Processes in Motion. It can plan technician schedules more rapidly via the Internet, e.g. if urgent servicing needs prioritizing. It enables access to technical documents held in the back office directly from the client site. Recorded data relating to the service contract can also be captured accurately, partially automatically and in real time, directly through the ERP system.

The solution can do more than share and present data. Machines and parts can be identified using QR codes and NFC tags. Noises indicating damage can be pinpointed using built-in microphones. External equipment can be plugged into mobile devices via USB. To carry out a heat analysis, an external thermal matrix sensor can be attached to show a heat image on the screen, thus making it possible to identify damages using thermal evaluations. Images, noises and machine and process data can be transmitted via the Internet to experts for remote maintenance.

The solution is adaptable and merely needs to be fitted to existing systems. This service can also be carried out by the Processes in Motion Transfer Center. The center was set up in 2012 and specializes in the process integration of mobile devices. It draws on academic experience in the field of business process optimization and integration, using service-oriented architectures (SOAs) and know-how acquired in the design and programming of mobile applications – i.e. apps.

The center also has expertise in the increasingly important area of external sensor connection to mobile devices, a technology which has been used to develop a heat image camera. Especially in high-end uses, there are a multitude of possibilities to replace specific hardware solutions with standard hardware equipped with individual add-on components. Processes in Motion offers the whole spectrum of IT project management services, from requirements analysis to problem solving and the implementation of software and hardware products.

These services point to a number of other ways, in addition to technical services for customers, to improve efficiency and effectiveness through the use of mobile devices. This includes asset management, such as managing machines, car fleets or buildings, but also services directly delivered to the customers, such as technical or medical support, as well as selfservices for customers.

Thermal imaging camera seeks distributor

The thermal imaging sensor is an external add-on device for smartphones and tablets. It was originally developed as a prototype by the Steinbeis Transfer Center Processes in Motion. A serial production model is already being planned, and now other partners are being sought to market the product. Aside from possible uses in production, the accessory can also be put to good use in a variety of other business applications. One particularly attractive field is the market for energy optimization, which should hold huge potential not only in trade and industry, but also in domestic households.

Case study: Hanover Trade Fair 2013

As part of Industry 4.0, a research highlight at Hannover Messe 2013, Festo Didactic and the Steinbeis Transfer Center Processes in Motion exhibited intelligent and mobile maintenance and diagnostics processes under the banner “Processes in Motion for Technical Field Service.” On a shared display on the Festo stand, the two project partners demonstrated an intelligent service process – an app for tablets called “Processes in Motion for Technical Field Service” which makes it possible for technicians to identify any kind of component during live processes using NFC tags, and then call up corresponding information from an MES server. This allows service technicians to detect things like logical errors in production processes.

Once a damaged machine component has been detected, a technician is aided by acoustic and thermal analysis. The app uses a microphone to detect the noise patterns of damaged bearings or motors. The thermal matrix sensor allows the app to display thermal patterns on the tablet screen. This can be used in a number of ways by the technician. For example, hot components can be detected, pointing to faulty functions or damage. However, raised temperatures can also often be an indication that heat is being lost, and this should be eliminated. 


Prof. Dr.-Ing. Ben Marx | Prof. Dr. Christian Cseh
Steinbeis-Transferzentrum Processes in motion (Göppingen)

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