The World of Service Logistics

As a professor in maintenance and reliability at Eindhoven University, I often find myself reflecting on the developments in service logistics. Service logistics covers all the activities needed to keep technical systems up and running. It is about corrective, preventive and condition-based maintenance, as well as measures that can be taken when the systems are being designed. In this case, it is about capital and consumer goods. The key performance indicators are system availability and Total Cost of Ownership.

Some time ago, I was reading a paper written by my predecessor, professor Geraerdts, who retired in 1991 as a professor in maintenance at my university. He concludes it with the trends he witnessed back then. Strangely enough, his list was almost identical to the list of trends I drew up for my inaugural lecture just last year! I could hardly believe my eyes. Is my list old fashioned? Or, have there been hardly any new developments in maintenance over the last 20 years? The answers here are no; and no. After some weeks of thinking about this, I concluded that it must have something to do with a variant on Moore’s law for the development of chips.   

When you look at the development of technical systems, you can see that each generation is more complex than the one before: it has more functions, more components that can fail, and requires maintenance engineers to have a higher level of specialization. This forces buyers (users) to outsource their maintenance and to arrange a good, long-term maintenance services contract when buying (or leasing) a new system. The Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) or other third parties, then become responsible for the maintenance as well as realising high systems availability. It is up to them to create enough scale to deal with the ever-increasing complexity of maintenance and the level of specialization.

In the past, it was up to the users to deal with these challenges, and they were successful for some time. Yet now, the challenge falls to these new third parties, those with extra tools at their disposal such as remote monitoring and diagnosis and facilitating maintenance using smart design choices. The question is, even if they succeed to deal with the challenges for the next 20 years, who will take over in 2030?

Geert-Jan van Houtum, Professor Eindhoven University of Technology and Board Member of the European Supply Chain Forum