Ford goes virtual to help technicians

Ford South Africa is helping dealers to speed up repairs and get customers back on the road faster with a new high-tech approach to vehicle repairs.

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The vehicle manufacturer will be rolling out this new technology to its dealer network this year.

Ford Middle East and Africa service engineering operations director Pieter Verster said Ford needs to keep modernising what it does and how it does things. Verster said part of this plan is the rollout of the new technology to support its technicians in the dealership with an innovative solution that helps expedite the repair and resolution of difficult cases.

“With this technology we can see exactly what the technician sees and guide them during the repair of the vehicle,” he said.

The rollout of the new technology follows Ford SA recently conducting a pilot study of the RealWear HMT-1 Hands-free Remote Collaboration Tool, which remotely connects Ford dealership technicians with Ford’s Technical Assistance Centre that is staffed by experienced support personnel and field service engineers, allowing them to collaborate on vehicle service issues and repairs.

Using the RealWear remote access headset, a master technician at Ford can assist a local dealer with a repair or service enquiry.

Using the RealWear HMT-1’s high-definition camera, flashlight, array of microphones and voice-activated controls, dealership service technicians can safely demonstrate technical issues to the engineer and get immediate real-time support.

Ford engineers can also control the direction of the camera, take photos and notes, and even share screens from service bulletins and wiring diagrams with the technician via the built-in display on the headset, thereby allowing them to remain hands-free while conducting the repairs.

Verster said RealWear represents a significant step forward in better supporting Ford dealers and customers.

“It enables a reduction in vehicle downtime as the dealer no longer has to wait for a field service engineer to be sent out to assist.

“This virtual assistance is available immediately, enabling the technician to repair the vehicle promptly and get it back to the customer without delay, which ensures greater customer satisfaction,” he said.

Verster added that from a dealership perspective, this technology leads to increased productivity and a reduction in the repair orders that would go through the dealership.

“The time and travel costs associated with getting a field service engineer to the dealer are eliminated by this technology, particularly in remote locations.

“Our focus is on rolling out the system to our Ford dealers in the major centres in South Africa initially, and having additional units that can be sent to dealers in remote areas when they need assistance,” he said.

Verster said Ford is also working on introducing the RealWear tool to remote regions in Sub Saharan Africa and the Middle East to better serve its dealers and customers in these markets.

Ford says while the support will be localised, each call is logged internationally to build a database of regular repair concerns.

The introduction of the RealWear tool and technology complements the recent launch of the Ford Repair Centre concept, which supports Ford dealers in their vicinity should they have a vehicle that is difficult to repair.

However, in these instances, the vehicle is transported to the repair centre where a highly trained technician takes over the case and can rely on the RealWear technology and the direct access to the Technical Assistance Centre hotline, if necessary, to expedite the process.

Verster said that with Ford’s fully integrated online technical dealer support, their regional field service engineers can also be called on to provide assistance regardless of where they are in the country, or even around the world.

He added that the system, which is linked to Ford’s global IT network, logs each case and builds up a comprehensive database for future reference and fault diagnosis, thereby giving all dealers access to all technical issues encountered and how they were resolved.

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