How BUNN Is Incorporating IoT And AR Into Service Operations

Source: Field Technologies Magazine
Sarah Nicastro

By Sarah Nicastro, publisher/editor in chief, Field Technologies
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BUNN began 170 years ago with Jacob Bunn opening a grocery store in Springfield, IL. In fact, a young Abe Lincoln was one of his first customers! That venture grew into Bunn Capitol Wholesale Grocery Company and was later managed by George R. Bunn who founded a beverage equipment division in the late 1950's. Bunn-O-Matic Corporation was officially incorporated as a separate entity in 1963. Today, the company remains privately-held and family-owned; Arthur “Hy” Bunn has been the President and CEO since 1988.

I can only imagine the many ways the company has evolved since its inception. At the moment, two of BUNN’s current initiatives are to incorporate both IoT and AR (augmented reality) into the service operation. Here, we speak with Tim Spencer, Sr. VP and GM of service operations at BUNN, about the company’s latest projects.

Field Technologies: Can you give us a brief overview of how BUNN is using IoT?

Spencer: As beverage dispensing equipment became more complex, BUNN recognized the opportunity to add value both to our customers and to our business by placing sensors in critical functional areas of the machines. Our engineering, marketing, sales and service teams worked together to build an “offering” to address the needs of customers while also insuring that other data important to BUNN was part of our roadmap. A bundled solution called BUNNlink has been available now in our specialty drink equipment for about four years and we have expanded its application to new product launches since its inception.

To create BUNNlink we partnered with a third party to assist in creating an equipment gateway to gain access to the internet via cellular technology which connects to an internal portal at BUNN. From this portal we as well as our customers can access data through a portal view.

Field Technologies: What impact do you expect IoT to have on your field operations?

Spencer: We already see great value because we can more quickly help the customer determine if a phone fix can solve their service issue or if a dispatch is necessary. Each fault code triggers a notification both to the customer and to our technical support center. We often know before the customer does that their equipment is experiencing an issue that could, or is currently, causing performance issues. We can reach out to the customer and walk them through some troubleshooting steps to try and get their equipment alert resolved quickly and at no expense to them or us (if under warranty). Should they call into our call center before we call them, our agents all have access to BUNNlink screens that show them exactly what the on-board sensors have detected, presents the agent with a script for trouble shooting that is specific to that error code, and enables a much higher than typical opportunity to resolve while on the phone. Should a phone fix not be possible, this same information is transferred to the work order ticket so that the dispatched technician knows exactly what was reported and likely which part is needed — not based upon a customer’s input alone, but based upon equipment alerts from specific sensors. This saves a lot of time, enables us to help customers more precisely and quickly, and prevents down time or shortens it by virtue of our advanced notice and insight provided by the equipment direct feedback.

We estimate that using this system has helped us save our customers money through:

  • More phone fixes versus dispatched technicians
  • Real-time monitoring of water quality, a key element of equipment longevity in our business
  • Preemptive component replacement
  • Out-of-specification alerts
  • Cleaning cycle awareness
  • Elimination of unneeded part replacement

Combined, these actions save an estimated $297.80 per unit per year in overall cost of ownership.

Field Technologies: What impact do you expect IoT will have on your customers’ experiences?

Spencer: Our customer experience is improved in many ways by virtue of the insights from our BUNNlink solution. First, we often contact them before they even experience a problem, in many cases preventing any downtime before they have to experience a shut down that could impact revenue for them. Additionally, when we contact them we can have a very precise conversation; eliminating time ordinarily spent asking all kinds of troubleshooting questions to get at root cause. We pretty much know the root cause because the equipment reported it to us. Talking to our customers early, and having much more productive conversations, saves them time and keeps their revenue-generating beverage equipment up and running a higher percentage of the time. All equipment alerts are available in a management report format for customers so that they know every time an alert occurs and what the summary of equipment status and performance has been, should they care to see this detail.

Further, our sensor equipment built into our solution provides tremendous value to our customers relative to their own operations. They are able to get reports from our system relative to drinks served per hour, which hours were most productive in the day, when does the equipment need cleaning or local maintenance, and when is the best time of day to perform that maintenance, etc. They can monitor brand or flavor preferences and reduce or better manage inventories as a result of this insight. Additionally they can control beverage quality by monitoring things like temperature, water quality, freshness, and cleaning requirements. There can even be some energy savings by tracking when the equipment could be put in energy saver mode. All of this point of sale reporting is available to our customer view as part of this offering and the data is shielded from us as it is sensitive information in most cases.

Field Technologies: What other benefits does BUNN expect from IoT?

Spencer: We have a vision of where this technology and application can take us and our customers in the future. Today most information is pushed from the equipment to us. Our next iteration will enable us to push information to the equipment, which will be very valuable as it relates to calibration and recipe changes. For example, a customer needing to tweak a recipe blend for a new flavor or seasonal product change could do so remotely. In the past this was a huge cost if they had a large and distributed equipment install footprint. We have had this ability before but larger bandwidths will help us incorporate this feature in future releases. 

We also plan to integrate this tool with all other systems in house, including our service management system. This would enable a few things including going from a call to the BUNNlink status screen  and back seamlessly — or even enabling the equipment to submit a work order for service all by itself. We also hope that we can expand our platform to include equipment that was not manufactured by BUNN, creating a network of linked product.

Field Technologies: How is BUNN using AR, and what benefits do you anticipate from doing so?

Spencer: If technology can’t immediately solve a problem for me, I can’t take the time to fiddle with it. Rather than see a cool technology and try and find an application, I tend to have an application and try to find a solution. In our case, training and supporting remote technicians was a huge challenge for us. We have a hybrid of BUNN technicians as well as a large and distributed group of third party subcontractors. Getting and keeping this technician network trained and fresh with all the latest learning and skills has been a huge struggle for us. Additionally but related, we were having a hard time transferring the skills of a few experts to the minds and hands of a lot of techs in the field. We needed a solution that would help solve for this, while being easy, reasonably priced, and simply deployed. In our case, Help Lightning solved that problem for us and created a great opportunity. Using their tool we are able to create an environment of help or mentoring or coaching without any special tools or hardware or training. Using ubiquitous devices like tablets or smartphones, we can engage a tech from our own company, from a third party, or even from a self-servicing customer, and provide expert help in an “as if they were there” virtual setting.

We have only been using the AR solution a relatively short time, but we have already seen great benefits. The most obvious for us has been the reduction in the amount of misdiagnosis and parts shotgunning. Having an expert virtually with you on the call enables better choices in resolution for the customer. Also we are able to get our customer back up and running faster, and our first time fix ratio has improved. The side benefit of this is that throughout this process of giving and getting help, both participants benefit. The help giver gets a better feel for the issues faced in the field and a better understanding of how to prevent future failures either through training or reengineering. The receiver of help is benefitted with immediate and real learning from an expert without the cost associated with time out of the field and travel. For BUNN it has been a win, win, win.

Field Technologies: IoT and AR are both newer technologies that often receive some pushback from employees used to doing things a certain way. What has your experience been with introducing these technologies at BUNN?

Spencer: Our approach to both technologies has been to find use cases that benefit everyone, but particularly those whose help we need to adopt and deploy. So as we launch, and then later fine tune these solutions, we constantly look for where the processes are broken, where do our teams need help, and how can these solutions be a benefit and not a burden. The only challenge with our AR solution has been convincing the very seasoned worker to understand that even they can benefit from a virtual support session. Sometimes they are just too proud or feel there is nothing more to learn, but helping them at least appreciate that the person on the other end might benefit has helped them adopt and embrace this new tool.

Field Technologies: What tips do you have for companies currently researching IoT or AR technologies?

Spencer: My advice would be to be sure you find the benefit for each user group before you introduce or launch any technology solutions in your organization. If you can’t articulate the benefit, you are not ready. Whether it is a new service management solution, IoT, AR, or just a fancier hammer, you need to be able to clearly describe why this will help them and how. We have had team members participate in the solution building and pilot testing processes too, which helps not only give a better solution but also creates buy in and ownership.