By moving from reactive to predictive maintenance, ultra high-resolution microscopy maker significantly improves mean time to repair

Few companies can claim they’ve played a part in the discoveries that change our world, but ZEISS can. Founded in Germany 160 years ago, ZEISS employs over 30,000 people worldwide and provides technology in the fields of optics and optoelectronics.

When its founders discovered a repeatable way to achieve high-resolution optics, ZEISS became the first company to produce commercial microscopes held to consistent quality standards. Today its ZEISS Microscopy division provides one of the broadest microscope portfolios in the world. ZEISS instruments have powered the research of more than 20 Nobel Laureates in the fields of medicine, chemistry and physics.

Service Interruptions Can Cost Millions

Researchers and labs relying on instruments worth anywhere from $500,000 to $1.5 million to power their research can’t afford any interruption in their service. According to Dr. Christian Schwindling, product owner of ZEISS Predictive Service, “Our customers had no way to foresee when their microscopes were in danger of downtime, which could leave them stranded."

For both researchers and laboratory facilities, the consequences of equipment downtime are significant. For researchers, equipment delays can extend completion of projects; in worst-case scenarios, it can force scientists to invalidate test runs or other work in progress.

Increasingly, ZEISS instruments are used as essential equipment in core imaging facilities. In such environments, facilities such as universities and life sciences companies populate a single facility with high-end microscopes. Renting out and scheduling access to the equipment for use by other departments and labs allows these facilities to share research costs.

When equipment is down, the facility cannot collect its fees. Researchers could take weeks to gain access to critical equipment. “It’s imperative that these facilities and researchers can ensure peak performance of our equipment for numerous reasons. This includes the fact that it can take significant time to get back on a research schedule after recovering from downtime,” explains Dr. Schwindling.

Why It’s Challenging Ensuring Uptime and Availability

With so much riding on these instruments, ZEISS has long provided expert, white-glove service to its customers, dispatching service engineers whenever a customer experienced downtime. The cost is high for ZEISS to dispatch a service engineer for on site visits just to copy some data for diagnosis purposes. With over 800 service engineers worldwide, the company’s service calls were eroding profits. As the company expanded its microscopy business, these service costs escalated.

Our customers were impressed with the service. They loved that it enabled us to proactively detect and fix issues before they were impactful.

~ Dr. Christian Schwindling, Product Owner, ZEISS Predictive Service

Embarking on a Digital Transformation Journey

Ever striving to improve customer satisfaction, ZEISS conceived ZEISS Predictive Service. Designed as a remote condition monitoring program, the goal of this service was to more quickly diagnose equipment issues and increase system uptime. The anticipated benefits were enhanced diagnosis, faster service times and improved uptime. Just as important, the company would boost customer satisfaction while gaining more insights into how its equipment behaves in the field.

The service would take advantage of the Internet of Things (IoT) to gather data from the company’s instruments in the field and process this data in the cloud, making it instantly available at headquarters. While this would initially enable ZEISS to rapidly diagnose instruments without dispatching a service engineer, it also paved the way for predictive service. Such a service would be one of the levers the company could pull to increase margins on its high-end products.

Launching a Pilot for Select Customers

ZEISS decided to pilot its new remote condition monitoring service for customers with Axio Scan.Z1, an automated slide scanning system for pathology that typically runs 24/7. To enable its predictive service, it called upon the Machine Cloud Service from Axeda (now part of PTC). An innovator in the IoT technology market, Axeda provided technology that enables companies to establish secure connectivity and remotely monitor and manage a wide range of machines, sensors, and devices. It also offered a Connected Machine Management application set that empowers companies to remotely monitor and service products, and even deliver live software updates.

With the Axeda technology in place receiving data from sensors on Axio Scan, ZEISS launched the pilot with select customers in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. After a five-year pilot, 85% of the company’s customers across academia and in the biopharmaceutical industry were connected to the Axeda platform. “Our customers were impressed with the service. They loved that it enabled us to proactively detect and fix issues before they were impactful,” explains Dr. Schwindling.

One of our missions is increasing service efficiencies while expanding our service contracts. If we can deliver the best and fastest service to our customers, we make our high-end contracts more attractive to them.

~ Dr. Christian Schwindling, Product Owner, ZEISS Predictive Service

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