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Building A Better Scan Tool...Changing Paradigms
Contributed by Bob Chabot

At ToolTech 2012, Scott Bolt, MAHLE Test Systems Chief Engineer, shared a presentation titled “Difficulties in Aftermarket Data Release”. As one who comes from the independent aftermarket service and repair sector, I am continually amazed at the insights gained by attending the key industry events hosted by the Equipment and Tool Institute (ETI). Bolt’s presentation was one of several that left me more enlightened for being present.

While his presentation was informative, it was what Bolt shared with me later at the ToolTech windup event that rocked me. Our discussion also serves as an example that illustrates the benefits of attending ETI events in-person. Besides valuable education sessions, the social networking outside of the presentations enables attendees to jointly discover mutual business opportunities.

I had initially asked Bolt a few questions related to his presentations, which led to a discussion about the development of diagnostic platforms in general. Bolt described how companies like MAHLE apply their expertise to help OEMs develop and introduce improved diagnostic systems.

Changing Entrenched Paradigms
OEMs are starting to realize their current tools are unable to scale up to incorporate the increased volume of information they need for their global architecture vehicle platforms. The schedules for completing new projects can be much tighter than in the past, just over eight months in some cases. Short development timelines require changes in OEM development processes.  Sometimes suppliers can provide commercial off-the-shelf solutions that have the ability to solve the problem.  However, it is not easy for them to discard their development process for that of a supplier’s, but in the end it is a decision they have to make.

Communication and Collaboration
With short timelines and huge amounts of data to incorporate into a new scan tool, everybody on the OEM team, as well as the scan tool supplier team, has to understand that for the duration of the project there can only be one team, both locally and globally, to instill more direct communication.

The project has to be designated as a top priority.  This means that the project must be reviewed almost daily at a high level of management.  This helps to motivate both the supplier and OEM. To help facilitate cooperation and communication it is a good idea for the supplier design team to bring in OEM engineers to their facility and work side-by-side throughout the process.


In addition, the team must also seek and utilize input from intended end-users-the folks who will actually use the new diagnostic tool-throughout the development process.


At the end of the day, we all succeed or fail on the back of a product. So it is crucial to have people who know the product’s capabilities working shoulder-to-shoulder with the tool maker and those who ultimately will use the diagnostic product.


Let me share an example of why this is crucial. Given the volume of software involved, it is unrealistic to develop a perfect scan tool and diagnostic system. But having the ability to modify it quickly is vital to keeping your customer satisfied.

Faster, Easier and More Stable
You only have one chance to make a first impression-whether it is the automaker or a technician in a dealership or independent shop service bay. Any successful product launch and sustained usage requires early positive experiences by both the client and the intended buyers.

Probably the biggest challenge any scan tool development team faces is the data. It is impossible to validate a new tool as much as one would like. Achieving perfection would require access to the data for every variation of a particular OEM’s vehicle line-up over many model years, examples of which may not exist anymore. Even though we know it is unreasonable to expect a new diagnostic tool to have the same data integrity as the previous tools on older models, project teams must work very hard to validate as thoroughly as possible.


Then, through the use of updates, any errors discovered in the field can be corrected during the first year of use.  As long as the new tool works better than the previous one, small gaps in data can be forgiven, especially if the errors are quickly corrected.  The key is to make the new tool faster, easier to use and more stable than the former tool.

Changing the OEM - Aftermarket Relationship
The section above tells Bolt’s story. Allow me to share where his comments led me. How readily a vehicle can be serviced, whether during or after the warranty period, impacts the vehicle ownership experience. Ultimately, the ripples touch everyone from OEMs to suppliers, to equipment and tool providers, to technicians.

 What Is On The Horizon?
(Click on image for a larger view)

All OEMs are moving to something like the above diagram from Bolt’s ToolTech 2012 presentation illustrates for tools.

He shared that many OEMs are already moving toward developing some kind of standardized inputs (shown in yellow) for each of the major factors (shown in grey) that influence a scan tool and all vehicle systems.

Bolt also suggested that OEMs publish their standardized interfaces, once they are developed, to aftermarket shop tools through ETI. If more OEMs adopt this internal vision first and then published them, he said we might one day be able to realize an industry-wide standards for these tool interfaces because by then, nearly every OEM would be doing it. (Image-Scott Bolt / MAHLE Test Systems)

ETI Executive Manager Charlie Gorman has long championed the cause for vehicle serviceability being considered at the beginning and throughout all stagesof the vehicle development process. He has also proposed that we consider whether the current OEM-Aftermarket relationship model can keep pace with today's needs.

"Scan tool manufacturers design and build tools for both dealers and the aftermarket, but they may not be the same tools," Gorman has shared. "In addition, although automakers are required to sell scan tools to the aftermarket, in many cases they do not design or plan for it early enough. For instance, some aftermarket scan tools are de-contented for security reasons, thus making them incapable of completing some repairs. In addition, OEM tools sometimes become obsolete quickly and next generation scan tools may not be backwards compatible."

"Because the independent aftermarket typically works on models that are much older than what the new car dealership sees, this can be problematic," Gorman adds. "For instance, it is a monumental task to put full OEM capability for every vehicle into an aftermarket scan tool, let alone keep it up to date. Even if it were possible, it is cost-prohibitive.  Therefore, functional completeness vs. market niche tradeoff decisions are made by aftermarket toolmakers to limit what is included in a scan tool."

"As scan tool users, technicians need information that is easy to get to," notes Donny Seyfer, operations manager and co-owner of Seyfer Automotive Inc. He also co-chairs (together with ETI's Greg Potter) the National Automotive Service Task Force Tool and Equipment Committee. "We also need to know what functionality we are buying and what we are not, so that our expectations and selection of a certain tool are realistic."

Individuals and organizations have an almost innate tendency to see things from their own perspective, complete with biases, prejudices, experiences and past practices. This entrenched inertia influences how we see problems or the solutions we want for them. It can also be the biggest obstacle to realizing meaningful change.

Getting an automaker to put their culture aside to employ more direct communication, allow the right people to talk to the right people and seek the input of end users is significant. But being able to cut through corporate red tape and entrenched practices under time pressure demonstrates change that has meaning for all involved - those developing a diagnostic platform through to those using the new platform to service vehicles.

The MAHLE experiences shared by Bolt shows that existing paradigms can be challenged to evolve and be relevant over time. It also suggests the existing OEM-aftermarket paradigm is on the cusp of change that recognizes we are partners, not adversaries. That is shift in the making that could benefit us all.


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