Plastic Card Inspection: “New Technology For Global Service Delivery”; Cards Now Asia; July/August 2006

New Technology for Global Service Delivery
By Tom Kleeman, CEO, Spartanics

Asian card manufacturers probably know better than most that delays in getting service technicians from North America, Europe, or the other end of Asia available on-site are often untenable in today’s competitive business landscape. If a piece of card manufacturing equipment is a critical production tool, it MUST be in operation, and machine manufacturers’ services to ensure continued uptime figure large.

Spartanics has always been aware of this need, and has built its worldwide service organization accordingly. Our design standard for card punching equipment, for example, has always been to offer fully modular systems such that customers can have backup modules in reserve and/or rely on loaner modules that enable continued uptime during equipment servicing.

In the past few years, many of the single run inspection systems offered by Spartanics (Spartanics 930 Card Inspection System) have become critical production tools for card manufacturers across the globe, including Asia. Card manufacturers with a niche in secure IDs, for example, rely on these inspection systems to verify the integrity of numerous security features in IR or UV spectra as well as the visible spectrum, at full production speeds. The notion of replacing this automated inspection system with manual inspectors holding black lights is untenable, as even a large force of manual inspectors cannot realistically provide 100% inspection of both sides of cards at the rate of 600 cards/minute, especially if there are security features like bar codes or OCR patterns that must also be verified. Since the trend is to add layer upon layer of security features to ID cards, it becomes even more difficult for human inspectors to keep up with these automated inspection systems that can inspect any number of security features with absolutely no slowing of system throughput.

Even in more straightforward financial card applications, many users of Spartanics’ automated inspection systems consider them to be absolutely critical production tools whose speed and accuracy underlies competitive positions in the marketplace.

In light of these needs for 100% inspection at full production speed 100% of the time, one of Spartanics’ goals for this year has been to bring global service levels for the 930 Card Inspection Systems up to a new standard. If a card manufacturer builds a job schedule based on the assumption that these high throughput 100% accurate inspection systems are production tools, they need to know that the inspection systems will have continued uptime. Further, card manufacturers that handle a wide range of jobs with varying defect potentials should have access to service assistance that can help with job setups when needed. This is a standard of service whether a company is in China, Africa, or suburban Chicago near the Spartanics world headquarters.

Luckily, there are new technologies in our global marketplace that make real-time service for all Spartanics customers equally possible, whether they are across town or across the ocean. At the recent CTST 2006 meeting, Spartanics was able to introduce this new standard for service, the Spartanics “Get in Touch PC”, which we aptly nickname “the virtual service technician.”

The “Get-In-Touch” PC combines remote control software, VoIP phone, and a USB camera to facilitate real-time multi-modal remote diagnostics, training and assistance. Using the “Get-In-Touch” PC system, a remote Spartanics technician can log in to 930 System computers for assisted setup, service, or training. This Virtual Service Technician can also be used for file and job backups on 930 computers and software updates. Video conferencing and recording and digital camera capabilities are part of the system, such that customers can both demonstrate problems and see solutions in real time. VoIP phones provide audio conferencing, and the system has a built-in e-mail client such that emails and attachments can be sent directly via the “Get-In-Touch” computer. The “Get-In-Touch” PC system is in fact now bundled into all new 930 Card Inspection Systems, as long as the card manufacturer will provide a broadband Internet connection for the laptop computer that Spartanics provides equipped with the various software packages.

What does this mean in practice? One of the early adopters of the new “Get-In-Touch” PC option was a card manufacturer in Australia, which in fact, now uses this virtual service technician all the time. Using the VOIP phone on the “Get-In-Touch” laptop, they call a service technician to discuss a particular job set up. The technician on our end then takes over the control of their 930 Card Inspection System software and makes whatever adjustments are needed to come up with a custom programming solution while talking on the telephone. Through using the system’s built-in video cameraability to observe the actual video from the computer on the remote 930 System, the technician on our end is able to see the card image being inspected and give detailed instructions on how to adjust for better inspection of a particular defect that is being targeted. There are now “Get-In-Touch” systems in Europe, other parts of the United States, and interestingly, also at a card manufacturing plant that is relatively just down the road from the Spartanics headquarters. This system saves considerable time for all involved and brings real-time service solutions to all Spartanics 930 customers that are outfitted with “Get-In-Touch” PC systems.

While this technology is a potential boon to card manufacturers anywhere, we expect it to be especially useful to card manufacturing facilities located in remote areas where travel is especially time consuming. Since its introduction only a few months ago, Spartanics’ “Get-in-Touch” PC has become even more valuable in our age of rising fuel prices that are driving airfares significantly higher. The ‘virtual service technician’ technology not only makes service in real-time doable, but markedly more affordable. Consider the cost of the “Get-In-Touch” PC to our customers – ZERO—compared to the US $2,000 – $3,000 that might be involved in getting a service technician on a plane and in a hotel. Consider also the time and money saved by moving service to real-time.

In the past, it had been interesting to learn that users of the Spartanics 930 Card Inspection System were actively demonstrating their inspection technology during competitive bid situations, and doing so with great success. Because this inspection technology enables a 100% guarantee on card quality, it took discussions of quality control to a new level. Now, with the added virtual service technician capabilities of the “Get-In-Touch” PCs bundled into all new 930 systems, we anticipate this phenomena soon extending to include demonstration of uptime backup assistance from the Spartanics world headquarters.

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Tom Kleeman is CEO of Spartanics, which engineers and manufactures a range of automated equipment for punching, counting, and inspection used by global card manufacturers.

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