New tool helps techs increase their productivity Welcome to the 21 superscript st Century, General Motors Corp. dealerships. SPX Corp. and GM are implementing wireless technology, one of the hottest technological trends in the computer industry, into applications that can be used in the dealership.

The initial wireless application, already being offered to GM dealerships, is the Kent-Moore Electronic Service Manual (ESM), a device developed to save time in service departments.

The ESM features hand-held devices and a thin-client server, which operate on a wireless local area network (LAN) system. GM and SPX predict that the ESM will eliminate the downtime experienced by technicians as they attempt to find service and repair information they need in order to complete jobs. No longer will technicians lose valuable time waiting in line at a terminal or hunting for a service manual.

Technicians can use the wireless hand-held device, which looks like a miniature laptop computer, to immediately access almost any service information anywhere - under the hood, inside or under the vehicle. With the ESM, the information is at their fingertips.

Paul Barrington, driveability technician at Rinke Chevrolet in Warren, MI, loves the convenience of not having to "chase down a manual only to find that someone else is using it or has misplaced it."

"Technicians can save up to 15 minutes a vehicle with the ESM," estimates Mel Ahrens, service manager at Betten Chevrolet-Oldsmobile-Cadillac in Muskegon, MI. "Because technicians are paid according to the work they do, and not by the hour, they should love the ESM. It will help increase their output, and as a result, their pay," adds Mr. Ahrens. And, of course, increasing technician productivity adds to a dealership's overall profitability.

The ESM operates on a Windows-based system and should be relatively easy to master, says it designers. As an added convenience, if the technician prefers to see a paper copy, any desired information can be sent quickly from the hand-held device to any printer. The hand-held device also is very durable and will survive most drops up to four feet.

Service managers also will find the updating process to be a timesaver. Instead of having to download updated service information onto each SIS terminal separately, managers will have to update only the EMS server. While downloading information onto the server, the information is automatically and simultaneously downloaded onto each of the hand-held devices. Updated service information can be downloaded onto the server using either the monthly update CDs or by accessing the GM Access Network. With the current equipment, each SIS terminal has to be updated separately and the downloading process takes much longer.

Standard information on the ESM is comprehensive and includes:

- Complete service manuals for all GM vehicles from 1998 to the present;

- All engine and transmission information from 1996 to the present;

- All of the service bulletins dating from 1980 to the present.

GM and SPX currently are piloting the ESM at the Betten and Rinke dealerships. The ESM already is being offered as available equipment on the GM Dealer Equipment network. Plans are in place to present the ESM as essential equipment in late 2001 or early 2002. To maximize the time saving capabilities of the ESM, GM believes that having one hand-held device for every two to three technicians is important.

Listening to feedback from technicians at the two dealerships, SPX will offer two models of the hand-held device - one with an 8.4-inch screen, and one with a 10.4-inch screen, which is viewable from the outside. Internet access also is available to dealerships that already access the Internet using broadband technology.

Mark Palmer, senior research project manager at GM Service Operations, in a joint effort with SPX, designed the ESM, integrating existing wireless technology with off-the-shelf components. Using existing equipment and technology allowed for a quick development time - about 10 months. Mr. Palmer explains: "We wanted everything off the shelves, and putting it together in this manner is a fresh approach."

SPX believes that GM dealerships will view the ESM as a necessary tool. "With this product, we want to be the leader in content delivery and hardware solutions for the dealership," says Joe Damron, SPX's diagnostic product manager. "We want to drive the wireless industry."

The ESM is just the first step in the process of incorporating wireless technology throughout the entire dealership. Mr. Damron explains, "We're looking at this technology as a base infrastructure for the dealership of the future. We want to use this base to leverage other applications."

Some of the other applications envisioned by GM include repair order generation, sales, inventory, parts ordering and tracking of a vehicle's service history. Mr. Palmer says with the flexibility of this technology, the question is: "What do you want to do?"