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Cracking the Service Code
Companies are using QR codes for more than just marketing.
By Lauren Heartsill Dowdle
Initially used by the automotive industry to track vehicle parts, quick response (QR) codes can now be seen everywhere from magazines to store signs. When scanned, these 2-D barcode patterns take smartphone users with the proper app (see sidebar below) to websites and videos.
While many manufacturers are using these codes to share product releases and videos, others are going beyond marketing and applying them to their actual equipment to provide service information.
“An end-user in the field wondering how to best use or maintain equipment probably doesn’t have ready access to a product manual or computer,” says Dennis Von Ruden, president of General Equipment, manufacturer of hole-digging, ventilation and surface preparation equipment. “But they all likely have a cellphone handy.
“QR codes allow us to put so much information right at a customer’s fingertips.”
“Using QR codes is just the next logical progression,” Ruden says. “QR codes allow us to put so much information right at a customer’s fingertips.” General Equipment’s QRs direct users to product-specific websites, including the operator’s manual, parts list and literature.
Companies such as Air Burners, a manufacturer of air curtain incineration systems, have also realized the potential of using the codes as customer service tools. “It’s not unusual for DOT (Department of Transportation) or environmental workers to be on the jobsite asking to see a manual,” says Brian O’Connor, president of Air Burners. “Now, contractors can scan the code and see the manuals – instead of trying to search for them.”
Depending on their connection speed, users can download Air Burners’ 40-page manual in a few seconds for its Fire Box and Road Dryer machines. For older equipment, customers can log on to the company’s website (airburners.com) and request free self-stick QR code decals for their particular models.
Welding equipment manufacturer Lincoln Electric includes Microsoft Tag barcodes (a variance on the QR code) on some of their products’ nameplates. The codes allow customers to pull up operational help tips, instruction manuals, company contact information and product-related articles. The company hopes to eventually implement these tags across all product lines.
Briggs & Stratton Commercial Power added Power Code QR codes to their Vanguard single-cylinder and V-twin engines that, when scanned, direct users to information for the specific engine model. For in-field troubleshooting, contractors can use the codes to find FAQs, owner’s manuals, recommended maintenance instructions/schedules and parts lists. (The codes provide information in English and Spanish.)
If the problem requires dealer support, Briggs & Stratton’s QR codes can also locate a local dealer for nearby service. “With the recession, equipment users are often traveling farther to find projects to stay profitable,” says Dan Roche, marketing manager for Briggs & Stratton Commercial Power. “These companies can be vulnerable to costly delays and rework if they need parts or service when they’re far away from their dealer.” For more support, an 800 number is also listed and linked to the QR site.
Briggs & Stratton’s OEM clients also appreciate the codes, Roche says. “They understand contractors live on the road and are becoming increasingly active users of mobile assets and resources.”
In the future, Briggs & Stratton plans to offer QR codes for consumer engines that provide startup instructions, maintenance schedules and safety guidelines.
How to start scanning
To scan a QR code or Microsoft Tag barcode, first visit the Apple iTunes App Store, Android Market or Blackberry App World on your phone. Search “QR code scanner” or type “gettag.mobi” in your browser and pick an app to download (many are free). After the app is on your phone, open it and click the “scan” button, which will activate the camera. Center the code, and the app will scan it and open the website.
Bandit and Subaru Power Products are two manufacturers adding QR codes and similar “smart tags” to their literature, providing machine operation YouTube videos and equipment specs. “It seem like just about everyone has either a smartphone or a tablet PC,” says Kim Hasenbank, marketing director of Bandit. “By using the QR codes, we can connect people straight to websites or videos.”