LINCOLNSHIRE, IL —
Every other week, aftermarketNews.com offers an interview with a high-profile individual in the automotive aftermarket. We give executives free rein to express their views on anything from the state of their corporations to recent legislative news to future trends in their niche markets. Here you see what matters to the newsmakers themselves.
Our latest edition of “Executive Interview” features Tom Ward, president of Snap-on Diagnostics, a global business focused on improving technician and workshop productivity around the world. As president, he is responsible for all global diagnostics operations including product strategy and management, engineering, sales and marketing, manufacturing and training, in support of a wide variety of diagnostics products and services.
Ward’s career has been focused on the automotive service industry with Tom holding increasingly responsible positions at both OEM and aftermarket companies. Throughout his career, he has been directly involved with the many significant technology changes and trends that have affected the industry, including the proliferation of on-board computer systems, the transition to electronic information systems and shop connectivity. Since joining Snap-on in 1996 he has held several senior positions including vice president, national accounts and vice president/general manager, North American diagnostics.
He currently serves on the Board of Directors for Mitchell 1 and the Steering Committee for AAIA iShop standards.
Join us as Ward gives us an inside look at Snap-on Diagnostics, including information on some recently launched products. Ward also talks about the trends and challenges in automotive diagnostics and repair and how the division works to address these issues.
Please give our readers some background on your professional experience in the automotive aftermarket, as well as with Snap-on.
I started out in the industry while working my way through college as an automotive technician at a dealership. After college I ended up in the aftermarket and spent the last 25 years with some of the industry’s leading businesses including Sun, Alldata and now Snap-on. I’ve been involved with everything from sales and marketing to engineering and product development. Currently, I lead the global diagnostics business for Snap-on.
Surely, your extensive experience in the automotive industry has provided you with an interesting perspective on the increasing OE service dealer market that the aftermarket is currently competing against.
Our focus is to determine how we can fit in on both sides and grow our business in both segments.
We’re a very flexible company that offers a variety of products and services. We have a lot of business transacted outside of what people might consider “traditional” for Snap-on. Through the late 1990s Snap-on made a significant number of acquisitions that doubled the size of the company. In addition to being a large professional tool company, Snap-on is a leading developer and seller of shop management systems for automotive repair shops throughout North America.
We have capabilities that run the gamut, from advanced telematics and diagnostics to lifts, equipment, and tire changers. Snap-on offers its portfolio of products through the traditional Snap-on channel and also facilitates accounts for companies including Ford and Toyota.
Can you briefly explain how Snap-on Diagnostics fits into the organization?
Snap-on Diagnostics is a division within Snap-on and the largest part of the company’s Diagnostics and Information group, which does about $350 million worth of business per year.
We’re responsible for developing, manufacturing, marketing and selling diagnostic products through a variety of Snap-on and private-label brands. We use the Snap-on, Sun and Nexiq brands on a global basis.
How big is the division – both in terms of people and products?
We have more than 1,000 employees at Snap-on Diagnostics. One of the most critical professions within that group is engineering. We have engineers based in Detroit, Lincolnshire, Ill., San Jose, Calif., as well as Cork, Ireland, Amsterdam, Tokyo and Beijing. We have hundreds of engineers located all over the world.
Our business has evolved through the years to become much more application-focused and more data-driven, in terms of vehicle communication. Helping technicians interpret information from the vehicle is just as critical as helping them make repairs.
It sounds like the Diagnostics Division is really focusing on the increasing complexity of vehicles today.
Absolutely, when you look at the heritage of our business, Snap-on Diagnostics is really a combination of a number of companies that Snap-on acquired. Companies including Sun, CAS, Edge, Balco and Nexiq have added tremendous resources to our offering. Through our acquisitions, we’ve brought together the best minds in terms of strategy and creativity to determine immediate and longer-term market needs.
In the coming years, mid-range vehicles will incorporate more than 50 computerized control units. With the requirement for Controller Area Networks on all vehicles by 2008, there will soon be a vast amount of data running through vehicle networks at a megabit per second. The challenge and opportunity is that everything from a dome light bulb to a starter issue is in some way connected to the vehicle network. With the massive amount of information available, our objective is to help technicians sort through “data pollution” to focus on a particular area and symptom that they are chasing and find information that matters.
Being educated in and properly equipped for vehicle diagnostic work is an issue for many technicians today. Why is this such a problem, and what is Snap-on Diagnostics doing to address it?
Due to the number of systems and amount of data, we’ve observed that traditional methods of training technicians are in some ways ineffective. Our applications are focused on objectives that include presenting in-depth layers of information based upon what the technician needs the most. For example, if I’m a technician looking for a particular sensor, I need to know the exact location of the sensor, how it operates, the correct signal coming off of the sensor and where to hook up in order to conduct tests.
To send someone to a training class to understand this type of sequence is futile. By the time a technician runs into the problem, they will have forgotten the classroom training. Our challenge is to provide expertise and information together, so that when there’s a particular problem, technicians can drill down to find exactly what they need, when they need it the most.
We have certified technicians who regularly gather and present findings that include most-common repairs, problem areas, shortcuts and effective test procedures. We then verify and incorporate that information into databases that today have in excess of 50,000 specific tips for particular symptoms and vehicles. What we’re trying to provide is a layer of information and real-world expertise in addition to the data that’s coming off of the vehicle.
The company recently unveiled a number of new diagnostic products. Briefly tell us about these.
Snap-on and Snap-on Diagnostics made a very conscious decision not to follow the strategies that virtually all of our competitors (and on some level the whole computer industry) have employed: discontinuing a product when faced with technical challenges and introducing a new one that customers must buy.
We recently released the latest software bundle for our Modular Diagnostic Information System (MODIS). This software bundle dramatically expands the number of new models and vehicle coverage in the system. There are also hardware changes that configure within the system that allow the tool to communicate at a much faster rate, continuing faster vehicle communication protocols. What we’re really doing is updating and enhancing the software and making sure that the hardware platforms, in this case it’s a Windows CE-based platform, allow us to follow the technology curves.
We also just launched a revolutionary way of updating our MT-2500 Scanner. The Snap-on Scanner is really the standard within the automotive aftermarket. We have more scan tools in the marketplace than any of our competitors. This product has been in the marketplace for 15 years and is a mainstay, most-trusted tool for many technicians. We’ve just introduced a new way of updating our software to allow our customers to be able to deal with modern vehicle communication challenges such as controller area networks, and also have their products updated directly on the Snap-on dealer truck. The process provides our most current software updates faster to the marketplace, while allowing the Snap-on dealer to serve customers better.
Additionally, we challenged ourselves to look past our assumptions about what a new scan tool might look like, what the functionality might be, the features, the price points, etc. We went out and conducted extensive research directly with customers and end-users that led us to a new product that we just recently introduced called SOLUS. SOLUS is a new paradigm in terms of our on-board diagnostic products. The new scan tool has an incredibly large, brilliant display that is even more visible outside – to address customer issues with readability at certain times of day. It runs a standard ARM processor and Windows-CE architecture, which gives us great reliability together with more functionality. The tool is ergonomically designed for a better feel than previous products and is also lighter. SOLUS can also be updated directly on the Snap-on Dealer’s truck. So when a customer needs an update, his Snap-on Dealer can provide immediate applications when they’re needed most.
We have also extended product coverage all the way back to 1980. Most of the competitive products in the marketplace, on a fairly consistent basis, discontinue a product or stop covering vehicles at a certain point. Snap-on has not dropped any coverage. All of the vehicle information and communication protocols are contained on compact flash, so the ability to update the product has never been quicker or easier, and there’s no swapping of cartridges in and out of the product.
With all this research you’ve done, do you have any thoughts on the future of the diagnostics market? Do you foresee vehicles and their diagnostic tools becoming more complex than they are now, or more streamlined?
In order for technicians to continue to effectively pinpoint and fix problems on newer vehicles, the application layer of diagnostics will have to continue to become simpler, easier to use, more intuitive and helpful. Just providing a technician with tremendous amounts of data will not be enough to repair vehicles in a timely, productive and efficient way.
What are the biggest challenges your sector of the aftermarket faces today?
Some of the biggest challenges include the continuing acceleration of vehicle technology and access to the information and communication within the vehicle.
As I mentioned, we have hundreds of engineers around the world. Our goal is to remain one step ahead of changing technology. We continue to lead, for example, by understanding the implications of telematics and remote diagnostics along with how they affect the marketplace now and in the future. We also make certain that the applications and products developed continue to help our customer’s businesses grow in a profitable way. So, while advancing technology and access to data are challenges, they are also our biggest opportunities.
Does Snap-on have a stance on the Right to Repair issue?
Snap-on’s interest–as reflected in our mission statement–is to provide productivity-enhancing products, services and solutions to all professional tool and equipment users.
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