Before the customer has even detected an issue with their heat pump, the technician has rectified it. This dream is now a reality thanks to the “smart-guard” solution from Meier Tobler. The IoT-based system for remote maintenance and control offers numerous advantages for service providers and customers alike.
Text: Andreas Heer, Image: Boris Baldinger,
Heat pumps are the latest trend. And Meier Tobler is taking full advantage. About 1,800 customers already use “smart-guard” – an IoT system for remote maintenance and control of heat pumps. The service has been on the market since 2017, following a successful test phase with Swisscom as the technology provider. With smart-guard technology, a remote diagnostician can access operating data for the heat pump from their workstation, enabling them to detect faults at an early stage. They can also regulate operation and even reduce output while the resident is away from their home. The solution includes sensors and a heat pump control system, with communication via the Swisscom mobile network.
The smart-guard box in the heat pump communicates with the Swisscom mobile network via an external antenna.
“As part of the energy transition, heat pumps are definitely a growth market,” confirms Lukas Amrein, Head of Service at Meier Tobler. The move away from fossil fuels and the promotion of heat pumps contribute significantly to this trend. In new buildings and renovations, heat pumps are usually the standard system for heating and hot water. The competition in the market for heating technology is just as fierce, and smart-guard plays an important role at Meier Tobler as a modern service, as Amrein stresses: “We offer an all-inclusive package for service and maintenance that includes control and connectivity – smart-guard is our USP over competitors.”
For Lukas Amrein, smart-guard plays a central role in the booming market for heat pumps.
The IoT solution is also an important argument for customers, as remote maintenance lowers operating costs. “With smart-guard solutions, we have a higher proportion of service contracts than with conventional heat pumps,” says Amrein. “Plus, customer satisfaction is higher.”
Roberto Di Cerbo, long-standing remote diagnostician at Meier Tobler, knows the reason for customer satisfaction: “Smart-guard allows safe operation of heat pumps. We can also detect issues with other components, such as a pressure drop in the heating system. This allows us to call in the right specialist without the customer having to worry about the diagnosis.”
“Smart-guard gives us an important USP over our competitors.”
Lukas Amrein, Head of Service at Meier Tobler
Customers also benefit from direct access to one of the three remote diagnosticians in the event of any questions. This specialist makes a diagnosis based on the data available and does not have to make any assumptions. “Many customers are surprised when we phone to tell them about a problem they hadn't even noticed,” says Di Cerbo, with a grin. “In this way, smart-guard not only ensures security, but also inspires trust among customers.”
If the remote diagnostician is able to carry out diagnosis and control of the heat pumps from their workplace, fewer service technicians are required. Di Cerbo identifies a further advantage for Meier Tobler: “There is a shortage of skilled workers among the service technicians, and the boom is increasing the severity of this situation.” This means that although Meier Tobler is still searching for service technicians to cover the growth market of heat pumps, it is able use remote diagnostics as a kind of back-office service.
However, on-site help is still needed for tasks such as replacing defective components or for on-call services. This is one of the reasons why Amrein wants to merge the roles of service technician and remote diagnostician – or at least bring them closer together: “The on-call service becomes more attractive if the service technician can resolve certain problems from their workplace instead of having to go out every time.”
The development of smart-guard itself is also ongoing. Amrein is not showing all his cards just yet, but he revealed this: “We are working on a solution that will allow customers to observe the operation of the heat pump.”
Meier Tobler, a specialist in building services, was established in 2018 following the merger of Walter Meier and Tobler Haustechnik. Today, the company has about 1,300 full-time employees, of which about 700 work in the service organisation. With its head office in Nebikon (LU), the company enjoys a strong presence throughout Switzerland in various locations and markets. In 2019, Meier Tobler achieved revenue of almost CHF 500 million.
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