Although it may sound like it, the word has nothing to do with a ``shop-'til-you-drop'' philosophy.
The long-awaited automotive industry-wide computer standards-dubbed iSHOP-that allow seamless communication among PC-based equipment in auto service shops has been tested, twisted and tweaked for more than a year. Now, after successful trial runs, it's set to debut at the upcoming Automotive Aftermarket Industry Week (AAIW) trade shows, scheduled to be held Oct. 30-Nov. 2 in Las Vegas.
And it's a safe bet that shops choosing to not adopt the standard will, in the long run, not reap the benefits of increased productivity that those jumping on the iSHOP bandwagon are hoping to enjoy. At least that's what the system's proponents are promising, and they happen to be some of the industry's biggest equipment and software heavyweights.
`Passport' to the future?
``We've had an exciting past year'' said Scott Luckett, senior director of information technology for the Bethesda-based Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA), which grabbed the proverbial bull by the horns when faced with a dilemma.
``Our mission is to serve, protect and expand our members' needs,'' Mr. Luckett said of the association's membership, which includes manufacturers, distributors and sellers of motor vehicle parts, accessories, tools, equipment, materials and supplies for the automotive aftermarket, as well as service shop operators.
But up until the AAIA stepped in as a sort of referee, a number of its member companies were going at cross purposes by developing several sets of standards that accomplished the goal of computer connectivity yet were overshadowed by compatibility problems.
For instance, one group of companies, calling itself the Enterprise Alliance-some of the industry's biggest automotive equipment names-devised so-called ``Passport Standards'' to allow every piece of equipment in a shop to talk with each other. Snap-on Corp. headed another group that developed a different set of standards.
So the AAIA pulled both groups together under its tent and got them to agree to work together toward a single standard. Consequently, iSHOP Version 1.0 was published July 30. It is, in essence, the protocol allowing communication among different Microsoft Windows-based shop computer systems, software and equipment manufactured by different firms.
The process was completed after about 16 months of technical meetings involving representatives from a number of companies-including Snap-on's family of firms such as Mitchell Repair (now called Mitchell 1), Sun, John Bean and Snap-on Diagnostics.
They ``shared their expertise to arrive at a solution for the betterment of everyone,'' Mr. Luckett said.
Today's well-equipped service shop, he said, may have several computer systems: one to manage the business; an electronic catalog and labor estimating system; a service and repair information system; and one or more PC-based repair and diagnostic machines in the back shop. Until iSHOP came along, the chances were not good that all those machines would be able to communicate with each other.
This first version of iSHOP addresses that connectivity problem. ``We wanted the back shop equipment that have PCs to be able to talk to all the other computers in a shop, so when you put two together under one roof and run a cable between them, you've got an iSHOP network,'' Mr. Luckett explained.
That network can be as simple as an alignment machine in a service bay talking to an estimating work order system in the front shop, he added, or a fully-enabled Local Area Network (LAN) with any number of devices on it. There is no limit to the number of PC work stations that can be interconnected through iSHOP.
``The whole point is, we're trying to increase and impact technician productivity,'' Mr. Luckett said. The goal: Eliminate the so-called ``walk of death,'' where a tech must leave the service bay to access information on one or more computers in other parts of the shop.
Technicians spend approximately 25 minutes of each hour actually ``turning wrenches,'' Mr. Luckett said, citing a study of Volkswagen A.G.'s European dealership service centers conducted for the company by Robert Bosch GmbH.
``We want to spin the bays faster by putting the information captured in one or more of these machines at the tech's fingertips,'' he said, ``regardless of where he's standing at the time.'' That means data from a work order or alignment or tune-up specifications are all easily accessible from one work station.
Since the July release, the association's charter iSHOP participants-about a dozen or so-have been actively engaged in building the standard's capability into several new products. They plan to demonstrate working versions at the upcoming AAIW shows in Las Vegas. At Booth 3067 during the AAPEX show in the Sands Expo Center, commercially available products- some new software as well as retrofits to existing products-will be demonstrated from companies including Snap-on, Sun, Hunter Engineering, SPX Corp., Alldata Corp.,, Vetronix Corp. and Mitchell.
``To say there haven't been challenges wouldn't be true,'' Mr. Luckett said. ``But everyone entered the process understanding what was at stake.''
And the technical arena these days is full of examples of collaboration between competitors. He referred to Covisint, a project-headed by Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp., General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler A.G.-to devise standards so that a common technology can be used for suppliers to communicate with car makers. According to a report in Automotive News, Covisint has emerged as the industry's dominant online trade exchange for the OE market.
As it worked on iSHOP, the AAIA ``installed the necessary agreements to allow the process to go forward'' among its 2,300 member companies, Mr. Luckett said, since ``there's a lot of intellectual property flying around during these meetings. From the beginning, everyone recognized and agreed that they were contributing that intellectual property to iSHOP standards for the benefit of the entire industry.''
After participating companies evaluated the costs of using two or several different competing standards, in essence they decided it was economically more sound to wage peace.