TCS, Hunter collaborate on alignment integration system
LAS VEGAS — One of the large tire shop discounters made an intriguing proposal to two well-known companies in the industry: Why not develop a paperless integration between point of sale (POS) and an alignment machine?
Or, more specifically, why doesn't shop equipment giant Hunter Engineering Co. collaborate with automotive and tire software developer TCS Technologies Inc. to create a seamless integration between POS and Hunter's HawkEye Elite systems alignment machines?
Some two years later, the suggestion has manifested into a new product — unveiled for dealers at the recent Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) Show in Las Vegas — that uses TCS' TireWorks HD software to integrate alignment results with work orders and customers' records automatically via a Hunter alignment machine.
According to Alan Hagerty, Hunter product manager, the software is built into the alignment machine, so all a shop needs is the appropriate Hunter alignment machine and software (Hunter WinAlign 14.4 software or newer is required, along with an Internet connection) for the integration to work.
Service providers can access alignment results from anywhere, allowing shops with multiple locations to access records quickly, eliminating the need to call other shops or sift through past maintenance records.
"This is an industry first, two-way integration between Hunter alignment equipment and points of sale management software," said Jefferson Carpenter, director, software sales for TCS. "And neither side charges anything for integration itself to set it up or support it."
Here's how the system works: the service technician creates a work order and sends it to the aligner. The tech receives the work order data on a wheel aligner and can begin the alignment.
Once the alignment is performed, the results are sent back to the service desk, attached to the work order and stored automatically.
"Once the adjustments are set, and as soon as (the technicians) select 'save,' everything is immediately transferred to our platform," said Jeffrey Cessna, software sales manager for TCS. "It shows you a before-and-after result from the alignment, and that work order is sent to the database."
The software also offers an optional live feed feature that allows customers to see their service and alignment history online.
"We see this as way to continue to eliminate paperwork, automate the shop, create a better flow between the front counter and the back shop," Mr. Carpenter said, "without having to yell back and exchange hard copies."
Most shops print alignment orders, put them in a bag and deliver them to the tech, he said.
Once the work is done, the information is "either printed and put back in that bag, taken to the front counter, lost in the glove box for a year, or they would have to access the same machine where the alignment was performed to be able to see historical alignment specs before and after," Mr. Carpenter said.
Once the alignment is complete, the Hunter/TCS integration relays the before-and-after specs to the shop, and the specs are stored historically with the invoice. Those results can be emailed to a customer, and Mr. Carpenter said, "(Shops) can reference and pull up those alignment details at any point in time."
"This helps customers, helps the service location, and at the end of the day ... the more we can make it easy to integrate into the system and make it easy, the better everyone is," said Brian Rhode, TCS product development manager.
"We want to make it as quick and easy for counter personnel to use as possible because they don't have time. The customers don't have time," Mr. Cessna said. "Everybody is go, go, go."
Cookeville, Tenn.-based TCS is a subsidiary of ARI Network Services Inc., a developer of software tools and marketing services to help dealers, equipment manufacturers and distributors in selected vertical markets.
Mr. Hagerty said the backbone of the integration is an industry standard called iShop, which he said was developed more than a decade ago "around the concept of connected devices, workshops communicating through a shop management system."
While he said the system generated excitement, it never gained traction in the marketplace.
"So we have taken that standard and brought it forward into practice now," Mr. Hagerty said. "The key has been around for some time, but nobody was able to put the two pieces together. So with the backing of a large mutual customer, and Hunter and TCS, we were able to use this standard that was well-defined and readily available to connect our system with theirs, and back and forth.
"Think of it almost as a language — so we agreed to speak French."
Working with a well-known company as Hunter for the first time has been a boon for TCS. In fact, the software developer has plans for more collaboration with Bridgeton, Mo.-based Hunter.
"They're pretty much the gold standard in equipment," Mr. Carpenter said. "To be able to put our logo and name next to theirs, we're proud of that. Everyone is eager to continue the relationship.
"Getting more customers using the integration and more customers using our software product and ultimately using more Hunter equipment makes it a no brainer for both sides."
Mr. Carpenter said TCS is working with Hunter on enhancing a digital inspection program, "with a goal to create a better experience for the consumer at the car."
The goal, according to Mr. Hagerty, is to produce technologically advanced products for the industry.
"Our industry tends to lag a bit behind other industries as far as technology is concerned," he said. "... We proactively set the bar and set the standard that consumers are going to expect."
Customers should visit hunter.com to determine whether their Hunter alignment machine can be updated in order to use the integration system.
For more information about Tireworks HD software, visit tcstire.com to learn more about the integration.
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