Scanning the future with advanced services helps boost competitiveness of Midlands SME

Bromsgrove-based Central Scanning is working with academics from Aston Business School to develop a new rental model making it easier for clients to exploit 3D scanning technology. The company enrolled on the school’s Advanced Services Group SME Partnership Programme to access free expertise and is adapting its business model to look beyond one-off sales and drive value from advanced services. Shifting the focus to equipment use rather than ownership helps customers access scanners they could not otherwise afford. At the same time, the model encompasses the principles of the circular economy and puts sustainability at the heart of Central Scanning’s operation.

Central Scanning was established in 2006 and has gained a reputation for its 3D scanning capabilities. It is a successful reseller of ZEISS Optotechnik and Artec3D and an authorised partner of 3D Systems. Over the years, Central Scanning has recognised the need to complement equipment sales with additional customer offers. The company has scanned a wide variety of objects from teeth to complete cars and right up to buildings and monuments. The business assists customers using a range of scanning, digitisation, reverse engineering and inspection services.

These services are all carried out by experienced engineers in the company’s temperature-controlled lab. As customers become more demanding, Central Scanning is aware of the need to expand its offer to make 3D capabilities more accessible to clients and open up new revenue streams.

In 2018, Central Scanning Managing Director Nick Godfrey was put in touch with Aston Business School to explore how he might expand on the company’s service portfolio. The Advanced Services Group’s SME Partnership programme offers support in the transition to advanced services. Part funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the programme helps businesses trading in the Black Country, Birmingham and Solihull LEP regions to boost competitiveness by embracing servitization, which involves the transformation of business models to enable companies across a range of sectors to compete through advanced services.

Nick explains: “Before embarking on the programme I had no idea what the word servitization meant. Talking to the experts at Aston opened my eyes to the need to address the issues that customers were facing and the challenges they needed to overcome. Businesses don’t always want the capital outlay of buying thousands of pounds worth of equipment but need to have access to a range of different machines in order to complete projects. Aston made me realise that we’d been missing an opportunity to fill a gap in the market.”

Aston academics assisted Central Scanning in drawing up plans for a scanner rental service. Customers can access scanning equipment as and when required without committing to a large capital outlay. By agreeing to monthly payments, they earn credits to be spent on daily or monthly rentals. That payment system helps with customer cashflow and overcomes issues around budget allocation.

“It also means that they are in a position to take on more complex projects”, says Nick. “We have an archaeology client who wasn’t being considered for certain types of work because they didn’t have the right equipment. Thanks to our credit system, they can tender for projects safe in the knowledge that they can rent scanners whenever they need them and for as long as they are needed.”

Developing advanced services such as these also help strengthen customer relationships. Rather than engaging on the basis of a one-time transaction, businesses embracing servitization can provide a one-stop-stop and by incentivising loyalty, succeed in taking the relationship to a new level.

Paying for services by the hour and having access to rental models is something that is also becoming increasingly popular as businesses look to reduce their carbon footprint. The ability to reuse and recycle equipment sits at the heart of the circular economy and brings environmental as well as economic benefits.

As the Midlands region pushes towards its Net Zero 2040 targets, businesses such as Central Scanning have a key role to play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Renting equipment helps break the linear take-make-dispose model which is a key contributor to climate change. By providing an alternative way of accessing equipment, businesses can not only support sustainability but gain a competitive edge. According to the World Economic Forum, the circular economy could yield up to $4.5 trillion in economic benefits to 2030.

Central Scanning is looking to exploit those new business opportunities and is working with Aston to continue on its journey to servitization. It plans to open a dedicated room on site where customers can pay by the hour to use Central Scanning equipment. For an additional fee they will get support from an experienced engineer.

Nick says: “Developing advanced services has been very well received and definitely gives us a competitive edge. As business leaders, we are all so busy in our day-to-day work that we don’t always recognise the challenges customers face and that by offering services we’re in a position to address them. I’d definitely recommend other SMEs join the programme and use it to drive their business forward.”

Since 2012, Aston Business School has supported over 200 companies like Central Scanning servitize their operation through academic engagement, business model innovation and the adoption of new technology. Financial data from participating companies indicates that shifting to a servitized model led to combined growth of £30 million.