Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2014   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Scan Tools

Scan tool makers are taking a page from the ubiquity and ease-of-use of today's smart phones

Take a moment and think about how smart phone technology has changed how you work and interact with the world around you. Today’s smart phones access a wide range of tools, applications and databases, and provide instant communication and access to the web. They are so easy to use that children can master a smart phone in a few minutes, much to the astonishment of parents.

At last year’s AAPEX/SEMA show, scan tool makers demonstrated new scan tools that took notice of the ubiquity and ease-of-use of today’s smart phones and look to give technicians that same experience and functionality on shop scan tools.

Ed Lipscomb, Bosch Automotive Service Solutions senior product manager of diagnostic systems, demonstrated OTC’s next-generation scan tool, Encore, that operates on the popular Android OS developed by Google.

“The OTC interfaces are designed similar to mobile devices with few if any layers to drill through,” Lipscomb says. Encore comes standard with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and full scan functionality covering OEM domestic, Asian and European vehicles. The interface is made to be navigated in the same fashion as one navigates a smart phone, so there is no learning curve or having to drill through multiple menus to reach diagnostic or repair information.

“It is simple and fast,” Lipscomb adds. “Encore and Genisys Touch use the AutoDetect feature which automatically detects and alerts the technician of on-tool or web-based repair information. The feature displays the number of potential fixes found, categorized by most likely to fix, to help make repairs faster.

“Android being designed for a mobile platform is much faster than Windows-based scan tools,” Lipscomb continues. “The system boots up faster and operates with much less overhead than a traditional scan tool. Android is also a platform with which technicians are already familiar. With it being a dedicated mobile platform, it also provides quick Internet connectivity, putting technician networks and web resources easily accessible in one tool.”

Ross-Tech, a provider of diagnostics solutions for VW and Audi vehicles, took the opportunity at AAPEX/SEMA to showcase HEX-NET, a hardware interface that plug into a car’s standard J1962 OBD II port. Once connected, HEX-NET allows a wireless device or smart phone to diagnose the vehicle over a standard Wi-Fi connection.

Bruce Ruhf, director of operations and marketing manager with Ross-Tech says the advantage is that any smart device or phone can then become a vehicle diagnostic tool. Enthusiasts and technicians showed a great interest in HEX-NET during AAPEX/SEMA where it was demonstrated on the show floor using an interested person’s own smart phone, regardless if the phone was Windows- or Android-based, or an iPhone. The person would simply use their phone to scan for the HEX-NET device as a wireless access point. It is the same as looking for the wireless hotspot while sitting in one’s favourite coffee shop.

“The move to this kind of device, one that is truly platform independent, was driven at first by our enthusiast customers,” Ruhf says. “Like most people, enthusiasts carry smart phones and they wanted to be able to pull that smart phone out of one’s pocket to check why the ‘Check Engine’ light went on. That was the driving force. Who in this world no longer has access to a smart phone or computing device with wireless access as a standard feature?”

Ruhf says that once the smart phone or device connects to the HEX-NET access point, it will automatically connect to Ross-Tech’s popular VCDS Mobile interface and diagnostic software and automatically start to generate vehicle diagnostic information on the device’s web browser. Another advantage of HEX-NET is that more advanced diagnostic functionality can now reside on the Cloud. This allows Ross-Tech to roll out updated diagnostic tools and information faster and more securely to technicians.

This move to platform independence has several advantages to shops and its staff for generating repeat business.

“Imagine a vehicle owner with [HEX-NET] and they pull the diagnostic data from the device onto their smart device,” Ruhf continues. “They can then send that information immediately to the service facility and have a technician review the information and from that information propose a fix to the vehicle owner, book the needed appointment and order the needed parts and have them at-the-ready when the vehicle comes in. Remote diagnostics is where technology is pushing service operations.”

Mike Fitzgerald, vice-president, sales and marketing with Innova Electronics Corp. says that the scan tool market still segments itself between high-end devices and more entry-level devices that offer narrower sets of diagnostic information to a technician.

The decision on which tools to purchase is not one that is to be made on feature set alone.

“Your shop and technician needs will dictate the features you will need,” Fitzgerald says. “But the needs [of the shop and the technicians], over time will change as vehicles become more complex. Because of this increasing vehicle complexity, shop owners have to understand what their business model is, what kinds of work they need to do and what kinds of work they wish to do . . . and matching the features of the scan tool to that business model.”

Innova’s Pro CarScan series of tools are made to solve OBD I (81-95) & OBD II (96 and newer) check engine, anti-lock brake system (ABS) and airbag (SRS) problems, and come with a database of codes in English and French.

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