The Uptime Blog
Tags: MRO, aviation, aerospace, ATA, S1000D, PDF, Tablet, John Snow, aviation maintenance, InService MRO, iSpec2200
The 2012 ATA E-Business Forum was held in Phoenix this week and drew in almost 300 attendees consisting of airlines, OEMs/vendors, and technology providers. Phoenix was a great location with perfect weather and the topics being discussed—tablets, specs, 3D and RFID—were for the most part well-presented. The two most popular topics seemed to be: tablet opportunities in aviation maintenance; and the continuing conflict between S1000D and every other data spec.
Consistent with every aviation event this year there was a lot of talk about tablets. To listen to the technology providers, tablets represent a tidal wave of opportunity and airlines need to either buy their products to catch the ride of a lifetime or be lost under the crushing power of ridicule by being labeled old-fashioned.
Needless to say, talking to the airline attendees about the opportunity for tablets yielded a different story. Once you dig into the details you realize that each airline faces multiple potential issues/concerns including:
• IT support of multiple tablet brands (especially for BYOD)
• Security of airline and personal data that resides on the tablet
• Data synchronization and update schedules (revisions vary by content type)
• Digital signatures (most airlines aren’t yet authorized)
• Suspicion from maintenance unions (is this a ploy for more work with less pay/fewer mechanics)
According to the airline executives I spoke to, there’s a lot of interest in tablets but how soon they’ll be willing to implement is an open question.
Enigma delivered a presentation called “Tablets on the Tarmac – More Than Mobility” that introduced a benefit that’s been largely overlooked and offers significant ROI for maintenance executives.
The other hot topic was the slow-motion collision that’s unfolding between the S1000D standard and every other data standard used for aviation maintenance and operations. Most presentations were promoting S1000D and vendors were promising to convert an airline’s legacy SGML data into the latest version with low-cost and high accuracy. (Notably lacking was any discussion about converting PDF into usable XML.) In fact, one vendor tried to explain that they were “transforming” old data into new formats vs. “converting” old data into new formats. Despite this vendor’s best efforts, most in the audience were left asking, “You’re changing the data, which causes concerns about speed, quality and consistency, so who cares what you call it?”
Enigma also delivered a presentation called “When Standards Collide – A Unified MRO Process Across S1000D, iSpec2200 and PDF” that described challenges and offered solutions for working with multiple standards within a single MRO technical library. Many attendees claimed this presentation helped them understand why OEMs refuse to comply with standards and what airlines should do about it – STOP complaining about the lack of compliance and START owning the solution.
Based on attendee participation and detailed subject matter this was one of the better ATA E-Business Forums of the past several years. However, the ratio of airlines to vendors/suppliers is still somewhat disappointing. It may indicate that many airlines still don’t understand that controlling their data is critical to controlling their future. Since technical content is part of every MRO decision, and MRO is the second largest cost center in an airline, it’s time for airlines to get serious about managing the MRO technical library without relying on the OEMs.
Tags: MRO, Airbus, aviation, Boeing, technical documentation, ATA, S1000D, SAP, PDF, Tablet, Enigma, John Snow
Last week, the Danish Defense Forces sponsored SUGAIR 60 in Copenhagen, Denmark. The SAP Users Group for Airlines (SUGAIR) is a bi-annual conference for experts, executives and managers of MRO operations in the airline, aerospace and defense industries. Enigma was invited to describe the challenges associated with moving to the S1000D data standard and to discuss the opportunities for tablets in the hands of technicians. It was also an opportunity to update SUGAIR members on the SAP-Enigma integration strategy. (The deep integration with SAP has made Enigma the de-facto standard for delivery of technical information in SAP projects for A&D.) SUGAIR 60 had an impressive list of airlines and defense organizations in attendance and the feedback Enigma received was very positive.
SUGAIR attendees found the S1000D discussion very enlightening. The audience came to realize there is a lot of cost and effort required when implementing a functional S1000D environment; more than previously understood. Many of the “features” touted by S1000D vendors and consultants require custom implementation because OEMs (Boeing, Airbus, et al) have implemented the standard in different ways. (New standards often seem to make matters more complicated, as vendors try to establish or retain a perceived competitive advantage.) The attendee’s reaction reflects the concern expressed by airlines at last year’s Aviation Week MRO IT in Chicago. It turns out that because certain S1000D attributes are considered optional, or vary by OEM, most airlines and MROs won’t be able to reap the benefits of S1000D without a customized solution. However, Enigma did demonstrate some of the potential benefits of S1000D including:
- Fault isolation decision trees – dynamically generating the next information set based off the technician’s inputs, and recording the user’s path to feed a symptom/resolution knowledge base
- Truly interactive maintenance operations – where each maintenance step performed is passed back to the system of record
The next topic generated a huge amount of interest, which is the ability to make PDF data behave like XML...no conversion required. Enigma demonstrated the extraction of text fragments from PDF documents and the dynamic (on-the-fly) creation of job cards based on that PDF content. Furthermore, Enigma demonstrated the ability to link back and forth between XML and PDF documentation so that PDF functions essentially the same as XML. Given the amount of PDF that resides in aviation technical libraries (and the amount of PDF continues to grow) this capability helped many in the audience wake up to the opportunities to leverage existing data (without a complete data conversion initiative).
As in the past, the topic with the greatest “cool” factor was Enigma’s discussion and demonstration of a tablet-based solution. This is not a special tablet-only implementation of Enigma; it is standard InService® MRO using style sheets that have been tailored to the unique requirements and capabilities of a tablet device. The demo showed how single source access to the complete technical library can support routine maintenance as well as non-routine maintenance disposition and correction, and seamless, enhanced maintenance turnover events. By this point in the presentation, Enigma had run over the allotted time but the attendees readily offered more time to complete the demonstration/discussion.
For many attendees, the social highlight was a boat tour of the canals around Copenhagen, which was sponsored by Enigma. It was a great opportunity for members of SUGAIR to connect in an informal way, and for the many defense and airline organizations to get acquainted and compare notes.
Throughout the three-day event Enigma reinforced the strong bonds we've developed with many SUGAIR attendees, and we extend a heartfelt thank you to the members of SUGAIR and to the Danish Defense Forces for their gracious hospitality. Enigma believes that participating in SUGAIR 60 allowed us to help solve today’s (and tomorrow’s) aviation maintenance challenges, and from the feedback we received the airline, aerospace and defense attendees gained valuable insight for how to leverage SAP and partner technology to create success.
The 2010 ATA e-Business Forum, held a few weeks ago in Seattle, was a great success. Of course, being close to Boeing's facilities presented its own benefits. As my taxi passed their plant, just off Interstate 5, I got to see one of the 787 test planes taking off, and it was climbing out at a serious rate. (Watching airplanes do their thing never gets old for me.) The agenda for this event was well balanced, touching on a combination of S1000D, RFID, EFB and MRO topics. This was a well-executed conference, with over 250 attendees from 120 companies, including airlines, MRO shops, OEMs, consultants and technology providers.
The presenters were clearly interested in advocating emerging data standards, like S1000D, and the impact those standards would have on paperless maintenance and flight operations. And while many presentations focused on overcoming the challenges of implementing new data standards, only a few talked about the current maintenance and tech ops environment and how to improve the lives of mechanics today—rather than sometime in the future.
During the Enigma presentation, I shared some sobering numbers about the prevalence of PDF in airline maintenance and the challenges of getting PDF and XML to coexist in a way that helps mechanics' productivity. (Depending on the airline you talk to, 30-70% of OEM manuals are provided in PDF format.) This is a critical issue because for all the great ideas and good intentions around new data standards, without making the PDF content interactive most of those initiatives won't benefit airlines and MROs.
In the GE Aviation presentation, they highlighted the ability to publish full maintenance revisions of engine manuals in about 70 days, and incremental changes almost immediately. However, GE also stressed that a large number of airlines are 1-2 full revisions behind for implementing those new manuals. GE even admitted that at some airlines, engine manuals are as much as 12 months out of date.
GE's presentation could not have been timed better for Enigma. We followed GE and addressed the very topic they were discussing, which is the persistent challenge that airlines face trying to accelerate the implementation of OEM revisions and integrate tech pubs with ERP/MRO. This problem causes an airline's tech pubs and engineering planning systems to get out-of-sync, which results in discrepancies between how line and base maintenance is performed. GE had no answers to this problem, which is understandable because they simply publish maintenance revisions and let the airlines implement them. Enigma, on the other hand, does have answers because we work with airlines to make them more efficient and consistent.
For many attendees, this was the first time they learned that airlines can now implement a fully-integrated maintenance department that ties together tech pubs, engineering, maintenance planning, inventory, line and base maintenance. This is the key to faster maintenance, lower costs and improved compliance. Based on the large number of follow-up questions and comments, it is clear that airlines are having a difficult time managing all the different data formats and standards they are forced to support. Furthermore, it is clear that Boeing, Airbus and all the other manufacturers will continue to have different interpretations of the relevant specs and standards. It is also clear that the new standards are being phased-in by aircraft model and by type of manual, so existing aircraft will be waiting a long time for the new data formats. While this problem is not going away anytime soon, Enigma reduces the impact it has on the airlines' and MRO shops' business.
As the conference in Seattle came to a close, we were encouraged by the high level of customer interest in solving the challenges of airline maintenance. Having many airline customers, Enigma understands the importance of addressing the growing concerns—economic, regulatory, safety, productivity, quality, retirement, etc.—that have come to dominate today's aviation business strategy, and we can help you address them.
Attendance at this week's MRO Americas Conference and Exhibition seemed lighter than in past years. Representation from Europe, in particular, was clearly lacking. (Of course, a volcano in Iceland might have had something to do with that.) As a result, using this year's show as a barometer for the MRO market overall might not reveal the actual state of affairs.
Enigma was pleased to join Oracle's booth, where both companies had an opportunity to demonstrate key products for aviation maintenance like Enigma InService MRO, InService JCG and Revision Manager as well as the integration with Oracle cMRO and AutoVue. Oracle also invited Sean Tucker, world champion aerobatic pilot, to join the booth, sign autographs and talk airplanes and flying.
The conference included a number of presentations regarding the impact of globalization on maintenance operations. Coverage of these topics appears to reinforce the ongoing importance of fast access to accurate and relevant data—worldwide. The ATA also ran a couple sessions on airworthiness, regulatory compliance and the challenges for improving visibility of maintenance decisions throughout the MRO process, while also finding ways to control costs.
Despite the effects of Eyjafjallajokull (that's the name of the volcano), this year's MRO Americas Conference was a success. While we missed some of our European colleagues, we learned a lot from those who could attend, and MRO Americas continues to be the must-attend show for all things related to aviation MRO.
In my previous post (The New Flying Fortress) I suggested that the way Boeing and Airbus deliver technical data is unsuitable for modern day maintenance systems. This post describes how OEM data formats limit the airlines, forcing them to treat maintenance planning (ERP/MRO) and maintenance execution as separate worlds. The difference is like getting a vinyl record album when all you own is an iPod.
Part of the problem with OEM data is historic; the maintenance manuals for many older fleets were not created according to AMTOSS standards. But the main problem is that OEMs designed their systems as a standalone/closed environment.
How can you tell if a technical document is standalone (i.e. for reference only)?
PDF format — When OEMs deliver manuals in PDF, they're telling airlines they don't care about business productivity. PDF is of limited use for integration, automation or e-commerce. In fact, PDF is designed to behave, quite literally, like electronic paper.
- Scanned PDF displays text as a raster image, like a picture, so that a person can read it but a computer cannot. Optical character recognition (OCR) may convert the raster to computer text but conversion accuracy raises valid concerns for highly regulated industries like aviation and there is very little automation possible.
- Standard PDF allows cut/paste and search/extract of specific text strings, allowing some level of automation, but the result will be a customized solution that must be closely monitored and maintained.
For example: Most airlines receive Boeing MPD (maintenance planning document) in PDF format. However, they create this document using sophisticated tools and could easily publish it in a more usable format such as SGML, XML or MS-Excel spread sheets (like Airbus does).
Structure, layout and presentation — OEMs often design their technical content for printed paper, not for computer displays. Such an approach means that the maintenance information can be easily understood by mechanics but presents a greater challenge for computer systems. On paper it may look good, but a deeper look at the data reveals:
- Inconsistency with the ATA spec—yet it still prints properly
- Missing data tags—important information that isn't properly marked
- Fragmentation—related information marked as separate topics
OEM maintenance data that comes in PDF format or that has inconsistent design cannot be easily linked to the airline's ERP system. Without this integration, maintenance accuracy, efficiency and costs, will suffer.
As an example, inventory management and forecasting is critical to an airline. One of the most important features of ERP/MRO is the management of parts, tools, equipment and resources. In the ERP system airlines need to have: master configuration, parts list, alternative items and important part attributes such as position, symmetry, interchangeability, priority and serialization.
Having the illustrated parts catalog (IPC) as a paper document may be handy when standing next to the aircraft, but it doesn't help much when planning maintenance and inventory. What is really important is to know the correct parts beforehand and to understand which parts can be used in each location. In that sense, even if the OEM's IPC is delivered in SGML/XML (not PDF) it is still for reference only. Here are a few examples of the problem:
- Alternative item group (AIG)—Alternate parts can be inferred from the documentation, but it is not provided in the actual part data. Explicit references to alternate parts are sometimes included, other times they're only mentioned within the text, or they may only appear in the PNR (the part index section of the IPC).
- Interchangeability information—In this case Boeing claims to have adopted the Airbus attribute, but they're not using it. It appears in the document type definition (DTD), that specifies how computers should interpret various tags, but it has never been added to the data itself. Airbus is slightly better, but still this information is often missing. One might assume that the master configuration interchangeability is always one-way, but when you get to the unit configuration it is hard to tell.
- Position, symmetry, priority—All behave in the same manner.
When airlines request the original structured information they can get it...sometimes. (Maybe if they're a really big customer.) But the IPC is an example of a larger problem of data quality and consistency that holds true across all the maintenance manuals. In an industry that operates some of the world's most sophisticated machines, and has some of the highest safety concerns, the documentation strategy of Boeing and Airbus is sending the cost of maintenance into the stratosphere.
Will the OEMs ever provide data in a format that ties into the airline's MRO/ERP and improves maintenance and planning? Or will they try and force airlines to use proprietary applications that don't? Today, mechanics are getting aircraft information off the equivalent of a record player, when what they really need is an iPod.
"Flying fortress" was the nickname of the Boeing B-17 WWII bomber, and indeed it was. It was a high flying, long range, durable, versatile, complex (and in many ways beautiful) piece of machinery.
Today's modern airplanes can be compared to a flying fortress, factory or retail store. They consist of multiple complex systems that must work seamlessly, and continuously, to produce value. Keeping airplanes flying is hard work. However, it's the word "flying" that makes airplane maintenance more complex than a factory or retail store.
Just like a large factory, airplanes need to be serviced and replenished so that they can keep generating revenue. For that, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems exist: managing inventory, resources, planning and scheduling. In simple words, the ERP determines "who does what, when, and where?" Unfortunately, the technical documentation provided by manufacturers, which describes "how" to fix the airplanes, is not built to support modern airlines and their ERP systems. Using the B-17 analogy, it seems that OEMs care less about the "flying" and more about the "fortress."
The OEM maintenance applications are built like a fortress, or a prison, designed to protect those critical user manuals. Boeing and Airbus assume that airline customers are willing to work inside their private little dungeons. In fact, even the very latest "tool box" by Boeing is a closed application that's difficult to break into, and even harder to break out of.
The problem is that most airlines have a diverse aircraft fleet including Airbus, Boeing and other brands. Airlines need a single maintenance system to manage them all, rather than a separate maintenance application for each fleet. Further complicating the situation, airlines use the OEM documentation as "reference only" with best practices constantly being written and implemented by the engineering department.
The reality is that each airline has different maintenance practices that reflect their own needs, and every airplane in their fleet is handled differently—different missions, different options, different repair history, different configuration. Airlines need to load the OEM information into their own ERP systems to manage inventory and maintenance processes across locations—including those provided by 3rd party MROs.
Outsiders may find it surprising to learn that airlines have better maintenance knowledge than the OEMs. Airline maintenance plans are based on the real-world experience of daily operations, as well as the heavy responsibility of ensuring passenger safety. Airlines need an easy way to connect or import OEM maintenance information to the ERP system so that they can quickly implement an "as maintained" view of maintenance requirements that augments the OEM data.
Unfortunately, the document fortresses built by Boeing and Airbus don't make this easy to do. Whether this stems from poor programming or is done as a way to force airlines to use OEM parts, the fact is that the data required for airlines' ERP systems is not readily available. As a result, it costs airlines a fortune (in money and time) to load maintenance data into their ERP systems, which creates a fragmented maintenance information system.
The ATA spec that governs the presentation of maintenance information covers most of the data needs for ERP integration. It's the ability to actually implement the OEM data according to these specs, and make it portable, that is the issue.
In future posts, I will discuss issues pertaining to ERP-based aircraft maintenance and how it is supported, or not, by the OEM documentation. We will cover maintenance requirements, maintenance tasks and equipment lists, forecasting and inventory management, as well as the lack of alternates (AIG) information, which is critical to the master parts list and drives every aspect of the ERP. Airlines need all of these processes to be based on "as maintained" practices, reliability, cost and distribution across multiple locations.
Maintaining a plane is a non-stop operation—around the clock and around the world. Unlike the B-17, the new "flying fortress" built by the OEMs is not a defender of liberty and freedom, it is a prison for maintenance information. In today's world, the complexity of airline operations cannot survive under such constraints.
I just returned from the 2008 ATA E-Business/ S1000D Forum in Budapest, Hungary. This was the first year that ATA (Air Transport Association) combined the E-Business and S1000D meetings. The resulting event concentrated more on authoring/tech pubs than on the aftermarket service and support focus of past years. Almost 300 people attended, which is larger than either of the two individual events in 2007 but smaller than the combined total from last year. It wasn’t clear to me if this drop-off was because of the location, the topics, or the economy.
This year’s event drew fewer airlines than last year (14) but those that attended were serious about improving maintenance processes and job cards. There were also many OEMs in attendance trying to learn how to implement the S1000D spec but a few wanted to learn how to improve customer support and field service through electronic catalogs. Enigma stood out as one of the only exhibitors solely focused on making service information usable to mechanics and technicians, and a number of airlines sought us out for a demo. Each one expressed an urgent need to reduce maintenance costs. So while the quantity of attendees was down, the quality seemed to be up.
One change from last year was an increase in the amount of competitive eavesdropping. I often noticed Boeing and Airbus people hovering around as I gave product demos. This was particularly amusing from Airbus because when they presented the A380 information system during one of the open sessions it looked a lot like the Enigma solution from 2002. However, during the presentation Airbus mentioned some problems around incremental updates so I guess they haven’t copied everything.
Regarding the event itself, ATA did a fantastic job planning and coordinating the location and the topics. The hotel was first-rate and the city was very pleasant, despite the fact that the Communists were marching to commemorate the failed 1956 Revolt and protesting all things democratic. (Perhaps that’s why my bag arrived home two days after I did.) For me, the whole event was a worthwhile adventure. I learned a few things that could improve our products, and I was able to meet potential customers and partners to discuss the business opportunities in the aviation aftermarket. Kudos to Brad Ballance and the ATA!
I’m looking forward to my first visit to Budapest, Hungary, not only to sample the goulash but to attend the ATA e-Business Forum in October. If your company has any responsibility for aircraft maintenance, it’s worth sending someone to this event. I’ve been focusing on aftermarket service and support technology for eight years, but last year was my first ATA e-biz show and I have to tell you, the people that attended impressed me. They knew their stuff and were very involved in the technical sessions. What I really liked was that they wouldn’t let the speakers give easy answers to hard questions.
Of course it wouldn’t be an aviation technology event without the inevitable hype regarding S1000D and how it’s changing the world. There were plenty of vendors trying to convince airlines, MROs and OEMs to buy their solution and get a jump on the competition in moving to the new standard. But in between all the hype, there were a lot of people talking about how to improve the use of information they already had, without S1000D. (For the record, Enigma is a strong supporter of S1000D but we think airlines, MROs and OEMs need solutions that work with legacy data as well.) These people understood that at the end of the day, even though the new standard holds a lot of promise, it will take years (decades?) to get all the relevant information converted. After all, we’re talking about Terabytes (Petabytes? Exabytes?) of information and in the meantime the airlines, MROs and OEMs have businesses to run.
With that in mind, many of the people attending ATA e-biz were more interested in how to improve their business processes today…with the assurance of supporting S1000D tomorrow. These people wanted to accelerate job card processes, to ensure maintenance crews have the right information all the time, every time. They were looking for ways to improve non-routine job card processes, so that aircraft maintenance could stay on schedule, or ahead of schedule. They wanted to improve the efficiency and consistency of one of their largest workforces.
The people I met were realists who understood that, for their current fleets, it will be a long-long time before all the maintenance manuals, repair manuals, engine manuals, component manuals, illustrated parts catalogs, service bulletins, technical revisions, planning documents, equipment lists, schematics and other configuration information is converted to the new format (if ever). All the airline folks agreed that S1000D was gaining acceptance with the 787 and A380 (some, not all of the manuals will be S1000D) but that didn’t help them with the rest of their Boeing, Airbus, Bombardier, Embraer, ATR, Fokker, BAE, GE, Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, CFM, IAE and Honeywell fleets.
The best thing about ATA e-biz is that a lot of really good issues, that seem to be hidden but have far-reaching consequences, are brought under the microscope, inspected, discussed and in some cases resolved. What I learned from last year’s ATA e-biz was that it’s a bunch of smart people having honest discussions about applying technology to current maintenance issues and future business opportunities. I hope this year’s event is just as good.