The Uptime Blog
Tags: Maintenance, electronic parts catalogue, Electronic parts catalogs, service technicians, parts catalog, alternative parts, parts kitting, parts catalogues, service information, asset maintenance, field service, customer support, parts logistics, parts ordering, Maintenance Planning Documents (MPD), appliance repair
We’ve all been there. Your oven breaks, usually before a major holiday, or your hot water heater finally quits, or something goes haywire that you can’t easily replace or put in your car to get repaired. What do you do? Usually you contact the place where you bought it and they schedule a service appointment. One of two things will now happen: 1. You have a positive experience. 2. You have a negative experience. Each one has implications for how you perceive a brand or product, and each one will influence whether or not you purchase from the brand or vendor again. While these are consumer-based examples, taken from home life, similar situations occur every day in complex business operations—with similar outcomes.
Aberdeen Group recently reported that organizations that satisfy more than 90% of their customers see significant loyalty retention and profitability advantages over those that satisfy less than 50% of their customers. (These results seems obvious but it’s nice to have it validated as fact.) Sumair Dutta, Research Director for Service Management at Aberdeen wrote “While those bounds may seem extreme, it shows that there is a real monetary impact to improving customer satisfaction and organizations are getting savvier around quantifying this impact.”
A positive customer experience is influenced by several factors: timely arrivals, fast service, quality repair, reasonable cost. The technician’s ability to provide that experience is influenced by: streamlined fault isolation, accurate and complete service information, reduced paperwork and automated data routing. For many of those steps success is determined before the technician is ever dispatched on a service call, and is tied to the sophistication and integration of IT and business systems. Once on-site however, the key to ensuring customer satisfaction is the technician’s ability to address unforeseen problems: incorrect diagnosis, additional failures/damage, neglected maintenance, undocumented (previous) repairs, etc. Having the ability to handle the unexpected can make all the difference for impressing the customer and resolving their issues in a timely matter. Products that can improve a technician’s ability to understand and resolve
complex problems, whether those problems are related to identifying proper parts or procedures, help service engineers become more efficient and consistent.
With the right software application in place, companies can easily publish and distribute accurate, updated parts and service information that enables technicians to resolve customer issues quickly, the first time, leaving behind happy customers, ready to do repeat business.
Boeing and Airbus are fierce competitors; it’s a well-documented fact. What’s not well-documented is their competition with the rest of the aviation industry. Boeing and Airbus compete on the following fronts: with each other, for big deals; with smaller OEMs, for smaller deals; with PMA manufacturers, for spare parts; with 3rd party MRO shops, for maintenance/repair business; with their own airline customers, for maintenance/repair business; with independent software vendors (ISVs), for the technology that drives MRO and parts decisions. Boeing and Airbus apparently compete with (almost) everybody in the aviation ecosystem.
Why do I bring this up? Because once you look past the quality of their airplanes, their products are just not that good. Certainly most airlines know more about what it takes to keep these airframes flying than the OEM does. Most airlines know more about what they need out of their IT systems than the OEM does as well. But the OEM marketing messages make it sound like they can solve any airline problem and their sales force makes offers that the airlines “can’t refuse.” Just remember, caveat emptor (buyer beware).
What’s becoming more clear is that Boeing and Airbus have done a masterful job of hiding their true objectives, which seem to be aimed at limiting access to aircraft maintenance manuals (AMM), illustrated parts catalogs (IPC) and other critical information…unless the airlines agree to use the OEM’s proprietary MRO and tech pubs solutions. Contrary to their public affirmations about being good corporate citizens, they appear to have no interest in cooperating on initiatives with vendors, customers or standards bodies (like ATA). I’ve now had several conversations with ISVs that tried to partner with the OEMs to improve operations at joint airline customers however, the OEMs told the ISVs…no. (I’m being polite about the “tone” of the OEMs’ rejection.)
This mimics what was said at Aviation Week’s MRO Americas 2011 Conference. During this event there were a number of senior airline executives publically expressing their displeasure over the tactics employed by Boeing and Airbus. (Here is a link to our blog about that conference.) Many IT vendors, including some of the largest in the world, also voiced complaints about the challenges of working with the OEMs. The OEM policies make it difficult for airlines to deploy fully-integrated solutions. Without the ability to integrate each IT component (i.e., MRO, ERP, SCM, ECM, tech pubs, configuration management, etc.) and make them readily accessible (to engineering, planning, logistics, hangar/line mechanics, etc.) the airlines cannot drive down costs and increase uptime. (Here’s a blog about Gartner’s report on KAL’s integrated system and a report on KAL’s presentation at an Aircraft Commerce event.)
Last spring I met with a senior ATA executive to discuss the OEM role in maintenance IT systems. Once we examined the OEM strategy from several perspectives—maintenance schedules, service revenue, parts selection/sales, inventory management—this ATA executive began to understand why many ISVs view Boeing and Airbus as competitors.
The competitive situation with the OEMs was highlighted in a recent article from MRO Global magazine (p. 12), “…it is hard to see the aftermarket remaining independent of the OEMs and this will lead to lack of data and choice for the operators on a scale not imaginable just ten years ago. Once the OEMs control the data then there is no going back.” The article continues (p. 14), “[Ronald Schaeuffele, CEO of Swiss Aviation Software] adds: ‘When Airbus delivers a new aircraft, the documents delivered with the aircraft – including the component list of the aircraft – are completely different from those Boeing delivers. The two manufacturers don’t seem to communicate on this issue; they don’t seem to be preoccupied with the data format of information they provide.’”
Contrary to this quote (above) Enigma’s experience indicates that the OEMs are very preoccupied with data formats, management and control. In fact, the negative impacts of the OEM strategy were highlighted at a SAP user group meeting for airlines (SUGAIR) back in 2010 (as reported in this blog). Clearly the OEMs know that aircraft MRO data is the key to increasing their aftermarket revenues. If OEMs control the data and IT systems used by the airline, they can lock-in parts and service business and set whatever price they desire. And while regulations require this same MRO data be provided to airlines so they can use it independently, the OEMs seem to be looking for ways to avoid this responsibility.
Fortunately, Enigma can cope with almost any data format, regardless of how bad the OEMs try to make it. While we would prefer clean standardized data, it appears that’s not part of the plan at Boeing and Airbus. As a result, airlines that recognize the value of MRO information—for providing competitive advantage around cost, service and asset utilization—are actively seeking out tools like Enigma as a key enabler of their strategic plans.
I just returned from SUGAIR 58 in Palo Alto, CA. The SAP Users Group for Airlines (SUGAIR) is a bi-annual conference for experts, executives and managers of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations in the aviation, aerospace and defense industries. Enigma was invited to provide a status update on the integration between Enigma, SAP MRO and HCL AXON’s iMRO. It was also an opportunity to share the joint strategy with some of the members who had not travelled to Kuala Lumpur in December. SUGAIR 58 was well-attended by an impressive list of airlines and defense organizations and the feedback on our strategy was very positive.
There were many meaningful presentations focusing on mobility (online/offline data access), product roadmaps/rollout plans, spare parts planning and supply chains, performance based logistics, flight ops support, and new analytics tools. All of these presentations were well received, but clearly the tablet demos received the highest “wow” factor. Enigma was pleased to be included in the tablet demo by HCL AXON. (It’s especially cool when people find Enigma’s software so easy to use that they can demo it without our involvement.)
During one of the evening events, a topic from the last SUGAIR meeting was once again raised—namely, the strategy of Boeing and Airbus to limit service and parts information as a way to lock-in spare parts sales and control who can provide maintenance and repair services. It seems the OEMs may have backed off on some of their demands as, according to some airlines, they’ve started to discover how complex the MRO IT environment really is. Perhaps Boeing and Airbus have figured out that the airlines really do know what they’re doing and that the work of 30-40 years can’t be easily replaced? That remains unclear but certainly the panel at MRO Americas in Miami hadn’t yet heard about this change in OEM strategy/behavior. (They were still pretty ticked off.)
SUGAIR members wanted to discuss Enigma’s ability to extract information from the IPC, AMM and maintenance planning documents (MPD) and to update the master parts list (MPL), maintenance requirements (MR) and job cards (task cards) in SAP. Furthermore, the ability to then quickly identify inventory problems like “dead” parts was a source of many animated discussions. Attendees recognized the huge opportunity this represents for cost reductions in inventory and procurement.
For Enigma, SUGAIR 58 was a great opportunity to participate in solving today’s (and tomorrow’s) MRO challenges. From the feedback we received, the aviation, aerospace and defense organizations that attended gained valuable insight for how to leverage SAP and partner technology to maximize their business success.
The complexity of maintenance repair and overhaul systems is a common theme in aviation maintenance trade publications and conferences; it’s sometimes described as “overwhelming.” (While this discussion focuses on aircraft maintenance, it really applies to any complex piece of equipment.) I’ve seen the question posed in online forums; “why are MRO IT systems so complex?”
The simple answer is, because the documentation to fix complex machines is, by its very nature, complex. It requires vast amounts of data, it comes from multiple OEMs and vendors, it’s stored in multiple databases in multiple formats, and it has to be acted upon by multiple departments and organizations. People that perform line maintenance and base maintenance (field and depot), planning and engineering, tech pubs, IT and parts logistics all need to communicate about service and parts information, and practically every department has its own set of business systems that must share data, whether a tech pubs authoring tool or an ERP system.
In brief, airlines and MRO shops need IT tools to do the following:
- Manage various content types (manuals, catalogs, best practices, etc.) from multiple sources (OEMs, field engineers, suppliers, etc.) across different business processes (maintenance, procurement, planning, etc.)
- Manage ongoing content publishing and updating cycles and distribute approved content to multiple channels and devices with a click of a button
- Control system and user processes, content flow in the organization, access rights and personalization
- Integrate technical content with ERP, maintenance planning and enterprise IT systems.
Given these multi-faceted needs, whenever an airline or large MRO shop decides to upgrade its IT systems, it can be a long, painful process to decide which tools are necessary, which ones will work with legacy systems and data, and which ones will work with future applications. Can it work well with new and emerging data specs (like S1000D)? Does it integrate with current and future ERP platforms? How much of the process should be automated (e.g. digital task cards and sign-offs)? What features are needed in an illustrated parts catalog (IPC)? Can it process technical updates from the OEMs (revisions and service bulletins)? Will it improve maintenance planning and scheduling?
These questions, and many more like them, are what drive MRO IT decisions. To help companies ask the right questions, and hopefully get complete answers, Enigma has created a sample RFP for the MRO industry. It is based on almost 20 years of experience in turning complex documentation into usable information, and includes the most requested and important functionality and requirements, as defined by airlines and 3rd party MRO shops. While it is written in the language of aviation, we hope this document will also prove useful to customers and prospects in all industries as they seek to improve their aftermarket service and support processes.
Click here to download the RFP Sample.
Roni Pollack, Program Manager at Enigma, staffs the Enigma table at SUGAIR 57
I just returned from SUGAIR 57 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The SAP User Group for Airlines (SUGAIR) is a semi-annual conference for experts, executives and managers of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations in the aviation, aerospace and defense industries. Enigma was invited by SUGAIR members to present Enigma’s capabilities with SAP and discuss the business impact of current and future integrations. SUGAIR 57 offered an impressive array of airline expertise and the feedback received by Enigma was overwhelmingly positive.
SUGAIR 57 was hosted by Malaysia Airlines in cooperation with SAP and HCL-AXON. Each of the attending airlines, MODs and MRO shops, delivered presentations detailing their SAP implementations, current challenges and strategies moving forward. SAP and HCL-AXON provided updates on their joint solution, as well as presentations on best practices, tactics and strategies for using SAP to maximize business success.
There was a long and intense discussion, led by several airlines, regarding the strategy of Boeing and Airbus to withhold service and parts information as a way to lock-in spare parts sales and control who can provide maintenance and repair services. The way it was reported by these airlines, Boeing and Airbus plan to limit airlines’ access to the aircraft maintenance manual (AMM), illustrated parts catalog (IPC) and other critical technical information unless the airlines agree to use the tech pubs solutions sold by Boeing and Airbus. The airlines on-hand, who had investigated these products, had the following comments about the OEM-based solutions:
- immature/incomplete functionality
- inflexible/difficult to integrate with existing M&E solutions
- limit airline’s ability to customize and control technical content
- risk exposing an airline’s confidential information and intellectual property to competitors (in the case of MRO services, competitors include Boeing and Airbus themselves).
This was a very animated discussion and I was surprised by the nearly universal anger and suspicion expressed by the airlines toward Boeing and Airbus.
For the Enigma presentation, SUGAIR members expressed particular interest in the ability to extract information from the IPC, AMM and maintenance planning documents (MPD) and then update the master parts list (MPL), maintenance requirements (MR) and job cards (task cards) in SAP. Beyond the ability to accelerate maintenance and improve compliance, the airlines, MROs and MODs on-hand quickly recognized another key implication of this functionality—helping identify inventory problems like “dead” parts that no longer apply to an airline’s fleet and can be safely purged/re-sold from stock. All the attendees commented on the huge opportunity this represents for cost reduction.
If the goal of SUGAIR is to generate meaningful discussions between companies with common objectives and to highlight topics that have implications on operations and compliance, then SUGAIR 57 was a success. Although the audience was varied—airlines, MODs, MROs, SAP and ISV partners—all the conversations I heard focused on increasing maintenance efficiency, consistency and compliance.
For Enigma, it was a pleasure to participate in SUGAIR 57 and to help facilitate the knowledge-sharing that’s required to solve tomorrow’s aftermarket and MRO challenges. This was a valuable opportunity for aviation and aerospace operators from around the world to learn how to maximize their business success using SAP, HCL-AXON and Enigma.
Tags: MRO, Customer Originated Changes, aircraft maintenance, Job Cards, technical documentation, OEM content, SAP, AMM, Aircraft Maintenance Manuals (AMM), Illustrated Parts Catalogs (IPC), Maintenance Planning Documents (MPD), Master Parts Lists (MPL), SAP/HCL-Axon
I just returned from the 2nd Annual SAP Airline Solution Summit in Dallas, which brought together professionals from around the world from airlines, OEMs, MRO shops, software vendors, IT consultants and even rail professionals. It was an impressive group with a lot of give-and-take between the presenters, the exhibitors and the audience.
During the afternoon breakout sessions, Enigma presented on the topic “Maintenance Scheduling and Integration to Technical Information.” It was a topic that drew a large audience, since we described the impact of OEM revisions on airlines, specifically on the efficiency, consistency and cost of MRO operations. Within this context, Enigma introduced a strategy for improving revision management and adoption through better technology and integration with ERP, tech pubs and maintenance planning systems.
The fact is, how OEM revisions and engineering orders/modifications are managed and integrated into scheduled and unscheduled maintenance activities affects the speed and compliance of aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO). Since we are talking about revenue-generating assets, MRO efficiency and quality affects the very core of business operations. As a result, for many airlines keeping tech pubs and ERP/MRO systems up-to-date and synchronized has become a full-time job. (This is not unique to airlines but affects every transportation company and transit authority.)
Of particular interest to this audience was that Enigma automatically extracts information from the OEM’s illustrated parts catalogs (IPC), maintenance planning documents (MPD) and maintenance manuals (AMM/EM) and then updates the master parts list (MPL), maintenance requirements (MR) and job cards (task cards) in SAP. This ensures that service and parts data is always in-sync across the airline, whether it is used in a hangar/depot or in the field/flight-line. Since OEMs revise and update their technical documents frequently, airlines consider data accuracy and synchronization to be a huge benefit in terms of maintenance productivity, quality and compliance.
Another consideration is that because technical content directly impacts an airline’s second largest workforce (mechanics and engineers), the quality of that content, more than almost any other factor, determines if an MRO/ERP system succeeds or fails. When Enigma shared some industry metrics regarding the number of OEM changes, and the impact on maintenance operations, it proved the point and highlighted the need for an integrated solution of SAP, HCL-Axon and Enigma to improve aircraft MRO.
The audience in Dallas was very receptive to the insights Enigma was able to provide. Following our presentation, we had a number of conversations regarding the application of this solution beyond airlines including: rail, maritime and freight. We appreciate SAP inviting Enigma to participate in this annual event and hope to have similar opportunities in the future.
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.
According to a Fact Sheet on Airworthiness Directive Compliance, “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is strengthening the procedures used by air carriers, manufacturers, and the FAA to ensure that air carriers comply with Airworthiness Directives (ADs).” If the FAA is worried about airlines’ compliance with ADs, perhaps you should be too. Whether you’re an OEM, airline or passenger, this issue has an impact on you. The FAA issues ADs to ensure aircraft remain flight worthy. (That’s a fancy way to say that the government insists any airplane that takes-off must be safe to do so.) With so many different makes and models of airplanes, different airlines, routes and airports, and so many mechanics, that’s a tall order. Nevertheless, the safety of the public (both in the air and on the ground) requires it. (Thanks to Lee Ann Tegtmeier of Aviation Week for highlighting this in her MRO blog.)
ADs come in a variety of flavors. Some address potential problems that must be inspected/resolved during the next scheduled maintenance, while others address urgent issues that must be inspected/resolved before the next flight. Regardless of the circumstances, the FAA wants to make sure that ADs are implemented efficiently, consistently and, in certain cases, very, very quickly.
The problem is that aircraft are complex machines and each airline configures and operates each airplane just a little bit differently. As a result, each aircraft is unique, and ADs can be issued that apply only to specific airplanes within a fleet. (For example, some twin-engine aircraft must adhere to ETOPS rules (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) and some don’t. It all depends upon the mission/route of that airplane.) This makes it difficult for airlines to know which of the 250 different ADs that get issued each year require their compliance. In fact, after investigating a situation in 2008 that resulted in thousands of cancelled flights the FAA wrote, “The team found that problems in service instructions, workmanship, communications within industry and with the FAA, and FAA inconsistencies in determining AD compliance all contributed to the cancellations and service disruptions.”
Of course, I probably wouldn’t be writing about this if I didn’t think there was a solution. The solution, quite simply, is Enigma. On this blog I try hard not to brag but, as they say, “It ain’t bragging if it’s true.” Furthermore, this is a serious situation (at least the FAA seems to think so). Enigma has already deployed the technology allowing airlines to retrieve ADs from the FAA and automatically connect them to the Aircraft Maintenance Manuals (AMM), Engine Manuals (EM), Illustrated Parts Catalogs (IPC) and any other relevant documents. Furthermore, once this information is in Enigma, the Maintenance Planning Documents (MPD), Master Parts Lists (MPL) and Job Cards will automatically reflect the new requirements within the AD, thereby assuring safety and compliance. (Last week’s blog, about a roundtable with JAL and United, described how they can now immediately deploy critical maintenance information.)
This is a blog post, so it’s meant to be short and sweet. Let me just say, we understand the problem, we have a solution, and we’d love to speak with you about how to quickly fix this situation.