The Uptime Blog
That’s the suggestion of Bob Williamson, contributing editor for Maintenance Technology, who published an interesting article titled “How to Improve Maintenance.” In it, he suggests that “implementing maintenance activities in the hopes of improving performance often misses the mark.” Simply implementing a new maintenance procedure or program alone does not guarantee results. Changes in maintenance have to be observable and measurable. Without a means of measurement, it’s difficult to determine if the activity resulted in an improvement and is worth continuing.
Bob looked at a number of maintenance activities – some that resulted in benefits and others that resulted in failures. He concluded that effort should be first spent in those areas that result in solid measurable results.
The article made for interesting reading as it reinforced what Enigma has experienced in the maintenance marketplace over the years. Companies absolutely know that maintenance is an area where improvements can (and need to) be made. This is especially true given the current economic climate where cost-cutting and profits are at the top of everyone’s agendas. The challenge though comes with implementation – not all companies know how achieve solid measurable results.
So how can companies achieve efficiencies and improvements in maintenance?
For many, streamlining maintenance processes seem like an intuitive place to start. But that alone may not be enough to produce measurable results, especially if companies have lots of disparate systems that don’t support the new streamlined processes. On the other hand, introducing new systems without looking at the processes themselves is equally as ineffective. Enigma has found that the most productive path to maintenance improvement success is through the combination of process evaluation along with the adoption of the appropriate maintenance technology.
We reviewed the list of Bob Williamsons planned maintenance activities to see how well Enigma’s software offerings address systematic maintenance inefficiencies. We compared results from using InService MRO while considering “failure modes” commonly associated with maintenance improvement:
- Failure modes: Inaccurate, incomplete, or vague work instructions; lack of training and/or accountability to follow instructions; sub-standard replacement parts…
- Our solution: Ready-availability of up-to-date, detailed OEM or Operator work instructions that support the maintenance tasks; option to include training materials alongside the maintenance instructions or parts information so that mechanics have all relevant information at hand – whether working at a base or remotely.
Predictive or Condition-based Maintenance
- Failure modes: Improper data collection; insufficient analysis, reporting and trending; lack of timely corrective action; deferring recommended maintenance interventions.
- Our solultion: Option to integrate with equipment diagnostics systems to help drive condition-based fault tracing, leading to rapid corrective action; ability to gather mechanics or field service inputs to feed back to the primary system of record and assist in building up a true knowledgebase of cause/action analysis.
- Failure modes: Lack of defined and integrated maintenance work processes; software & system functionality a priority versus desired maintenance work processes; limited end-user input.
- Our solution: Have the “know-how” of maintenance tasks linked to the planned maintenance tasks so that users have access to both the planned maintenance information (hours, skills etc.) and the technical details on how to perform each work process; ability to capture end-user inputs ready for sending to the Maintenance System, thereby ensuring that a knowledge-base of expertise is being built up within the organisation.
Total Productive Maintenance
- Failure modes: Lack of focus on eliminating major equipment-related losses; overemphasis on operator-performed maintenance; limited interdependent application of five basic TPM “pillars.
- Our solution: Integration with other interdependent applications and incorporation of operator-specific processes and procedures in a way that support the operator’s way of working and lead to improved equipment effectiveness.
- Failure modes: Generic craft skills/knowledge training; little or no equipment and task-specific training; informal or unstructured OJT; seniority versus job-performance requirement based; not provided to operators; no performance demonstration or qualification.
- Our solution: Incorporation of training materials, ensuring that both online and offline mechanics have the support required to perform required maintenance in situ.
Based on our customer’s experiences, it is clear that InService MRO improves the maintenance process and provides real measurable results – so managers can focus on areas that are most effective – and mitigates failure modes for more sustainable gains. It provides critical process expertise and automation experience to improve preventive maintenance, predictive or condition-based maintenance, maintenance management, total productive maintenance and maintenance training.
For software vendors like Enigma, doing business in the aviation industry – with OEMs, airlines and MROs – almost always means answering RFPs (Requests for Proposal).
The scenario is a familiar one. Business and IT managers decide it is time to check what is the “latest and greatest” out there. They sit down (or pay a consultant to sit down for them) and fill out dozens of Word pages and Excel spreadsheets specifying all the requirements and features they would like – real and imagined. They send the RFP to several companies, usually a mix of loosely connected software vendors and systems integrators. Even though the process of writing the RFP will take them months to complete, they will invariably ask the RFP recipients to submit their responses within a ridiculously short time frame, say two weeks. The process then typically entails on-site workshops with shortlisted vendors, followed by several months of back-and-forth discussions about requirements, scope, commercials, terms and conditions, etc. A year or so down the road, assuming internal budgets are approved the two exhausted parties – customer and vendor – finally sign a contract and kick off the project. By this time, strong imaginative acumen is necessary if one is to find strong resemblances between the original RFP requirements and the project SOW (Scope of Work) document.
Can things be done differently? This article, recently published in Inc. Magazine, suggests a radical approach for vendors who receive an RFP: just say no. The article lists seven reasons why companies should walk away from RFPs, the more salient ones being:
- Diluted differentiation. Because the RFP goes out to vendors whose solutions and value-adds differ widely from each other, the result is an “apples vs. oranges” comparison that is doomed to fail. By responding to the RFP, vendors are thus agreeing to be judged almost exclusively on price.
- Playing by the customer rules. Yes, the customer is king. But does the king always know best? Most of the requirements and features are, at best, “nice to have” and in many cases totally unnecessary. To get to the short list, vendors answer “yes” to essentially all of the requirements, knowing they will find a way down the road to eliminate or modify them.
- Most RFPs are rigged. This might sound a little harsh, but even if they are not rigged, in many cases a vendor close to the customer lent a “helping hand” in shaping the RFP requirements and conditions to favor its own solution. This requires the other “competitors” to jump through hoops just to qualify through to the next stage.
So what is the alternative to answering the RFP? The article suggests sending a short, polite letter to the customer extolling your solution’s value and proposing a direct discussion. Chances are, concludes the article customers will circle back to you after failing to implement the cheap solution they selected in the RFP process.
Can this approach work in the aviation industry? Can software vendors ignore RFPs from OEMs and airlines, placing their faith solely in the merits of their solutions? A colleague of mine pointed out that this approach is wishful thinking when it comes to the conservative aviation industry. Innovation is slow, regulation is binding and procurement rules mandate the issuance of an RFP. For a vendor to win business in this industry, RFPs are the only way in.
I agree. It is indeed almost impossible to do business in the aviation industry without answering RFPs. But after many years of selling into the aviation industry (and countless hours working on RFP answers), I believe vendors should adopt a more sober approach to RFPs. Gone are the days when customers would issue an RFP for an IT system and expect software vendors to jump to attention and do their bidding, costs be damned. In these harsh economic times, when customers expect heavy discounts and concessions from vendors, the “my way or the highway” approach no longer works. Vendors simply cannot afford it. Too many vendors have been driven out of business because they had no choice but to play by the rules dictated by the RFP processes. No more.
A sober approach to answering RFPs means qualifying directly with the relevant stakeholders if this is a real opportunity or just an exercise in knowledge gathering or idea fishing. It means stating clearly in the RFP answer which requirements are nothing but fantasies that will cost a lot to implement but will deliver precious little benefit. It means scheduling more online demos and conference calls and fewer on-site visits. It means not caving in to terms and conditions that guarantee financial loss in project implementation. And, most importantly, it means knowing when to walk away from an RFP and nurture direct relationships instead, thus foregoing the immediate (and probably imaginary) opportunity for a future (and more real) opportunity.
I know; easier said than done. As writing and receiving RFPs remain an inevitable part of aviation maintenance business, I urge you to download our free RFP sample, here: MRO: Requirements for Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul, to make the task less formidable.
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.
My team and I just got back a few days ago from Interlog Winter 2009, a conference that’s focused on the aftermarket parts and logistics business for automotive, industrial and aerospace manufacturers. I was pleased to discover that attendees wanted to do more than soak up the sun on Marco Island, Florida (the Sunshine State) and casually browse the booths; most were on a mission to find better ways to improve their corporate bottom line.
The agenda was full of great presentations on a wide range of topics related to customer service, inventory, logistics, outsourcing, procurement and electronic parts catalogs. Of all the messages delivered during the conference, I noticed two major themes:
- Increased parts sales depend on improving customer satisfaction and dealer relationships
- There are innovative ways to get more with less in today’s challenging economy
I believe Enigma’s InService EPC (electronic parts catalog) application assists customers in both areas.
First, we’re seeing that companies are renewing their focus on aftermarket parts and service as a way to improve customer/dealer relations. Simplifying business transactions is an easy way for OEMs to gain a competitive advantage for aftermarket parts sales. InService EPC strengthens the OEM-customer/dealer relationship by providing the most recent and relevant parts information at the point of need, and by streamlining part selection and order processes. OEMs that invest in aftermarket technologies (like Enigma) show that they care about the success of their customers/dealers and are positioning themselves to reap the rewards of a long-term relationship.
Second, InService EPC not only improves business transactions but also streamlines and automates internal processes such as catalog creation, update and distribution. So while InService EPC helps increase part sales, it also reduces the cost of catalog production.
Despite—or perhaps because of—the down economy, companies are willing to invest in technology as long as it improves revenue and/or reduces costs (preferably both). I guess that’s why we had so much traffic at our demo booth! If you missed Interlog Winter, I recommend you put it on your calendar for next year.
A recent article in Aviation Week noted that Goodrich Corporation released its fourth quarter and 2007 overall earnings report, in which its “commercial aftermarket sales rose a healthy 16 percent in 2007, and the company said its aftermarket growth may hit double digits again this year.”
Well, we can’t take all the credit for their aftermarket sales, but we do believe we played at least a small role in that success. After all, Goodrich has been using Enigma 3C for the past few years to streamline the production of its aftermarket parts and service catalog. In the process, Goodrich reaps the benefits:
- Saved roughly 1.5 million dollars in production costs alone each year
- Reduced the time needed to produce and deliver its parts catalogs by six months
- Reduced the wait time for catalog updates from three months to a few hours
- Reduced parts misorders.
You may ask, how does Enigma 3C so dramatically reduce the cost of producing a catalog? The answer is, by making it easy for companies like Goodrich to bring the process of catalog production and updates back inhouse, rather than compiling and sending raw information to a third party catalog producer. The Enigma 3C administration environment lets users point and click to update the parts catalog with new parts data, drawings and service information.
Surely, these things help the bottom line. The more effectively an OEM can provide real-time access to updated parts and service information, the more effectively it can sell parts—and make money. This validates what we’ve said over and over: a company’s aftermarket division is critical to its revenue and profit scheme. While the profit margin on product sales is generally shrinking, the margin on aftermarket remains steady, if not growing. The aftermarket accounts for 20-50% of revenue opportunity but about 60% of bottom line profitability. Perhaps it’s time more OEMs started getting serious about improving aftermarket business processes.
We encourage you to read our Goodrich case study.