The Uptime Blog
For the most part, airlines hate freezing weather. Airplanes need to be de-iced, runways get slippery, air traffic and ground movements slow down, and all the inherent dangers of flying seem to increase. But when it comes to aircraft maintenance documentation, sometimes “freezing” is a good thing.
There are many times when an airline wants to temporarily freeze service and parts content; for instance, when an aircraft is undergoing maintenance. Because aircraft maintenance is a complex process, with huge risks for any mistakes, airlines are required to use the same version of service and parts manuals from the beginning of maintenance planning through maintenance execution and sign-off. (This is most relevant to heavy maintenance like C- and D-checks.) Therefore, once an aircraft goes into the hangar, airlines avoid updating technical content until maintenance is complete. However, because there’s often at least one aircraft from each fleet being serviced, it becomes difficult to update the maintenance library for all the other maintenance activities that do need the latest information. As a result, airlines often keep multiple versions of documentation on-hand to properly maintain their fleets.
Keeping service and parts information from being changed throughout a maintenance visit is pretty easy when using paper documents. You print out the appropriate documents, don’t add to them, don’t change them and whatever you do, don’t lose them. (Ok, maybe it’s not so easy.) In the digital world it’s more complex, because modern systems are designed to always deliver the most recent version of information. For a large airline or MRO shop this creates problems because there are so many airplanes and engines at various stages of maintenance that tracking which version of each manual is being used for each piece of equipment can be a major headache.
Fortunately Enigma has a solution. Enigma InService MRO provides the ability to freeze (and unfreeze) service and parts information by aircraft model, engine model, a specific location/ customer (in the case of third-party MRO shops) or according to aircraft tail number or engine serial number. The result is that aircraft and engine maintenance activities can now be more accurately planned, assigned, executed and reported (in accordance with regulations). InService MRO eliminates the “paper chase” that occurs during compliance audits, by managing and documenting the exact version of each document that was used to perform each maintenance task. InService MRO’s freeze/ unfreeze functionality significantly improves the speed and accuracy of maintenance planning and execution, and helps ensure the safe and reliable operation of both airlines and MRO shops.
For more information, download our fact sheet, “Freezing Maintenance Revisions.”
IT systems can help companies respond to maintenance emergencies. To highlight my point I’m using the situation at Southwest Airlines (SWA) as, in the wake of Flight 812, they work to address the problem of aluminum fuselage skin fatigue on their Boeing 737-300 aircraft. While I don’t know the details of how SWA and Boeing are responding to this situation, I imagine a lot of people are working long hours looking for ways to preserve safety and minimize the economic impact.
According to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) the aircraft in question was in compliance with maintenance requirements, so this is not something that SWA did wrong. In fact, Boeing engineers recommended the 737 fuselage be inspected once every 60,000 take-off and landing cycles. Since SWA 737s average 6 flights per day that means an inspection every 10,000 days, or about once every 27 years. (The aircraft that suffered skin failure had only 39,000 cycles on it.) Boeing recently issued a service bulletin (SB) to change the inspection limit to 30,000 cycles (13.5 years). However the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has gone further, issuing an emergency airworthiness directive (AD) mandating that older 737s be inspected every 500 cycles, at least until the cause of the problem is known. For SWA, that means every 83 days almost 80 aircraft must be taken out of service to undergo electromagnetic inspection of the fuselage. For a company that runs a lean organization, changing the maintenance interval on an essential piece of equipment from once every 27 years to once every 83 days is a really big deal.
This raises a question for every owner/operator of capital equipment, “Does your IT system help you respond to maintenance emergencies?” Not every service bulletin or maintenance revision represents an emergency. However, real emergencies are unpredictable and it’s hard to know which pieces of information will be needed to resolve one. So perhaps a better question would be, “Is the information in your IT system accurate and complete?” Since you don’t know when the next emergency is coming, and you don’t know what information will be required, it’s important that reliable maintenance and parts data is always available.
The first challenge to maintaining accurate and complete service and parts data is that different suppliers provide technical content in different formats. This makes it difficult for information to flow seamlessly across various IT systems. For maintenance departments, the time and cost required to standardize document types and data formats (e.g. S1000D, ATA 2200, PDF, etc.) can be substantial. However, during a maintenance emergency these costs are irrelevant as planners, engineers and mechanics need immediate access to all applicable parts and service information to fix the problem. In the case of an airline, the required data may come from Boeing, Airbus or any one of over 300 suppliers. (The situation is similar in other industries.) Since safety carries such high implications (both moral and economic) finding a way to resolve the issue of multiple formats, while providing complete and accurate service and parts information, is imperative.
The second challenge to maintaining accurate and complete service and parts data is the rate at which it changes. During a recent asset management conference I took an informal poll and found that maintenance planners believe about half the information in their maintenance planning and inventory systems is out-of-date. That’s not surprising because the work involved to cull through all the technical documentation and update the IT systems can be overwhelming. (Anyone who works with mission-critical databases will tell you that keeping them accurate can be a full-time job.) Technical information changes so frequently that many companies simply wait until the next scheduled maintenance, or until something breaks, to update the maintenance and parts data. (Even then, information rarely gets updated in all databases.) However, this approach leaves a company ill-prepared to meet the demands of an emergency.
Since regularly managing multiple data formats and updating multiple databases appears to be cost-prohibitive, but the cost of an emergency appears to be even higher, what should a company do? The answer is to automate. New and revised information needs to be automatically extracted from updated documentation (maintenance manuals, parts catalogs, etc.) and loaded into the various databases. This activity can be automated, occurring whenever documents are received from the OEM/supplier. Enigma’s InService Revision Manager processes updates, in multiple formats and at any frequency, to keep IT systems accurate and complete, which provides value far beyond the aviation industry.
If you have a maintenance or parts database that never seems to be up-to-date, you may be closer to a problem than you realize. Anyone that’s involved in the day-to-day scramble of equipment maintenance, or has lived through the turmoil of an emergency, knows that reliable information is critical to making good decisions. Enigma has the technology to ensure you’re prepared.
Airlines and MRO shops are increasing investments in IT solutions that integrate and improve three critical aspects of MRO operations: inventory planning, maintenance scheduling and maintenance execution. This blog post looks at the opportunity for leveraging technical content to optimize inventory and the challenge of integration.
Inventory is a major priority for airlines and MROs because the carrying costs are so high. It’s a no-brainer that carrying the right inventory, and having the right amount of inventory in the right places, can cut costs and improve aircraft availability.
To properly plan maintenance and inventory, airlines and MROs rely on the ERP system, expecting it to be up-to-date and accurate. The information in the ERP system comes from maintenance manuals and parts catalogs. With each revision of the technical documentation, someone needs to evaluate and approve any changes before adding them to the ERP. This is a time-consuming process that typically involves 1) side-by-side comparisons to understand what changed and 2) manual data entry into the ERP. The result of this process is that the ERP system is frequently out-of-date with regard to latest parts and service recommendations. At the 2010 Air Transport Association eBusiness Forum, GE admitted that it’s not uncommon for airlines to be two or three revision cycles behind the OEM updates. Why? The conventional process of reconciling and implementing OEM changes takes too long.
How does this affect inventory? Each updated illustrated parts catalog (IPC) can contain over 5,000 modified parts lists. That’s over 40% of a typical IPC! While some changes may be specific to certain operating conditions, like ETOPS, airlines must evaluate every change to understand the impact; and any approved changes must be updated in the ERP. Since the IPC defines the valid parts for each aircraft, if revisions are not processed quickly then the ERP documents that drive inventory decisions will not be accurate—Minimum Equipment List (MEL), Master Parts List (MPL) and Maintenance Planning Documents (MPD). In fact, if an airline gets two or three revisions behind on maintenance manuals and parts catalogs the inventory and ERP system will no longer reflect actual fleet requirements, and inventory will become bloated with “dead” parts.
The solution to this problem is Enigma InService Revision Manager, which simplifies the process of reviewing and integrating OEM updates. It turns a labor-intensive task measured in weeks or months into an automated procedure often completed in hours or days. Revision Manager compares new maintenance revisions to existing information—previous OEM data as well as the airline’s own best practices—and uses customizable logic to accelerate the reconciliation process.
After the content is reconciled, the next important step is to make sure changes flow seamlessly into the ERP system. Airlines and MRO shops have seen the need for ERP integration for years but until recently, the technical hurdles were too high. Now the technology exists to automate this process.
Accurate technical documentation is needed throughout the MRO lifecycle, and across maintenance planning, engineering, technical publications, and line and base maintenance departments. In particular, maintenance technicians and parts managers need relevant, updated IPC content to guide procurement decisions; without it, they risk using the wrong parts and carrying excess or obsolete inventory.
Stay tuned for more posts related to this topic; we’ll discuss how to synchronize various maintenance documents, including the IPC, the MPD and the aircraft maintenance manual (AMM), to drive productivity and lower costs. We’ll also explain how effectivity filtering helps to manage logistics by helping identify which parts go with each specific aircraft and fleet.
An article published in the October issue of AeroSafety World raises serious concerns about safety compliance among aircraft maintenance technicians and their managers. The report is not focused on worker safety or OSHA standards; the report is about compliance with maintenance procedures to ensure aircraft safety.
The report is based on a Baines Simmons employee safety culture survey that canvassed 2,000 maintenance professionals in union and non-union aircraft maintenance shops in North and South America over a period of three years (2007-2010). The statistics about safety attitudes and behaviors are sobering. Among the findings:
- 16 % of the managers agreed with the statement, “Due to limited time or resources, there have been times when I signed off for work that was not completed”.
- More than 80% of the maintenance personnel surveyed said that it is necessary and actually acceptable to sacrifice safety and compliance to complete their jobs on time.
- 53% of AMTs disagreed with the statement, “Before I start a job I am always given the necessary information.”
These and similar results in the report indicate that it’s not uncommon for technicians and their managers to ignore procedures, to sign off on work that was not completed, and to perform maintenance without the proper information. This article stresses the importance of cultivating/instilling Safety Management Systems (SMS) into the maintenance process; the concern being that when technicians believe management values productivity over safety, they tend to become lax in their work habits, and stop raising safety and compliance concerns.
Many business consultants would agree that instilling an effective safety management culture can be a challenge. So besides providing more safety lectures what else can help AMTs improve safety and compliance? Technology. Though technology will not change the underlying culture of a workplace, it does make it easier for staff to adopt best practices and ensure compliance.
For example, the Enigma InService Job Card Generator combines data from a maintenance planning system with service and parts information to produce job cards (task cards) on-the-fly. Enigma combines resource, tool and equipment data with the latest maintenance manuals and parts catalogs giving technicians a complete and up-to-date set of service information, for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance. This eliminates the time-consuming process of collecting necessary maintenance information, allowing productivity and compliance to go hand-in-hand.
With regard to safety and compliance, Enigma job cards can digitally record the details of service activity and inspections, with relevant information routed back into the maintenance planning system for compliance, audit and management purposes.
When 53% of technicians and 37% of managers believe that technicians lack critical maintenance information, can there be any question that airlines and MRO shops need to improve their safety management culture? Safety and compliance is about more than management dashboards and tracking systems, it’s about improving the underlying processes of maintenance.