The Uptime Blog
PDF documents comprise the majority of service and parts information, yet it is difficult for IT systems to extract data from a PDF file. This limitation negatively impacts parts and maintenance operations for all industries; this post addresses the impact on aviation, but in future posts we’ll look at other industries beyond aviation.
The Role of Task Cards
Task cards (or “job cards”) are documents containing detailed instructions that guide aviation technicians as they perform maintenance on airframes, engines and components. Task cards are critical to ensuring fast, accurate maintenance and regulatory compliance. Task cards may be physical (paper) or virtual (electronic) documents, depending on the business process of the airline or third-party maintenance shop (MRO). Each task card contains the information (parts, procedures, tools, skills, etc.) necessary to work on a specific piece of equipment (by tail-number/serial-number) and must be signed-off when the job is complete.
PDF Maintenance Documents
The parts and procedures defined on task cards are based on OEM maintenance manuals but also include airline best practices, in the form of customer originated changes (COCs) or customer supplements. The ATA (Air Transport Association) recommends that these OEM maintenance manuals use SGML or XML as the data format; however about seventy percent of the manuals currently in use are PDF. (Component maintenance manuals, which make up a high percentage of the serviceable items on an aircraft, are provided almost entirely in PDF format.) This is a problem for maintenance organizations because SGML and XML are highly-structured formats that simplify data extraction; however, the lack of structure in PDF makes it difficult to convert the text into task cards.
Another issue is that OEMs update aircraft, engine and component manuals on a regular basis (typically quarterly), and often specify different parts and procedures for individual aircraft tail-numbers (or equipment serial-numbers). To ensure accuracy, each new OEM revision must be compared to previous maintenance manuals and combined with the relevant COCs and supplements before being converted into updated task cards. With so much PDF data being modified so frequently, airlines and MROs have difficulty synchronizing technical content for maintenance planning and execution.
Aviation maintenance manuals and parts catalogs are broken down into tasks/subtasks and assemblies/parts, which are readily understood by engineers and technicians. Regardless of the data format used for this information (SGML, XML, PDF, etc.), end-users will see little difference. It is when a software system (ERP, EAM, MRO, etc.) tries to utilize this data that the limitations of PDF become clear.
Maintenance manuals that use SGML or XML employ special identifiers that call out tasks, subtasks, parts and other relevant information. These data elements (TASK, SUBTASK, PNR, etc.) allow text within SGML/XML files to be recognized and utilized by other business and IT systems. PDF, on the other hand, is a linear stream of text without any content identifiers or embedded data elements (only formatting rules and a few metadata fields). As a result, for an IT system to extract data from a PDF file it must first search the document and the results must be interpreted to identify the proper information. This is a slow, error-prone process that eliminates the benefits of automation. To effectively use PDF, maintenance organizations are forced to cut-and-paste the necessary data from PDF into whatever planning and inventory systems they are using. To make PDF useful for maintenance automation, the SGML/XML data elements that are missing from PDF must be “inserted” in a way that allows it to act more like the other, richer data formats. Only then can the maintenance organization realize the potential of fully integrated IT systems.
Overcoming PDF Limitations
Enigma has the ability to overcome the limitations of PDF documents, processing them in a way that enables this relatively flat file format to act almost like SGML and XML data. Enigma’s tools enrich PDF files, allowing them to be leveraged by maintenance planning and execution processes, like automatic generation of task cards. With PDF data comprising well over half of the airframe, engine and component documentation, airlines and MROs are finding Enigma’s PDF tools to be critically important to improving maintenance productivity, accuracy and compliance.
To learn more about how Enigma enhances PDF, download our fact sheet, "Putting PDF to Work – Making PDF Data Interactive."
Last week I attended the Field Service 2011 conference in Chandler, Arizona, which drew over 300 senior-level service and support professionals from 15 different manufacturing industries including aerospace, medical device, high tech, semi-conductor, construction/ agricultural and automotive manufacturing.
The majority of vendors exhibiting at the show were focused on parts logistics/optimization, inventory, predictive maintenance, scheduling, remote monitoring, etc. There were hardware vendors too, offering wireless, GPS, metering devices, printing devices, etc. In other words, most of the technology was focused on getting the tech to the repair site, predicting what parts were needed and helping them complete “paperwork.”
But none of those vendor products solve the serious problem of helping the technician make more accurate and better informed decisions in the field. Most of the vendors were selling around the margins of how to improve current technician processes. What they are selling appears to be important, but to speed up travel time, automate the paperwork and still have a tech looking at the wrong diagram, ordering the wrong part, or installing with the wrong tolerances is just accelerating failures.
Techs today are often spread thin and undertrained, while the products they work on are more and more complex. The common message in several conference presentations was that much of a service tech’s time is not spent on “wrench time” (making actual repairs). According to a McKinsey presentation, half of a service tech’s time is unproductive, up to 20% of field visits are unnecessary, and productivity loss was up to six hours a day in some cases.
Gleason Company estimated that 30% of a service tech’s time is spent searching for information across sources of information that they know is unreliable. Gleason also noted that 25% of all orders include requests for multiple parts because the tech assumes he will not get the right part.
So, the message I heard from manufacturers and consulting firms is that field service teams spend needless time looking for service information and mis-ordering parts. The solution is not dispatch or route logic, GPS tech monitoring, inventory/parts optimization, fault resolution, better tech training, or placing the right person at the call. What service organizations need is intelligent, accurate and up-to-date parts and service information, at the point of need in the field.
Consider what can happen every time a service technician orders the wrong part. At best, the technician realizes the mistake before proceeding, and waits for the correct part. At worst, the technician does not realize the mistake and attempts to service the equipment anyway. Either way, the service organization loses credibility. It also loses the technician's productivity, and the customer loses equipment availability.
But if the wrong part is installed the consequences can be far worse—including personal injury, equipment damage, poor performance, and regulatory non-compliance, to name a few. Order the wrong part and everything stops. Equipment stays down, customers cancel contracts, and technicians wait—all of which costs money that the manufacturer can never recover. Then there's the expense of shipping, storing and returning parts that aren’t used—or the added inventory expense of keeping parts that aren’t returned.
With Enigma InService EPC, service technicians can access the latest part lists, service bulletins, job cards (task cards), schematics, diagrams, and service manuals. They can find the right parts (even filter by equipment configuration or serial number), order the right parts and install the right parts. Previous training can be reinforced in the field by delivering contextual information based upon the repair being performed, or they can view the repair in 3D or via a video right at time of repair. Enigma’s EPC can even be integrated with the manufacturer’s ERP or e-commerce system, which reduces the mistakes or wasted effort of human data entry. All in all, this helps techs improve their first time fix rates, and dramatically reduces mis-order rates.
Fixing the problems of field service organizations is more than a matter of logistics; it’s a matter of delivering technical content in context, which will vastly improve service delivery and productivity.
Download the 15-minute video below to see a brief explanation and demonstration of the Enigma InService Job Card Generator (JCG), presented by Susan Glass, Director of European Professional Services and Solutions at Enigma.
InService Job Card Generator (JCG) automates the production of job cards (task cards) containing all the technical information required for maintaining aircraft, engines and other complex equipment.
This product uses planning information from an M&E system (i.e. tail number/serial number, fleet, skill, zone, hours, material) with the relevant technical content (i.e. AMM tasks/sub-tasks, service bulletins, diagrams and schematics) resulting in a complete work package consisting of one or more job cards. This provides up-to-date information to the mechanic, filtered according to effectivity within the context of the job card, and formatted to the maintenance organization standard.
Key features include:
- Dynamic rendition of a work package (consisting of a set of job cards)
- Effectivity filtering of the most up-to-date technical content based on tail number/serial number
- Manual or automatic job card production (directly from M&E system)
- Rendering of job cards/work packages according to different rules/layouts
- Ability to produce job cards centrally and distribute to remote users (electronic and/or printed job cards)
- Merging of multiple datasets – planning information from the M&E system, technical information from the content management and product management systems
- Extraction of job card information (number of pages in the job card/work package, job card filenames, location) which can be sent to the M&E system if required
- Digital signature option.
Download the free InService JCG data sheet.