The Uptime Blog
Equipment breakdowns are inevitable in the transit industry, and there are various causes. It’s challenging to ensure fleets (buses, trains, service vehicles and trolleys) operate safely and on-time, with maximum uptime. It’s tough enough when equipment is out of service for scheduled maintenance; agencies lose revenue, and sometimes can’t support peak demand. But when equipment fails unexpectedly (i.e., while in service), even a short delay can impact dozens or thousands of commuters, depending on the time of day, the route, and the type of transit (bus, train or trolley). Long delays often create angry commuters and politicians, and bad publicity. Last week, for example, was a challenging one for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad (MBCR), which had two major mechanical breakdowns that resulted in commuter delays.
Transit agencies around the world face these problems and try to figure out ways to prevent them. Maintenance organizations do their best to keep a fleet up-and-running, but there are common, major obstacles:
- Equipment breakdowns and road service calls because of deferred or missed maintenance
- Delayed maintenance because of incorrect inventory or part shortages
- Slow repairs because of complex troubleshooting and diagnosis (difficult to identify the problem and requisition the correct parts)
- Difficulties finding the right documentation because there are multiple databases filled with obsolete parts and service information
- Different documents and manuals, for multiple fleets, from many different vendors/OEMs
It’s impossible to prevent every maintenance problem, but it is possible to increase equipment uptime by using technology that streamlines access to accurate, updated service and parts information. That's why Dallas Area Rapid Transit is implementing Enigma InService EPC to manage its assets, which include a fleet of 750 buses, light rail, and non-revenue vehicles; 15 transit centers; over 12,000 bus stops; and 48 miles of light rail track and right-of-way.
InService EPC is an off-the-shelf solution that manages and delivers updated parts catalogs and service documentation to the maintenance depot/service bay and the field, so service technicians can make repairs faster and more accurately, wherever the equipment happens to be. The solution integrates with ERP systems so that once mechanics identify the right parts, they can easily requisition them. The solution can also be integrated with diagnostic maintenance systems, to reduce unscheduled breakdowns; i.e., to predict the problem and make a repair before an actual equipment failure. The results are higher first time fix rates (FTFR) and faster turnaround times. Click here to learn more about the benefits of InService EPC for transit maintenance operations.
Each year, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) hosts a “Bus Roadeo" held in conjunction with its annual meeting, where bus operators and maintenance teams vie for the titles of best transit bus operator and best skilled bus mechanic team. It’s a playful approach to an important topic: how to operate buses efficiently and fix them faster.
To the people who run public transit maintenance operations, troubleshooting and fixing equipment is priority #1; when equipment is out of service, agencies lose revenue, and sometimes can’t support peak demand. Of course, in daily operations for a public transit maintenance division, the goal is more complicated than fixing one bus in record time. To keep a fleet up and running and reduce operational costs, maintenance faces several common obstacles:
- Difficulty in identifying, finding and ordering the correct parts
- Multiple databases filled with outdated parts and service information
- Multiple documents and manuals, for multiple fleets, from multiple vendors/OEMs
- Equipment breakdowns and road service calls
- Failure to recover warranty claims on defective parts.
Earlier this week Enigma announced a new customer: Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), the public transit agency that provides light rail and bus transportation for Dallas, Texas and 12 surrounding cities. DART assets include a fleet of 750 buses, light rail, and non-revenue vehicles; 15 transit centers; over 12,000 bus stops; and 48 miles of light rail track and right-of-way. (For more information about the DART win, click here; also, see a YouTube clip of a DART Light Rail Technician.)
One of DART’s strategic goals is to improve maintenance execution, which has a direct impact on equipment availability, costs and ridership. As with any organization that maintains complex machines, whether it be commercial aircraft, oil rigs, or power plants, transit agencies are tasked with keeping their assets up and running, while reducing costs. Towards that end, DART selected Enigma InService EPC (Electronic Parts Catalog) because it offers a major advance in automation and productivity. Simply put, the ability to identify correct parts and relevant service information is critical to maximize productivity and equipment uptime.
InService EPC will provide up-to-date and accurate parts and service information for its maintenance and engineering department, including all parts and service manuals to support the maintenance of DART’s assets—light rail, buses, facilities and vehicles.
Incidentally, this year’s “Roadeo” was conducted at the Dallas Area Rapid Transit's Arapaho Station, but the “best skilled bus mechanic team” honor went to the King County Metro maintenance team, who hail from Seattle, Washington. We can’t claim that Enigma will help DART win next year’s competition but we are confident that InService EPC will help increase the efficiency and consistency of their daily maintenance operations.
Can an effective aftermarket strategy affect new product sales? I would argue that yes, indeed it can. In my opinion one of the most overlooked and undervalued aspects of providing a first-class aftermarket environment is the strong relationship and brand recognition it enables companies to build with their customers throughout the service life of a product, which in many industries can be as long as 15-20 years. The aftermarket provides companies with a perfect venue to make a positive impression and build customer loyalty.
All too often the aftermarket is an afterthought; some companies don’t consider the effects a poor aftermarket experience can have on a customer’s opinion of them and their products. Every aftermarket interaction offers a tremendous opportunity for an OEM to quickly and efficiently assist the customer and improve the customer’s perception of the organization. Yet many OEM customers experience the following scenario in trying to identify a part and complete an order:
A mission-critical piece of equipment that a customer purchased from your company goes down. The customer needs to get the equipment running again and reviews the service information included with the equipment at the time of purchase. But the service information is out of date, so the customer reaches out to your company to get the updated service and part information to make the necessary repairs in a timely manner.
The customer either cannot find or decides it is too difficult to locate the part and service information as it is offered (or not offered) via the web. So the customer calls your customer support center and is placed on hold for 15-20 minutes, waiting to speak with a customer support representative (that’s if they are calling between the hours of 8am and 5pm, when the customer support center is open.) They then sit through a 45-minute process of having the customer support representative identify and order the correct part, which might reach the customer by the following day, at best.
As you review your current aftermarket strategy ask yourself the following questions, which will give you some insight into your customers’ experience:
- Is updated parts and service information readily available for your customers via the web?
- Can your customers easily identify the parts they need and, via self service, place an order?
- Are customers required to contact a customer service representative to order parts?
- If a customer service representative is required to order parts are they available 24 x 7?
- What is the average wait time to speak with a customer service representative?
If your company’s process is anywhere close to the process I outlined above, how eager will your customer be to purchase a new piece of equipment from your company in the future? My guess is that they won’t be very eager to do so. A bad aftermarket experience will decrease the odds that the customer will buy a new piece of equipment from that OEM; do you agree or disagree? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this, so please feel free to comment.
I recently returned from MRO Americas, where I spent some time walking the exhibit hall, listening to various presentations and serving on a speaking panel, “Regulatory Compliance in the Digital Age.” Here are a few observations from my time in Dallas: the show was busier than I expected, despite the economy; airline concerns regarding the aging MRO workforce are increasing; although my speaking panel was the last one of the entire show it was very well attended. From this I reached the following conclusions:
- MRO remains a critical priority for airlines (no surprise there)
- Airlines don’t know who will be fixing their airplanes in the future (or how they will be trained)
- Airlines want the FAA to give clear guidance and help resolve the significant issues that arise when implementing digital systems
Since this panel was the last topic before attendees left to go home, the Q&A session was informal. Nevertheless, we were surrounded by people asking questions about how to achieve a truly efficient, and compliant, digital MRO environment. The airlines made it clear that they need the FAA to synchronize maintenance regulations with current IT capabilities. Furthermore, they expect the FAA to focus on more than just the airframe and engine OEMs, looking also to the airlines, MRO shops and technology suppliers for input. Airlines want FAA regulations that synchronize safety, maintenance and data standards so that they can be protected from being forced into rigid single-provider systems. (The issue of data standards is very important to airlines as they try to avoid OEM-only systems that may limit their flexibility for procuring parts and service.)
Despite years of IT investment, today’s reality is that airplanes are still being fixed with paper documentation. The result is that after one or two years it is nearly impossible for a maintenance planner to understand an airplane’s service history. It is no wonder that planning organizations take months to properly schedule fleet maintenance and must still repeatedly revise the plan throughout the year.
Paperwork is the bane of our industry, not regulation but literally paperwork. Anyone that has ever been forced to sit on a plane, on the tarmac, waiting for the paperwork to be completed knows exactly what I mean.
The Obama administration is a huge advocate of e-government, green initiatives and consumer safety. These are all issues that the MRO industry embraces. With help from the FAA digital MRO can become a reality, which will improve maintenance operations, simplify safety compliance and accelerate AD (Airworthiness Directive) adoption.
In future blog posts I will speak more on this subject and address some of the preconceived notions that exist around aircraft MRO and the technology that supports it.