The Uptime Blog
Tags: Maintenance, MRO, aftermarket, Electronic parts catalogs, aviation, technical documentation, Defense, automotive, effectivity, parts logistics, parts ordering
When evaluating the benefits of different maintenance information systems, features are often measured against increased efficiency. And of course, this is an important goal: Allowing engineers and technicians to work faster translates immediately into higher uptime and lower costs. But sometimes, features go beyond the tactical benefit of worker efficiency, by adding strategic operational savings to the picture. Effectivity is one of those features that provides both tactical and strategic benefits.
One reason for Enigma’s leadership in the aerospace and manufacturing aftermarket is that all of the products include effectivity filtering. I had always seen this as a tactical feature that helps workers consistently perform more efficiently. But I’ve now discovered that effectivity also provides a strategic advantage, by improving and automating key aspects of maintenance planning, parts purchasing and inventory management.
Before describing these benefits, let me give a brief overview of effectivity…
Complex equipment—like planes, trains and automobiles—is typically designed as a single model and then adapted to meet various customer requirements. Each customization, or option package, does not usually warrant a completely new set of manuals—most of the content remains the same, with just a few special instructions and optional parts. For the sake of efficiency, the OEM’s tech pubs department will often maintain a single source document and simply mark the content that changes, according to the specific equipment model or serial number. For example (using an imaginary data schema):
<step effect=’ALL’>Remove the locking bolt.</step>
<step effect=’ALL’>Insert the protective gasket, part #
<part effect=’V18,V22’ >A44-4481</part>
This is a very simple example that describes the concept of effectivity. With really complex equipment, effectivity often applies to large portions of text, and in some cases can even be nested, with subtasks split according to the equipment model, and then specific part data within that subtask split further according to each serial number.
When publishing to paper, effectivity requirements are typically listed in the footer of each page, and are also listed as a lead-in to specific paragraphs or parts list items that are effectivity-specific. Although sometimes confusing, this format may be sufficient for mechanics with the proper training. However, electronic delivery can eliminate this confusion by filtering out any content that is not relevant to the specific machine being serviced, allowing technicians to focus only on the content that matters.
I’ve had the chance to see a few electronic systems that did not filter according to effectivity, rather they simply mimicked the paper-publishing model of headers and lead-ins. Unfortunately, treating electronic delivery like paper does not always work, and the customer results were less than stellar.
I was astounded to discover that because mechanics could not be sure of the specific part that was needed (for the serial number being serviced) they would often order every possible part! They might take three or more parts to service one piece of equipment and figure out which one was correct out in the field. The other parts would then, hopefully, be returned.
It’s hard to even measure the additional costs incurred by this process:
- ‘Lost’ parts, that are not properly returned
- Cash-flow that is tied up in lengthy return material procedures (RMA)
- Inventory purchases made to replace parts that weren’t needed in the first place
- Wasted shipping, stocking and logistics costs
Maintenance information systems that use effectivity filtering eliminate this problem. Not only does effectivity provide strategic benefits—operational savings across multiple departments—but also tactical benefits—faster, more accurate maintenance.
Effectivity filtering increases manitenance productivity and reduces parts and inventory costs. Now, that’s what I call effective.
The aftermarket is not immune to the current economic climate; the slowdown in the automotive sector, for example, is obvious and understandable. But the fact that aftermarket trade shows and conferences such as InterlogWinter and Service Parts Inventory Management & Reverse Logistics Summit are still going strong is a good sign that companies see the importance of the aftermarket to their bottom line.
InterlogWinter, the leading conference for the aerospace, automotive and heavy equipment industry, will be held next week, with approximately 200 attendees. (In case you’re wondering, yes, Enigma will be there, at Booth #13). The agenda is robust, with presentations from companies like Cummins, Pratt & Whitney, and Briggs and Stratton, on topics such as “Multiple Moving Targets: Servicing Different Products At Various Stages In Their Life Cycles To Deliver Top Notch After Market Service.”
The Service Parts Inventory Management & Reverse Logistics Summit is now in its third year, and growing, with an agenda that includes presentations such as “Improving Business Relationships and Customer Support by Streamlining Service Parts into an Online Catalog.”
Even in an economic downturn, companies want to invest in technology that will increase efficiency and cut costs. In the manufacturing aftermarket, most OEMs want to improve relationships with their dealer networks by making it easier for their dealers to do business with them; to do otherwise would be to miss revenue opportunities.
What we are hearing from our customers and prospects is that they cannot afford to keep doing business as is; they need the latest technology solutions to keep pace not only with their competition but with customer expectations.
We are hearing that outsourcing an online catalog to a third party is just not cost-effective anymore, because it costs more than keeping it in-house, and it takes too long to send out catalog updates to their dealer network.
We are seeing that most companies have e-commerce systems, such as Oracle iStore, in place to facilitate parts ordering; but those companies are now seeing the value of integrating their e-commerce system with a compatible electronic parts catalog.
Recessions come and go. But the need to do more, better—to compete—never goes away.
During a recent conversation with Joe Barkai of IDC Manufacturing Insights, he mentioned that he’s often asked about improving MTTR and FTFR but rarely MTBF. (For those of you that have forgotten your maintenance acronyms: MTTR is mean-time-to-repair, FTFR is first-time-fix-rate and MTBF is mean-time-between-failure.)
It seems that the natural inclination of many service departments is to focus on quickly getting equipment back in service, with less concern for proper equipment maintenance and calibration. During a break-fix event (unscheduled maintenance) this is a rational response: the equipment is down, revenue generation has stopped, so get the machines working again. However, even during scheduled service events mechanics can become overly focused on speed. This is an example of reacting to the urgent rather than resolving the important. The problem is that service departments are often measured more on productivity than on quality.
Looking at each of these acronyms: MTTR is all about fixing stuff faster, which requires streamlining repair processes; FTFR seems like it’s about quality but is really more about accurate diagnosis, which takes us back to productivity again; However, MTBF is all about how long equipment continues to function properly.
For example, when the wheels on a car are aligned there is a certain range of adjustment that qualifies as “straight.” That range is the tolerance of the alignment. If the mechanic adjusts the wheels so that they’re barely within tolerance, then one small pothole can knock the wheels out of alignment again. However, if the mechanic is diligent about centering the wheels in the tolerance zone then it may take several potholes before the steering needs another adjustment. In this case, the length of time between wheel alignments is the mean-time-between-failure.
As you can imagine, focusing on MTBF can have a negative impact on MTTR but that can happen when any measurement criteria gets too much emphasis. In future blog posts we plan to take this discussion deeper, and talk about some of the challenges and solutions for keeping these three service measurements properly aligned.
With all the projections of gloom and doom for the coming year, one area we’re not hearing about very much is aftermarket parts and service. Perhaps that’s because the economic downturn has a smaller effect on the aftermarket than it does on manufacturing. The reason is pretty obvious; the wear and tear of normal equipment operations guarantees a need for parts and maintenance. This need never goes away as long as the equipment is in service. So unless customers stop using existing equipment altogether, which can happen, there will continue to be a market for service and parts.
It’s true that in certain industries, and certain regions, some of the equipment is being mothballed. In many industries, new equipment purchases are being delayed. However, most companies are simply finding ways to continue existing operations with the equipment they already own. These companies have an urgent need to operate their equipment more efficiently—improving uptime, reducing mean-time-between-failures (MTBF) and improving mean-time-to-repair (MTTR). The only way to accomplish this, with existing equipment, is to improve the processes associated with parts and service. And that means improving IT, for both the manufacturer and the operator.
A TechWeb Research Report in the print version of the Nov 24 Information Week (”The Road Ahead: Tough Times Call for Strategic IT”) says: “An unintended consequence of the global economic problems is that they may further elevate the strategic role of IT in organizations, as the business looks to its technology platforms and processes to help drive efficiencies that save money and accelerate business activities that can have an impact on customer loyalty.” (The full report is available for registration here.)
For instance, under normal circumstances an automotive OEM gets less than 5% of corporate revenue from spare parts sales but those same sales provide more than 30% of corporate profits. With the decrease in car sales what must that picture look like now? And how much better would it be if the OEMs could position themselves to compete more effectively against Pep Boys, AutoZone and NAPA? Many manufacturers are now trying to find out by implementing advanced parts and service systems to support their customers and dealers.
The economy may be bad but companies are still running their equipment. Enigma’s job is to help manufacturers and operators support that equipment, with software that simplifies the work of mechanics, technicians and parts managers. The result is a more efficient aftermarket with lower costs and higher profits for all involved.