The Uptime Blog
Last week’s Aircraft Commerce Airline & Aerospace MRO & Operations IT Conference—APAC was worthwhile for more than 200 delegates and vendors in attendance, mainly because there was lively discussion on best practices, documentation standards, change management and, relatively new this year, flight ops manuals. There was also some buzz about mobile devices, with many IT operatives exploring the idea; several cited device costs, display standards and device standards as barriers to business adoption. (Self-disclosure: Enigma’s MRO products do support tablets in response to a growing request for that functionality.)
The session with the best audience participation was the Korean Air presentation by Mr. Sook Hyun Cho, General Manager, IT Leader of M&E/MRO ERP Project at ERP Division, Korean Air. That’s probably because there are relatively few conference presentations that cover the details of a successfully-completed airline ERP and MRO project.
Korean Air’s solution involved the Oracle® E-Business Suite and cMRO solutions integrated with the Enigma InService MRO product suite. Mr. Cho noted that the initial A380 fleet induction took seven days, including the entire maintenance library and the ability to generate customized job cards on-the-fly. While he was pleased with this result he felt confident that moving forward A380 revision processing would be even faster, consistent with the two to three day average that Enigma provides for the rest of KAL’s fleets. The fact that revision processing for a typical fleet takes less than three days is quite impressive; most airlines take months or more to update a fleet. Mr. Cho was especially pleased that the A380 fleet induction was managed completely by KAL’s in-house team, without the need for vendor support.
Jonathan Yaron, CEO of Enigma and Hannes Sandmeier, VP, cMRO and Depot Repair Development, Oracle also gave an overview of the Korean Air solution. The Enigma-cMRO integrated solution is one of the few fully-integrated enterprise MRO offerings available on the market. The joint solution integrates processes across several departments, including finance, procurement, materials, engineering, planning, execution (line and base workshops), technical publications and human resources.
Another topic from this year’s conference was documentation standards, where the discussion widened to include flight ops manuals. As cockpits on next-generation aircraft get technology improvements, and older models are retrofitted with some of these new features, the IT aspect of flight decks is getting more and more complicated. A follow-on effect is that operational manuals get bigger and more complicated, often covering products from multiple OEMs, multiple customer configurations and multiple fleets. The demand for having accurate, EFB-compatible flight ops documents close-at-hand in the cockpit is an increasing requirement of aircraft operations.
Unfortunatley the industry continues to struggle with multiple standards in M&E (iSpec 2200 vs. S1000D), and flight ops are now seeing a similar landscape where OEM-implemented standards require different viewers, integrations and editing add-ons or plug-ins. This confusing environment allows OEMs to mandate the use of their own IT tools, instead of allowing airline and MRO customers to make their own choices about how to efficiently operate and maintain aircraft and engines.
As if it were not tough enough to manage the maintenance plans of multiple fleets, OEM policies (namely Boeing and Airbus) restrict the use of technical documentation. As a result, airlines are forced to use proprietary OEM systems that limit their IT choices and infringe on their ability to integrate information into ERP or M&E systems. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, for airlines and MROs to increase efficiency and save money. In summary, the OEMs make it too complicated to leverage technical publications, which limits other aspects of maintenance operations (job cards, inventory, procurement, part list synchronization, etc.)
The reality is, most major airlines have either already moved away from OEM-based IT systems or are seriously considering doing so, in favor of implementing a "best of breed" solution that supports multiple standards.What might be considered a decent system for basic MRO activities at a small airline with a single OEM fleet (Boeing-only or Airbus-only) does not work for an airline that operates multiple fleets and power plant combinations, even if these aircraft/engine fleets come from the same OEM. (OEMs often use different "interpretations" of the standards for different aircraft/engine fleets, which makes life complicated for airlines and MROs.) This causes even deeper problems when an airline wants to integrate technical documentation with the planning system to produce dynamic job cards ready for the latest paperless digital standards.
Fortunately Enigma offers IT solutions that covers different standards (and interpretations of those standards) to eliminate the need for using multiple, proprietary OEM systems. The Enigma InService MRO suite of products is the best option to handle multi-vendor fleets and mixed standards for MRO technical documentation. Having offered a solution in this area for well over 16 years, Enigma allows aircraft operators to support complex, multi-vendor IT landscapes to provide a single source of truth in technical documentation.
Enigma exhibited at the Field Service Interactive conference last week in Dallas, where roughly 100 attendees discussed issues and solutions surrounding field service for a variety of verticals: aerospace, high tech, medical devices, and heavy equipment. Almost all of the vendors were talking about dispatch and getting the right technicians to the service location; no one but Enigma focused on the need for actual service documents and parts data to perform repairs.
What are the ingredients of successful field service? There are several to choose from: parts logistics/optimization, inventory, predictive maintenance, scheduling, remote monitoring, GPS devices, etc. But really, most vendors are like the bread slices of a sandwich; they handle the before and after (or top and bottom) aspects of repair, but they aren’t the meat of the field service sandwich. Enigma technology is the meat that makes the sandwich better. Why? Because service technicians need accurate parts and service information at the point of need, at the repair site.
Sure, it’s important to optimize parts logistics and technician dispatch (often referred to as resource allocation), but what happens even when the “right” technician gets to a site and doesn’t have access to the latest parts catalog from the OEM, or the most updated service bulletins? He or she ends up spending valuable time searching for information through multiple databases or paper catalogs, looking at the wrong diagrams, ordering the wrong parts and calling customer support colleagues to get the right info. That wastes the service tech’s time and the customer support rep’s time (and we all know that time = money).
Enigma solutions address this problem by delivering updated parts and service information to the repair location, via the Web or DVD, online or offline. The technical documentation (part catalogs, parts kits, engineering diagrams, maintenance manuals, service bulletins, troubleshooting, safety notices, technical specifications, etc.), is organized by product division, family and model number, and can be filtered by equipment configuration or serial number. Armed with this information, the field technician can perform maintenance much more quickly and efficiently.
Furthermore, Enigma field service solutions (InService EPC and InService MRO) are built upon Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) so they can be integrated with back-office systems such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), enterprise asset management (EAM), diagnostics, order processing, supply chain, warranty and parts inventory systems. This integration capability facilitates easy (and accurate) online parts orders, automated job card generation, and tracking of warranty information.
Most importantly, Enigma technology helps technicians “fix it right the first time, and fix it fast.” The goal is to not only reduce field service operational costs, but to increase equipment uptime for the customers. Increased uptime results in happier customers. The value of customer satisfaction cannot be overrated. The customer’s perception of the OEM matters because customers have choices when it comes to buying or leasing equipment; OEMs have plenty of competition. If you are an OEM, chances are good that you are not just selling a piece of equipment, you are also selling add-ons such as service level agreements (SLAs) and new service offerings such as remote diagnostics or technical telephone support. One way to increase that side of your business is to keep your customers happy by delivering fast, accurate field service. As a bonus this also protects (or perhaps enhances) your brand reputation.
In sum, I leave you with this nugget of advice: feed your field service teams the technical documentation they need, and you will also feed your hungry customer
A recent article from Aviation Week titled “Spend Less From Better MRO Planning” focuses on some of the challenges airlines face as they try to control maintenance costs. While the article starts by describing the cost implications of leased aircraft and engines, the real message is the opportunity to lower total aircraft costs through long-term maintenance planning. In a business where the utilization of capital equipment fluctuates according to seasonal demand, oil prices, geo-political circumstances, economic activity, weather and even seismic or geothermal events, it can be especially difficult to implement long-term maintenance planning. Furthermore, the complexity of the equipment (aircraft, engines and components) makes aviation an inherently unpredictable business. With these things in mind, contingencies have to be part of any full strategic maintenance plan.
The author suggests that with enough data about each aircraft, each fleet, each lease contract, each maintenance site, and each route plan, that airlines could optimize their MRO schedules and significantly decrease costs. The article also talks about understanding manpower, skill levels, locations and lead times; these are important. But equally important to controlling costs is the ability to understand the current and desired configuration of each aircraft, and the parts and procedures that will be needed. So while the author speaks at length about the vision, he only briefly touches on the roadmap or requirements to achieve it.
Throughout the article, several MRO software vendors are interviewed and each says basically the same thing, “give us resource and planning data and we can do the calculations.” Guess what? If an airline has the time and talent they can get Microsoft Excel to do the resource allocation calculations. (A point that is made in the article.) Achieving this vision requires the integration of accurate configuration data with flexible execution systems, so that building strategic plans and responding to tactical requirements go hand-in-hand.
In other words, achieving this vision requires a system like Enigma. Here’s why. How does the configuration and maintenance plan for each aircraft and engine get into the planning system? One way is to load it manually from OEM manuals and IPCs. A better way is to use software to deconstruct those manuals against each tail number and automatically load the configuration into the M&E system. How does the as-maintained configuration of each aircraft and engine stay current in the planning system? One way is to manually load the data from completed job cards. A better way is to automatically extract the data from job cards and update the M&E system.
How do revised (new, modified, deleted) parts and procedures get into the planning system? One way is to inspect each revision of every manual and IPC and make the changes manually. A better way is to compare each OEM revision to the current data in the M&E system, note the changes and then apply airline-specific logic to determine which changes are made automatically and which require engineering approval. You get the point, achieving the goal of spending less on maintenance through better MRO planning is a complicated but achievable problem. But it’s more than resource allocation. The key is to ensure that the data that drives maintenance planning and execution remains integrated and accurate so that maintenance reflects the needs of the airline rather than the desires of the OEM or (in lease situations) the owner.
The second part of achieving this vision is to have a system that allows airlines to quickly respond to changing situations. In other words, the ability to handle AOGs (aircraft on ground) and NRs (non-routine events). The article describes how maintenance requirements are needed well ahead of the service date so they can gather long-lead items and prepare job cards. While long-lead items are a valid concern, the unpredictable nature of maintenance means that job card generation should not be considered a long-lead item. Even for heavy maintenance, a significant portion of the work performed is unscheduled. Planning and execution systems need to be integrated and accurate so that non-routine job cards can be dynamically generated and approved. This will minimize delays, while still remaining true to the airline’s current strategic maintenance plan.
Such capabilities are not in the distant future, they exist today at places like Korean Airlines (KAL). KAL recently delivered a case study at the Airline and Aerospace MRO & Operations IT tradeshow in Singapore on this very topic, and we will cover that in this blog in the near future. The key message is, when it comes to MRO planning it’s time to apply a new equation: More Integration (M&E + ERP + Enigma) = Lower Cost + Less Downtime.
A recent blog post in Mass Transit magazine titled, “Hidden Cost Savings in Your Transit Operations,” discusses a common problem for transportation agencies: they have millions of dollars of unused inventory sitting in warehouses.
Service and spare parts inventory ranks among the largest assets on the corporate balance sheet. Our research indicates that eight of the largest transit systems in North America (ranked by ridership) have approximately $850 million in materials and supplies inventory, of which about $650 million is invested in service and spare parts sitting in their distribution centers, stocking locations, and repair facilities. While much of this parts inventory is essential, some parts are over-stocked, some are under-stocked, and others are simply obsolete.
The blog author is Charles Smart, the CEO of Smart Software, and his point is that inventory problems can be solved with better demand forecasting which, not coincidentally, is what Smart Software provides.
Enigma agrees that transit agencies have inventory problems, and it’s directly related to their inability to accurately predict which parts will be needed and when. Certainly demand forecasting software can help but let’s look at some other reasons why transit agencies suffer bloated, costly inventories.
- Outdated ERP content. Maintenance planners often complain that their ERP systems contain parts information that is out of date and inaccurate. In this situation, planners don’t know which parts to keep in inventory, which ones need to be added, and which can be safely re-sold or discarded.
- Mis-ordered parts. Misorders are typically the result of old parts catalogs and service manuals that are no longer accurate. In other cases, service bulletins may be missing or maintenance and parts information may not reflect the current equipment (configuration). Sometimes, mis-orders are the result of human error when manually submitting part numbers on order forms. What happens to mis-ordered parts? If they aren’t returned to the vendor, they get added to the existing inventory.
- Over-ordered parts. Maintenance technicians not only order the wrong parts, they also often order several similar parts, hoping that one of them will “do the trick,” with the rest either returned or added to inventory. (Again, this is the result of poor data for the ERP and equipment.)
In all three cases, the transit agency ends up spending more money than necessary buying and shipping incorrect parts and either 1) returning parts that aren’t used or 2) accumulating extra parts in inventory. Enigma InService EPC can improve the situation by ensuring parts and service information remains accurate. As new information is received from vendors (i.e., updated parts catalogs, maintenance manuals, service bulletins, etc.), Enigma automatically updates the information used by planners and mechanics so that the right parts are ordered and installed.
To reduce the number of mis-ordered and over-ordered parts, InService EPC can be integrated with the manufacturer’s ERP or e-commerce system. In this way, parts orders no longer have to be filled-out and submitted manually, rather parts are selected from within the service and parts catalog and automatically submitted for procurement. As a result, technicians spend less time—and make fewer mistakes—ordering parts.
Enigma can also help companies keep their ERP and EAM systems accurate and reliable. InService EPC can be further integrated with back-office systems, allowing any revisions to the parts data (from the OEM) to be compared with current databases so that inventory and parts requirements can be synchronized and updated.
Should mass transit agencies focus on monitoring and managing parts inventory and logistics, or should they ensure the quality of their parts catalogs and service information? The answer is, they should address both sides of the issue. That would be a truly “smart” parts and service strategy to reduce costs and improve inventories.