The Uptime Blog
It was great to come across this recent press release from the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association: “AAIA Recognizes World Class Technicians.”
The annual contest, sponsored by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), recognized 38 individual service technicians. “The AAIA World Class Technician Award is for automotive diagnostic and repair professionals what the Super Bowl is for professional football players,” said Kathleen Schmatz, AAIA president and CEO. “Just imagine the knowledge and skills needed by a technician to pass 22 ASE tests.”
I don’t know that I exactly agree with the Super Bowl analogy (there probably aren’t any pools betting which service technician athletes will take home the honor and be inscribed in the Dearborn, Michigan Automotive Hall of Fame), but when one considers that there are over 850,000 service technicians in the United States, and thousands of competitors, it’s a big accomplishment.
With all the constant changes in automotive technology and diagnostic equipment, the job of a service technician isn’t easy. Dealerships that employ one of these winners surely possess a great advantage by having such experts in the service bay not only performing repairs but also mentoring fellow technicians.
This award announcement reminded me that Enigma’s technology helps technicians—whether they are expert or novice—perform like one of these winners. By quickly and automatically delivering parts and service information that is relevant to a specific vehicle and problem, Enigma technology allows thousands of service technicians and parts managers around the world to make repairs faster and easier. In fact, several of this year’s winners undoubtedly use Enigma electronic parts catalogs in their daily work.
Kudos to the winners!
What’s the more important trait for a maintenance organization: efficiency or consistency? I pose this as a classic either/or question, when the best answer is probably both. Given the choice however, most people would probably pick efficiency without any hesitation. But they’d be wrong.
The logic behind choosing efficiency is understandable – reducing mean-time-to-repair (MTTR) improves equipment uptime, which increases revenue and profits. Therefore, if MTTR is the key to profits then efficiency must be the most important. (Who cares how the repair gets done as long as it gets done fast.) While focusing on “faster, faster, faster” raises the risk of poor quality, that’s not the reason efficiency is the wrong answer. Rather, I want to challenge the underlying assumption that MTTR is the best key performance indicator (KPI) for tracking aftermarket performance. I hope to demonstrate to you that variability in the maintenance function (still using time as the measurement) is a better KPI for optimizing the service organization.
For more than 10 years, two concepts have dominated the discussions of manufacturing engineers: 1) Lean and 2) Six Sigma (LSS). These practices have proven incredibly valuable to the companies that implemented them but LSS is not just for manufacturing anymore. Lean Six Sigma holds huge opportunity for aftermarket services as well.
I have been talking about LSS with analysts for several years, hoping to see a real dialog begin about the implications for the aftermarket. Unfortunately, none has been willing to take the lead on this topic (probably because analysts don’t offer a solution to the problem). Therefore, Enigma will start the Lean Six Sigma dialog by sharing the lessons we’ve learned from customers, partners and consultants.
In future blog posts I’ll describe the impact that Lean and Six Sigma can have on the aftermarket and explain why consistency is more important than efficiency. I hope this discussion will shine a light on the importance of LSS initiatives for aftermarket services and in the process help readers take away some knowledge that they can apply within their own company. Consistency and efficiency are critical to improving aftermarket revenues and profits. Lean Six Sigma can teach us how to balance these traits and thereby optimize the service organization.
Joe Escobar, the editor over at Aircraft Maintenance Technology, devotes time and thought to the question of attracting and keeping mechanics in the aircraft maintenance industry.
In a post he wrote back in November 2006 on his “Technically Speaking” blog, Escobar raised the question of recruiting young people to pursue a career in aircraft maintenance. This question sparked no less than 52 comments on his post, some as recent as a couple of months ago. Evidently, this is a hot topic. In a follow-up post this week, Escobar summarizes the responses he received and reaches a somber conclusion: many are fed up with the industry and with the way it treats them and would not advise others to become aircraft mechanics.
The aging of the aircraft mechanics workforce is a well-known problem, even if few in the industry are keen on discussing it in public (after all, who wants to annoy the unions?) But if retiring workers are not replaced with enough quality technicians, then this becomes a serious issue for the industry’s future. Airlines have no choice—aircraft must be maintained—so they will have to recruit the necessary number of mechanics—good or bad—to do the job. If the new mechanics are not up to par with the industry’s high quality standards, then two issues need to resolved: 1) capturing the knowledge of the retiring mechanics, and; 2) building adequate training programs to teach this knowledge to the new recruits.
These are not simple issues to tackle, as inevitably they will lead to new investments in business processes, IT systems and education programs. These additional (and, in most cases, non-budgeted) costs, coupled with the inevitable rise in pay necessary to retain higher-quality graduates, will need to be justified and controlled.
Part of the problem can be mitigated by investing in the right place: IT systems that help retain the knowledge of veteran mechanics. But simply installing a “knowledge management” system will not be enough. In the first place, these systems place an additional burden on users requiring them to manually type-up their comments and best-practices into “free form” data fields. In the second place, users now have yet another information source that must be reviewed before starting the maintenance process. Both of these problems represent behavioral changes to which an aging workforce will invariably fail to adapt.
The solution is to implement a system that captures and disseminates knowledge in context. While a mechanic may not input data into a computer system at the end of his shift, he is more likely to do so while working, especially if he is commenting on information and procedures that he’s already using to do his job. Furthermore, by providing instant access to best practices, from within the maintenance manuals, younger mechanics are more likely to learn and put into practice the knowledge of more experienced technicians.
An aircraft mechanic uses technical documentation throughout his shift: tasks from the Aircraft Maintenance Manual, diagrams from the Wiring Diagrams Manual, parts data from the Illustrated Parts Catalog and, obviously, Job Cards and Task Cards. The ability to add or append comments directly onto this content, if provided in a clear and easy-to-use interface, will ensure that much of the knowledge inside the mechanic’s head will be available to future generations of technicians. Furthermore, this input will be much more valuable for re-use, as it is provided alongside the existing tasks and procedures (i.e. in context) and not in a separate system. Companies can then leverage this data to train new recruits and reduce some of the learning curve costs.