The Uptime Blog
On August 6, 2005 a Tuninter ATR-72 aircraft attempted a water landing off the coast of Sicily and sixteen people died (23 survived). An Italian tribunal recently handed down seven convictions for this accident on charges ranging up to, and including, manslaughter and air disaster (Tuninter Pilots, COO, Technicians Convicted). Those found guilty include the two pilots, the chief operating officer, the maintenance chief and three technicians.
The cause of the crash was ultimately traced back to a maintenance error. During maintenance on Aug 5, the Fuel Quantity Indicator (FQI) on this aircraft was replaced. Unfortunately, the maintenance technicians used a FQI designed for an ATR-42 rather than an ATR-72 (according to Aviation Safety Network). While this particular FQI must have fit properly (after all it seems to have passed at least a visual inspection), it was designed to measure fuel quantity for a smaller aircraft. Because each model aircraft has a uniquely shaped fuel tank, the FQI that was installed indicated about 2000 Kgs more fuel than was actually on-board. (The pilots would have thought they had over 700 gallons more fuel than they actually did.) Predictably, on the longest leg of its next flight this aircraft ran out of fuel, resulting in significant loss of life.
Regardless of which industry you talk about, the wrong parts get put onto equipment all the time. While engineers try to “Murphy-proof” components to avoid mis-assembly, it isn’t always possible (for a variety of reasons). It’s possible that the maintenance technicians did not know there were different FQIs for each aircraft but it’s likely that the maintenance manuals did. In fact, there was probably even a way to test the FQI to make sure it was operating properly.
When servicing complex machines, it’s critical to have accurate maintenance information. Fortunately modern IT solutions are available that provide accurate, updated service information. This isn’t just about getting the latest service bulletins and revisions; it’s also about filtering out any information that isn’t relevant to the specific piece of equipment and type of service being performed.
Did the maintenance technicians from Tuninter have accurate information that clearly indicated the appropriate part number? Without thoroughly researching the court case, it would be unfair to reach any conclusions about the cause of this specific mistake. However, it is reasonable to ask how similar errors might be prevented in the future.
This tragedy points out that poor maintenance can carry a high cost. The value of the lives lost can’t be measured. The cost of replacing this aircraft exceeds $15M (new). And the cost to the airline’s reputation will only be known over time. Hindsight, they say, is 20-20. I’m sure the technicians responsible for maintaining this aircraft wish they could have a do-over but unfortunately, that’s not possible.
Maintenance planning and execution is an imperfect science that tries to balance risk and cost. Accurate parts and service information is critical to achieving that balance. It is the starting point for reducing mean-time-to-repair, improving first-time-fix-rate and increasing mean-time-between-failures. Without accurate data, maintenance technicians may be forced to rely on their “best-guess”, which too often is not good enough.
Airlines often have the challenge of adapting OEM data to meet their own maintenance requirements. One type of adaptation is called a Customer Originated Change (COC). Although it requires significant effort to manage COCs, it is usually worth the effort. COCs are derived from airline-specific business processes and experience, and are helpful in capturing and sharing best-practices and knowledge that is acquired over time. But some airlines have been tempted to change the actual data model of the documentation that was received from the OEM. This can increase costs, in unexpected ways.
Airlines receive a parts catalog and a maintenance manual in SGML/XML format from aircraft manufacturers, structured according to aviation industry standards (the ATA DTDs). Many airlines decide to transform this data structure to simplify their own publishing process, usually with only minor changes.
For example, an aircraft’s printed parts catalog contains a PNR table at the end, listing each part number numerically—similar to an index. This concept exists in the XML data as well and allows for attributes of each part to be listed in one location, instead of repeated throughout the body of the document each time the part is referenced.
When publishing the XML data (whether to paper, or electronically), this structure requires a more complex stylesheet, because the attribute data is often not sitting exactly at the location that it needs to appear. To reduce stylesheet complexity, some airlines may perform a transformation, copying and inserting this attribute content throughout the textual area of the main body (PCDATA inside the tag).
The immediate result seems wonderful: A faster transformation during the publishing process, with a stylesheet that is easier to create. However, the long term consequences far outweigh these benefits.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, the airline is also making COCs – changing content in the document according to their own specific needs. An example of a common COC would be if the airline’s engineering team decided to use an alternate part from an approved spare parts manufacturer (but there are many other reasons as well).
Using the PNR example and a modified data model, if an engineer wanted to update a part number s/he must now do so in multiple locations throughout the parts catalog, instead of just once within the PNR index. This is only a minor problem—search and replace can do the trick—but the real headache, and the real cost to the airline, comes as a result of the ongoing cost for managing these COCs.
Every three months, the OEM sends an updated version of the parts catalog. It is the airline’s responsibility to reconcile all the COCs with the new OEM revision, so that all the best-practices knowledge is re-incorporated. The COC comparison can be a massive resource drain on airline engineering teams, sometimes resulting in a six month delay in adopting new data. (Enigma 3C Revision Manager can dramatically reduce the pain of reconciling OEM revisions and COCs, but that doesn’t alleviate the underlying issue.) During this delay, new efficiencies are not being adopted, and in the worst case, regulatory mandates must be tracked and implemented manually.
Sometimes it’s easier for an airline to just generate a new COC. The innocent data transformation that made the publishing process ‘more efficient’ has resulted in many more COCs being required, with the associated review and approval process as well. I’ve seen cases where an airline had eight times as many COCs as a result of this type of modification.
The lesson learned is that data models are very sensitive to change. Often, the original DTDs do not seem to make sense so the temptation to make a simple change can be overwhelming. Airlines need to resist the temptation, as the long-term costs will usually far outweigh the short-term benefits. A second lesson is that airlines should seek publishing platforms that can handle complex DTDs—with strong stylesheet engines—and that include intelligent COC and revision management capabilities.
A recent story on National Public Radio highlights a trend that we’re hearing about a lot lately: manufacturers have drastically reduced their production of new cars (logically, because they are not selling as many), while sales of aftermarket parts are dramatically increasing. Along with that, the average age of the American car is on the rise: it’s now 9.4 years. People are getting their cars fixed, rather than buying new. That reflects what we’re seeing in other manufacturing sectors as well, customers are repairing, rather than replacing, what they already have.
For OEMs, whether they make planes, trains or automobiles, it means that there is money to be made in the aftermarket side of the business. Easy, right? One would think so. However, Carlisle & Company (an independent research and consulting firm) estimates that OEMs usually control only about 40% of the service parts business. The other 60% is controlled by competitors who sell common parts, those components that are not engineered exclusively by the OEM.
Customer satisfaction with service information and parts data is one of the factors that drives market share in the aftermarket. Each percentage increase in customer satisfaction with the OEM’s aftermarket support data equates to a percentage increase in market share for parts and service.
How can OEMs increase customer satisfaction? There are three ways:
1) Make sure customers (usually dealerships and distributors) have the latest service and parts information. If an OEM does not provide accurate, up-to-date support information, the customer will look elsewhere to buy the parts. Quite often, OEM catalogs don’t contain the latest information; either because they’ve outsourced their parts catalog development to a third party or their in-house catalog creation and update processes are too time consuming. Either scenario results in the service and parts information being about 45 days out-of-date.
2) Make it easy for customers to find and order service parts. OEMs that provide a streamlined/automated approach to part identification and ordering capture more business because they are improving their customer’s business as well. This requires powerful searching and filtering tools to identify the right parts and procedures and an integrated, robust shopping cart. Also, customers must be guided to the proper part choices including: part supercession, installation kits and any special tools. This environment must integrate with back-end ERP and e-commerce systems, to streamline customer’s access to part purchasing, pricing and inventory data.
3) Provide a complete product, parts and service environment that incorporates all ancillary information such as technical specifications, troubleshooting, service bulletins, wiring diagrams and part lists, as well as pricing and availability. When customers have a one-stop-shop for all aftermarket information they have no reason to look elsewhere for help.
The bottom line is, to increase your aftermarket parts sales and market share, studies have shown that you have to increase customer satisfaction with your aftermarket parts and support data. Providing easy access to up-to-date parts and service information is the best place to start.
With much of the world in recession, industries that rely on capital equipment—like oil & gas, aviation and construction—are buying less new equipment these days. As OEMs sell fewer new units, they have shifted their focus to selling more spare parts.
OEMs are seizing this opportunity because profit margins on aftermarket parts and service are higher than on new equipment. Typically, parts and service make up only 25% of an organization’s total revenue, but they often represent as much as 75% of profit.
The problem is that most of these companies capture less than half of their potential aftermarket parts and service business. Many businesses are using inefficient manual processes to manage thousands of parts and the related maintenance and repair information. For example, customers must often call the OEM to figure out the right part number(s) and pricing, which can take as much as 45 minutes. As if this isn’t bad enough, the customer must then enter this information onto the proper form and fax it back to the OEM, where it is re-entered into the order management system.
Such a cumbersome process leads to misorders, shipping errors, inventory problems and delays that ultimately increases equipment downtime. It also means higher staffing costs for both the OEM and the customer.
What does it take to address these issues? An accurate and up-to-date electronic parts catalog, such as Enigma InService EPC, which (1) simplifies part identification; (2) provides relevant service data; and (3) integrates with e-commerce systems like Oracle, SAP and IBM.
In a typical scenario, customers use InService EPC to quickly identify the correct parts/kits and specific quantities. Items to be ordered are added to a pick list and passed, through a SOAP-based interface, to the order management system, which validates, submits, schedules and tracks the order for fulfillment. Integration between the parts catalog and e-commerce systems reduces the cost of ownership and improves ROI for the manufacturer. It also enhances the customer’s experience, which has been proven to increase aftermarket part sales.
Enigma InService EPC extends the OEM’s IT enterprise—from product development through complete aftermarket support. By providing open, standards-based interfaces, Enigma makes enterprise integration simple, so that companies can meet today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities.