The Uptime Blog
This week's Aircraft Commerce: Airline & Aerospace MRO & Operations IT Conference for the Americas was a great success. It's the first time this event has been held in North America—over the past four years the focus was on EMEA and APAC. This was a well-executed conference, with over 200 attendees from 60 companies (from across the Americas) and 22 different exhibitors.
By specifically focusing on IT for airline MRO and operations, this event fills a gap in the current list of aviation conferences. Moving forward, we believe this show will gain importance for the aviation community as automation, compliance and safety become a focal point of technology and cost-saving initiatives.
For many attendees, this was the first time they learned that the wait for paperless is over; the technology is available and is being rolled-out today at numerous airlines around the world. Those in attendance seemed to agree, based on the feedback received from the Tuesday morning presentation: "IT considerations in a modern MRO facility; Will paperless become a reality?" delivered by Scot Struminger, FedEx Service's VP of Airline Technology and Jonathan Yaron, Enigma's CEO. Not only was the audience very receptive to the topic, but Scot and Jonathan were pulled into numerous conversations with attendees throughout the remaining two days of the conference.
As the show in Miami came to a close, Enigma was encouraged by the renewed level of interest in finding IT solutions to address the challenges of operating an airline or an MRO organization. Having worked with many OEMs, airlines and MROs we know we can help the aviation community alleviate the growing concerns—economic, regulatory, safety, productivity, quality, retirement, etc.—that have come to dominate today's aviation business strategy.
The San Francisco Bay Area is nice this time of year, or so I was told. Instead, I got smacked with wind and rain. Nevertheless, Oracle's 4th Annual Maintenance Summit was well worth the inclement weather. Just to put things in perspective, I was at this event because the attendees represent some of the most sophisticated operators of complex equipment on the planet. It's also interesting to note that in 2009, Oracle ALM/EAM products exceeded the 4,000 customer mark. That's pretty impressive.
Presentations were almost exclusively delivered by customers, all of whom were quite open about the pros and cons of their implementation decisions. Customers spoke at length about the technical challenges of converting legacy systems and integrating with financial apps. They also spoke about the organizational challenges of rolling out a modern asset management system to an aging and (somewhat) skeptical workforce.
While I'm sure the speakers were hand-picked, it would be wrong to assume these customers white-washed their experience for Oracle's benefit. They seemed to be truly interested in helping others, even their competitors, avoid the mistakes they had made. Speakers highlighted problems they encountered with the software, the implementation strategy, and their own organizations. Yet in the end, all of the customers I asked were reporting at least 10% improvement in supply chain, maintenance and uptime.
Once the Oracle software went live, companies reported a renewed relationship between the maintenance and finance departments because finance had better visibility into ongoing operations, they could understand the basis for maintenance decisions, and ultimately because the resulting cost savings were clear to all involved.
Many of the companies I met were actively asking, what's next? (i.e. "Now that finance is on our side, how do we keep delivering savings?") These companies were fascinated by the idea of moving beyond asset management and maintenance scheduling, to start optimizing maintenance execution. Our discussions revolved around ways to help mechanics and technicians work more efficiently and deliver more consistent quality. For many of the companies I met, this topic was reaching a critical stage as they face the challenge of a large workforce entering retirement and young replacement workers that lack the required experience.
As Enigma moves deeper into 2010, we look forward to discussing innovative solutions to this problem with the customers and attendees of Oracle's Maintenance Summit. With a rich set of Oracle integrations already in place, Enigma is perfectly positioned to help companies significantly improve their aftermarket business and maintenance processes. And it now seems there are 4,000 of those companies that may be interested.
When it comes to repairing a Bobcat tractor (or similar heavy equipment), customers often turn to a Bobcat dealer because special tools, skills, service and parts information are required. However, with the incredible quantity of cars on the road, consumers often have a choice between an OEM dealership and an independent repair facility (IRF) for automotive repairs.
Lately there has been renewed debate about whether carmakers are obligated to share their proprietary service information and tools with anyone that may want it—their franchised dealers, IRFs and consumers. The Right to Repair legislation, formally known as Motor Vehicle Owners Right to Repair Act (HR 2048), was first proposed in Congress in early 2005, aiming to "require automakers to provide the same service information and tools to independent auto and maintenance shops, as well as to consumers, that the automaker dealership service centers receive."
This legislative effort appears to have the support of some civic organizations and the aftermarket industry. For example, in early 2009 The Auto Channel quoted Aaron Lowe of the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA): "there are more than five million cars registered in Massachusetts that need easily accessible and affordable service. If car manufacturers can dictate where you have your car repaired then you have lost your right to choose. This legislation asks the question, who owns your car?"
However, the Automotive Service Association has gone on record to disagree with the Right to Repair argument, including a series of six videos posted by the ASA. Each video features several IRF owners who actually oppose the Right to Repair legislation. They state very clearly that when they need parts or service information, they can always get what they need from the National Automotive Service Task Force web site. (NASTF's web site says it was "established to facilitate the identification and correction of gaps in the availability and accessibility of automotive service information, service training, diagnostic tools and equipment, and communications for the benefit of automotive service professionals.") In fact, if you click on NASTF's OEM service web sites page, it links to all the major car manufacturer service sites, where information can be easily downloaded.
So, it seems there is some lively debate about the necessity of this Right to Repair legislation.
Here are some points to consider:
- Right to Repair advocates claim they want owners and service technicians to have "access to the computers that control the systems and components that affect the safe operation of their automobiles." Truth is, cars have become much more complicated machines, involving sophisticated electronics that require special tools and service information for proper diagnosis and repair. It's nostalgic to remember those days when our neighborhood mechanic could fix anything and everything on our vehicles. In 20+ years of owning a car, I have occasionally brought my car into a dealership for service, but I've never had to do so; my local mechanic could fix whatever was broken. However, I realize that although many things can be fixed by a local mechanic, some things can't. Someday something more complicated might go wrong on one of my cars, requiring dealership service. Between the complexity of today's cars and the very real concern for liability, it seems reasonable that certain automotive systems should only be repaired by a properly certified mechanic. Nevertheless, I agree that it's a problem for a car owner if the nearest dealership is 100 miles away (heck, even 30 miles away is a nuisance).
- Do IRFs truly want the burden of keeping their shops outfitted with the necessary equipment and skilled mechanics to handle every service repair? And even if they do want that challenge, can they realistically afford to keep pace with the latest OEM developments and computer technology? Since IRFs run a volume business, based on fixing all makes and models quickly and efficiently, aren't they focused on the most frequent car repairs? Why worry about programming electronic modules? Nevertheless, this is a business decision the IRF must make.
- There is no such thing as a free lunch. It costs OEMs money to create, publish and distribute proprietary parts and service information. Being forced to deliver and maintain that information to a larger network of users will naturally cost OEMs more time and money, and those costs will ultimately be passed on to consumers. (After all, this won't be a one-time publishing of content to the web; all updates, service bulletins, safety notices and other revisions must be made available and tracked for legal/compliance purposes. With a significant increase in the user-base, more servers and sophisticated access control will be required to protect and maintain the data.) Consumers will surely complain about increased costs from implementing the Right to Repair legislation but we can't expect the OEMs to carry the costs for their competitors.
- OEMs may be legally obliged to offer better support to their dealer networks because the dealerships pay franchise fees to the OEM; and in some cases the dealers pay subscription fees to obtain the latest service and parts information. We all know that dealers don't make much profit selling cars; the profit comes from the service department. (Part of the reason dealers pay OEM franchise fees is to provide complete repair services for a specific automotive brand. Therefore, it's understandable if these dealers expect exclusive rights to certain service and parts information.)
- Some reports indicate that the primary forces driving Right to Repair legislation are the aftermarket component manufacturers. There is a claim that these 3rd party parts makers are looking to gain access to proprietary OEM information so that they can build cheap knock-off components. As with any new piece of legislation, it would be nice to know the true motives and the true beneficiaries. Too often, new consumer protection laws fail to work as advertised.
It's interesting to note that for Enigma, Right to Repair legislation might actually be beneficial. Enigma offers OEMs a new approach to providing customer/dealer support therefore, Right to Repair could force OEMs to re-think their aftermarket strategy and that could be to our favor. However, I wonder if Right to Repair is truly necessary?.
Whether or not the Right to Repair legislation passes, Enigma software simplifies the distribution of parts and service information to whatever channel the OEM chooses; the Enigma electronic parts catalog software helps service technicians fix things more quickly and accurately, no matter where their service bay is located.
Accelerating mean-time-to-repair (MTTR) and turnaround-time (TAT) requires a new approach that hinges on activities at the beginning of a service visit. Much can be done to improve the inspection and analysis of equipment—trains, planes, automobiles, oil rigs, etc—which is when the scope of the job and the work plan is being established. This phase of the service visit will determine if the repair is fast or slow, and most maintenance solutions can't do a thing to improve it.
I bring this up for two reasons: 1) the inspection phase determines the work to be done and so plays a critical role in accelerating MTTR; 2) inspection consumes about 30% of total service time, which is a significant portion of TAT. (30% for inspection time has been reported by aircraft MROs and office equipment OEMs, so it seems like a reasonable value to use.) However, none of the EAM/MRO/ERP vendors offers a good solution for accelerating the inspection process. While optimizing maintenance schedules, work assignments and resource allocations is great functionality, it doesn't make equipment diagnosis any faster or more accurate. EAM/MRO/ERP software is based on a relational database that tracks discrete machines, tasks, people and parts, so while it's good for tracking progress and procuring resources, it doesn't help much for inspections. When a mechanic needs to verify a problem, they want service documents, not a database.
Once a problem has been confirmed, a maintenance plan must be established—typically consisting of one or more job cards (work cards). Most companies modify the OEM's job cards to suit their specific needs and manually load the tasks from each job card into the EAM/MRO/ERP database. (Loading this data brings more automation to the scheduling process.) While the lack of integration between OEM job cards and the maintenance database is bad, job card tasks are frequently superseded by service bulletins, engineering orders and regulatory requirements, which is worse. When that happens, the EAM/MRO/ERP database must be updated—a manual and time-consuming process. And the more equipment in the database, the more often updates are required. As a result, keeping the service database accurate becomes a full-time job—for a team of people.
For the foreseeable future, inspection will remain a manual process. Equipment with on-board diagnostics and remote monitoring will help, but it takes a long-time to develop, install and calibrate all the different electronic sensors that would be required to catch more than a fraction of the maintenance problems. To improve the situation, two things are needed: 1) interactive solutions based on service manuals that help mechanics interpret the condition of the equipment, compare it to the maintenance requirements, and feed that information into the database; 2) a way to compare updates (new revisions, SB, EO, TR, AD, MSDS, etc) to the current maintenance process and drive any approved changes into the EAM/MRO/ERP database. Companies need solutions that understand documents rather than databases, schematics not schedules.
Enigma provides this type of software. Enigma augments the EAM/MRO/ERP system by providing updated, integrated service and parts information, which accelerates the process of equipment inspection and delivers faster MTTR and TAT.
As more companies pursue lean and six-sigma for service, it's important to recognize that one of the largest bottlenecks to productivity sits at the very beginning of the maintenance process. Get the diagnosis right, ensure the job cards are accurate and then let the EAM/MRO/ERP software set the optimal schedule. That's how you improve uptime.
(Previous blog posts discussed lean/six-sigma in service and the "long-tail" of complex equipment maintenance for high-tech equipment and for aircraft.)
While this blog post does not include any direct quotes, the topic was inspired by an article in the October/November 2009 issue of Aircraft Commerce, "Improving the efficiency of hangar check planning & execution".