The Uptime Blog
We all know it’s been a difficult year for commercial aviation. Given that oil is $115 per barrel and, in an atmosphere of mergers, acquisitions, and a weak dollar, many airlines have reduced their fleets, laid off employees, imposed baggage fees and taken other measures to stem revenue loss.
A recent blog post on Airline World regarding the state of the industry is positive that the sky is falling (pun intended). Its headline shouts, “Oil Crisis in the Airline Industry!” and the text of the blog highlights just about every piece of bad news that the writer could muster for his argument—specifically highlighting the massive job cuts and fleet groundings in North America. That headline may be a great way to draw attention but it seems a bit disingenuous to educated readers.
In contrast, the August 28 issue of the Aviation News e-newsletter (sorry, it’s not on the Web so I can’t link to it) shared a rather upbeat perspective regarding the aircraft manufacturing industry. The article cites a report by the International Bureau of Aviation, a UK-based consulting firm. According to Aviation News, IBA has concluded that “the aviation market is cyclical and despite downturns and external pressures, is resilient and should continue to grow albeit at a slower rate.”
The Aviation News article includes a complete list of reasons for optimism, but here are a few of the big factors:
• Today’s cycle is different as the order book is not heavily relying on the US operators, and demand for commercial aircraft is becoming more diverse geographically.
• Manufacturers, industry associations and other bodies are consistently forecasting a growth in the aviation market of between five and six per cent in the medium-term.
• Record new aircraft orders were placed by the airline industry between 2005 and 2007.
• The number of parked aircraft had stopped rising and is showing some signs of reducing.
From Enigma’s perspective, the future of the aviation market is murky but not bleak. There are two sides to commercial aviation, the manufacturers and the carriers. Evaluating each shows reasons for optimism as well as concern, but it seems clear that the sky is not falling.
Yes, there are severe economic challenges for the commercial aviation industry, particularly in North America and Europe. It’s also true that the cost of oil hurts all carriers, regardless of the geography they serve. However, the Asia-Pacific market continues to grow (albeit a bit slower). As for North America and Europe, once the economy adjusts to the new cost of transportation the demand for airline transport, whether for people or goods, is likely to rebound and grow rather than shrink.
Manufacturing Business Technology recently announced its MBT 2008 Innovation Insight Awards, and among them was an Honorable Mention for Advanced Technology Services (ATS), a company that provides maintenance and repair services for manufacturing plants.
ATS received the kudos because they deployed Knowledgebase—their own proprietary database of processes, procedures and best practices for their field service technicians. What is interesting is that much of the content in this custom application came from the technicians themselves. Knowledgebase helps ATS to fix equipment faster, thereby reducing their customers’ downtime.
Here at Enigma we agree wholeheartedly with capturing and reusing technical expertise, which is why our products such as InService MRO, InService EPC and the Enigma 3C Platform all include a feature called eNotes. (For a mini product demo of this feature, see our August 15 podcast post.)
While service manuals may contain some previously established best practices or proprietary techniques, eNotes allow mechanics to insert new comments connected to the original content. This lets companies capture feedback on-the-fly and also gives context to the comments because they are linked to the specific task that was being performed. eNotes are also available to other users (based on authorization/distribution rules). This makes it easy for other mechanics to learn from their peers and for OEMs to update documentation so that it reflects real world experience.
But it’s not just eNotes that make Enigma products useful; our products aggregate and deliver all product content in one place, in ways that streamline the entire maintenance execution process. The ability for service technicians to use a single application to pull relevant OEM information, whether parts information or service manuals, from multiple sources, is a tremendous advantage in the field or the service depot. The description of ATS’ Knowledgebase is impressive, but it sounds like an expensive solution. What is more impressive is that, today, any company can provide similar capabilities using Enigma’s out-of-the-box solutions.
In this mini-demo of the InService Electronic Parts Catalog (EPC), Enigma Solution Specialist Rob Bannerman gives an overview of the eNote feature.
The eNotes functionality enables parts managers and service technicians to collaborate by creating personal notes and comments within the InService EPC application. The user can create eNotes at several levels: on assemblies or individual parts for the full parts catalog, on individual parts in a specific parts catalog (by serial number), and on maintenance manuals, product specs, sales collateral, and other product information. These eNotes are then available for reference whenever the relevant application or maintenance information is displayed. An eNote can be added publicly or privately, and users can also search under eNotes to find parts and assembly information.
Please click on the pop-up player to see this 2-minute demonstration.
I thought of giving this blog post the title, “Yeah, what he said!” That’s how strongly I feel about the comments made by Scott Luckett at the 2008 Aftermarket eForum. Mr. Luckett is the vice president of Technology Standards and Solutions at the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association, so he is probably well qualified to speak on the topic of electronic data and the automotive aftermarket. His premise is that the lack of accurate electronic data is increasing the cost of doing business. I agree.
The problem is that Mr. Luckett oversimplifies a number of issues. He wants all aftermarket automotive data to be electronic. But what does that mean, what format should it be in? Should it be PDF, XML, Word? He talks as if getting the data into an electronic format and following certain standards is the answer. It’s not that simple. For example, the aerospace industry has strict data standards but that has not helped them achieve the electronic nirvana that Mr. Luckett envisions. Even though every aerospace manufacturer adheres to the same standards, the data still doesn’t integrate well. The problem of data interoperability is even worse in the automotive industry where there are more OEMs, more suppliers and fewer standards. The vast number of brands and trim packages ensures that agreement on standards, and how to interpret them, is a long way off.
The key to interoperability is not the data, but the software that uses that data. Mr. Luckett properly points out that Services Oriented Architecture (SOA) is the key technology for reliable interoperability. This is especially true for electronic parts catalogs (EPC), the starting point for most parts and service activity. Because of the difficulty in establishing usable data standards, the Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) should spend its’ time advocating that OEMs move to electronic data using SOA. This would help OEMs realize the benefits that modern technology brings to the aftermarket, without waiting for standards to be finalized. Such a strategy would simplify the deployment of innovative solutions that improve part selection and increase first time fix rates (FTFR), which benefits the customer, the OEM and the dealer. Furthermore, such a strategy helps preserve one of the OEMs’ chief worries—protecting intellectual property.