The Uptime Blog
According to a Fact Sheet on Airworthiness Directive Compliance, “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is strengthening the procedures used by air carriers, manufacturers, and the FAA to ensure that air carriers comply with Airworthiness Directives (ADs).” If the FAA is worried about airlines’ compliance with ADs, perhaps you should be too. Whether you’re an OEM, airline or passenger, this issue has an impact on you. The FAA issues ADs to ensure aircraft remain flight worthy. (That’s a fancy way to say that the government insists any airplane that takes-off must be safe to do so.) With so many different makes and models of airplanes, different airlines, routes and airports, and so many mechanics, that’s a tall order. Nevertheless, the safety of the public (both in the air and on the ground) requires it. (Thanks to Lee Ann Tegtmeier of Aviation Week for highlighting this in her MRO blog.)
ADs come in a variety of flavors. Some address potential problems that must be inspected/resolved during the next scheduled maintenance, while others address urgent issues that must be inspected/resolved before the next flight. Regardless of the circumstances, the FAA wants to make sure that ADs are implemented efficiently, consistently and, in certain cases, very, very quickly.
The problem is that aircraft are complex machines and each airline configures and operates each airplane just a little bit differently. As a result, each aircraft is unique, and ADs can be issued that apply only to specific airplanes within a fleet. (For example, some twin-engine aircraft must adhere to ETOPS rules (Extended-range Twin-engine Operational Performance Standards) and some don’t. It all depends upon the mission/route of that airplane.) This makes it difficult for airlines to know which of the 250 different ADs that get issued each year require their compliance. In fact, after investigating a situation in 2008 that resulted in thousands of cancelled flights the FAA wrote, “The team found that problems in service instructions, workmanship, communications within industry and with the FAA, and FAA inconsistencies in determining AD compliance all contributed to the cancellations and service disruptions.”
Of course, I probably wouldn’t be writing about this if I didn’t think there was a solution. The solution, quite simply, is Enigma. On this blog I try hard not to brag but, as they say, “It ain’t bragging if it’s true.” Furthermore, this is a serious situation (at least the FAA seems to think so). Enigma has already deployed the technology allowing airlines to retrieve ADs from the FAA and automatically connect them to the Aircraft Maintenance Manuals (AMM), Engine Manuals (EM), Illustrated Parts Catalogs (IPC) and any other relevant documents. Furthermore, once this information is in Enigma, the Maintenance Planning Documents (MPD), Master Parts Lists (MPL) and Job Cards will automatically reflect the new requirements within the AD, thereby assuring safety and compliance. (Last week’s blog, about a roundtable with JAL and United, described how they can now immediately deploy critical maintenance information.)
This is a blog post, so it’s meant to be short and sweet. Let me just say, we understand the problem, we have a solution, and we’d love to speak with you about how to quickly fix this situation.
I just came back from the SAP Airlines Summit in Texas, which assembled over one hundred airline and MRO professionals from around the world: an impressive cross-section of the commercial aviation industry.
Jonathan Yaron, Enigma’s CEO, sat on a panel with Yasushi Suzuka, Vice President – Maintenance Corporate Planning & Administration, Engineering & Maintenance at Japan Airlines, Paul Noah, Project Manager for Application Development at United Airlines, and Phil Te Hau, Director Solution Management, Travel Services Industry Solutions at SAP. It was a roundtable discussion on “Maintenance Scheduling and Integration to Technical Information” and there was significant interest regarding the role of service information in MRO scheduling, and hangar and line maintenance.
The fact is, while most large airlines use software for maintenance scheduling, they still rely on paper for maintenance execution and approval. If you look closely at the entire maintenance environment you will see that technical information affects nearly every activity. So, in an environment where electronic information is driving everything from maintenance scheduling, to inventory, to supply chains, productivity is being de-railed by the paper trail. There is so much technical information required to properly service and repair an aircraft that paper-driven processes can’t keep up. This is the challenge that these industry experts discussed—how airlines and MRO shops can enjoy the benefits of moving to electronic processes while improving safety and compliance.
Before integrating technical information into the MRO scheduling environment, some airlines reported a 2-6 month lag between receiving revised OEM manuals and delivering approved changes into the hands of technicians. Panel members indicated that modern systems can accomplish this very complex process in a matter of days. (That includes comparing the new revision against current practices, resolving potential conflicts, processing approvals and delivering to the field.)
In another example from the panel, preparing documentation necessary for a D-Check (a major maintenance event), which used to take months, can now be accomplished in minutes. Other issues that were addressed include: supporting 3rd party MROs in this environment; lack of synchronization between Maintenance Planning Documents (MPD) and Master Parts Lists (MPL); configuration control (especially for ETOPS aircraft); and the ways in which PDF and SGML/XML can work together.
The audience seemed to appreciate the insights provided by these aviation experts. This was a candid conversation between airlines and solution providers that discussed current technical challenges as well as future opportunities. We appreciate SAP inviting us to participate in this event and hope to have similar opportunities in the future.
I’ve received a lot of webinar invitations recently that all say something like: “Revolutionize Your Business by Connecting the Enterprise to the Field.” My first thought is always: What a great topic! Connecting field and back office operations really does improve decision-making and streamline business operations. But then I realize that I’m assuming the webinar will address all those critical aspects that make field operations successful. Depending on who’s presenting the webinar that may be a bad assumption. I need to remind myself to ask a fundamental question, “What do they mean by ‘connect the enterprise to the field’ and what is the benefit?” After all, connecting the enterprise to the field is not always the same as revolutionizing your business.
Why do I bring this up? Because it turns out that many of these webinars are sponsored by companies that make hardware and/or networking software. These vendors are advocating that companies can increase profits by buying portable computing devices, electronic digital assistants or, more simply, cell phones on steroids that have a network connection to the back-office. The idea is to outfit the entire field organization with these devices and watch productivity soar. It’s a compelling story and in some industries it may even work; just check out the hardware carried by your friendly FedEx or UPS driver sometime. Certainly they can pickup packages and complete deliveries far quicker with that gizmo on their hip. Unfortunately, when it comes to servicing complex equipment, the key to field productivity is not hardware availability, it’s software usability.
To be fair, some of these mobile devices are pretty cool and, if properly implemented, they will let you interact with enterprise applications. But this begs a few questions: Do you want the field organization accessing your enterprise backbone? Is your enterprise software easy for the field to use (with or without a mobile device)? How many different systems are needed for a technician to get all the information they need? How does the system perform when the network connection is lost?
All of these questions go to the heart of usability. In our experience, efficiently servicing complex equipment requires technicians to access information that sits on somewhere between three and six different enterprise systems. (One customer found that the information needed by technicians was spread across 15 different systems.) Teaching the field organization to navigate so many different enterprise apps typically results in confusion, delays and errors. This is ironic because the primary goal of connecting the field to the enterprise is supposed to be faster service and fewer mistakes. Which begs the question, how does a slick phone with a 3G connection solve that problem? Companies looking to improve field service should place higher priority on selecting software than hardware.
Choosing software that really improves field support can be a challenge as well, and typically requires more than a call to your ERP vendor to buy the mobile module of an enterprise app. Field service requires a best-of-breed approach, because the solution must meet a wide variety of needs including: listing the work schedule, maintenance prerequisites (parts, tools, skills, etc.), diagnostics and fault isolation (eliminate NFF and confirm problems), troubleshooting (for unscheduled/break-fix events), parts identification, parts ordering, configuration management/feedback, service bulletin access, document and retrieve best practices, subject matter expert collaboration, closeout notes, compliance, etc. Companies must do their research and ask the experts to determine what really works for improving field service.
Now when I get an invitation to attend a “Revolutionize Your Business” webinar, I find myself looking more closely before accepting. Too often, I find the sponsors aren’t selling what industry really needs.
It’s not exactly what I would call a light at the end of the tunnel, but it is encouraging to read in Bob Ferrari’s “Supply Chain Matters” blog that Ford and GM have announced they will be increasing production for the remainder of 2009. Reportedly, Ford will increase production 18 percent in the third quarter, and 33 percent in the fourth quarter; General Motors has now announced that it will raise its overall production for the remainder of 2009 by 20 percent .
This is largely due to the “cash for clunkers” U.S. government stimulus program, which offered consumers up to $4,500 in federal stimulus money to trade in an old gas guzzler for a new more fuel-efficient model. Ferrari notes in his blog that the auto industry in Brazil and China is rebounding quickly, also thanks to similar stimulus programs in those countries.
Of course there is a just a teeny bit of political debate about the value of the “cash for clunkers” program; there are hundreds of articles out there to choose from on this topic, but here’s one from a well-known automotive sector trade publication, Ward’s Auto. Drew Winter writes, “As the nation’s economy picks up steam, the people of flyover land are stoking the boiler and oiling the gears of the nation’s key engine of recovery. Cash for Clunkers made it possible for more of them to keep working.”
Politicians want OEMs to increase output and put people back to work, and this is a good thing. However, production rates are just one piece of the automotive puzzle; one must remember that auto makers still generate more profits on the aftermarket side of the business than on the sale of new cars. In every industry we’ve seen, part sales drive profits for the OEMs, and the combination of parts and service creates a healthy dealer channel. People who have not yet purchased new cars are adding more miles to the ones they already own. The resulting wear-and-tear can be a boon for service parts and maintenance providers and, in turn, the OEMs who effectively provide parts and service information to maintain those vehicles.
The aftermarket business is up for grabs, with many competitors vying for dominance. So even as OEMs are cranking up assembly lines, they should continue to focus on expanding their aftermarket business opportunities. This is no time for the OEMs to lose their focus on bottom line profits.
What do you think about the prospects for the automotive industry? Will the automotive sector regain some momentum, or is this just a reprieve before another rough, uphill stretch ahead?