The Uptime Blog
For the most part, airlines hate freezing weather. Airplanes need to be de-iced, runways get slippery, air traffic and ground movements slow down, and all the inherent dangers of flying seem to increase. But when it comes to aircraft maintenance documentation, sometimes “freezing” is a good thing.
There are many times when an airline wants to temporarily freeze service and parts content; for instance, when an aircraft is undergoing maintenance. Because aircraft maintenance is a complex process, with huge risks for any mistakes, airlines are required to use the same version of service and parts manuals from the beginning of maintenance planning through maintenance execution and sign-off. (This is most relevant to heavy maintenance like C- and D-checks.) Therefore, once an aircraft goes into the hangar, airlines avoid updating technical content until maintenance is complete. However, because there’s often at least one aircraft from each fleet being serviced, it becomes difficult to update the maintenance library for all the other maintenance activities that do need the latest information. As a result, airlines often keep multiple versions of documentation on-hand to properly maintain their fleets.
Keeping service and parts information from being changed throughout a maintenance visit is pretty easy when using paper documents. You print out the appropriate documents, don’t add to them, don’t change them and whatever you do, don’t lose them. (Ok, maybe it’s not so easy.) In the digital world it’s more complex, because modern systems are designed to always deliver the most recent version of information. For a large airline or MRO shop this creates problems because there are so many airplanes and engines at various stages of maintenance that tracking which version of each manual is being used for each piece of equipment can be a major headache.
Fortunately Enigma has a solution. Enigma InService MRO provides the ability to freeze (and unfreeze) service and parts information by aircraft model, engine model, a specific location/ customer (in the case of third-party MRO shops) or according to aircraft tail number or engine serial number. The result is that aircraft and engine maintenance activities can now be more accurately planned, assigned, executed and reported (in accordance with regulations). InService MRO eliminates the “paper chase” that occurs during compliance audits, by managing and documenting the exact version of each document that was used to perform each maintenance task. InService MRO’s freeze/ unfreeze functionality significantly improves the speed and accuracy of maintenance planning and execution, and helps ensure the safe and reliable operation of both airlines and MRO shops.
For more information, download our fact sheet, “Freezing Maintenance Revisions.”
All too often, service organizations are viewed as cost centers rather than revenue streams. This is a sorry misperception. There are not many reports published about the monetary value of aftermarket services (unfortunately the IT analyst community pays scant attention to the aftermarket revenue potential for OEMs), so it is good to see that Michael Blumberg from the Blumberg Advisory Group has written a four-part series of blog posts on why and how companies should view their service divisions as profit, rather than cost, centers.
In one of those blog posts, Blumberg outlines some basic parameters to help assess the value of a service team’s install base, “Aftermarket Service as a Profit Center – Part II: Service Revenue.” The blog provides some interesting stats; “conventional wisdom suggests that a customer will spend about 5%-10% of annual purchase price on basic maintenance & repair services. The percentage can be much higher when dealing with complex, capital-intensive equipment like an MRI machine, locomotive, mainframe computer, etc.”
Overall the blog validates what Enigma has been saying for a long time: OEMs typically make much more profit on aftermarket parts than on the initial sale of the machine. In fact, while aftermarket parts and service typically represent less than 25% of an OEM’s total revenue, it often represents as much as 75% of profit. The reason is that replacement parts and spares carry significantly higher profit margins than new machinery.
Of course, to capture more parts and service business OEMs need to do more than just increase their product sales. They need to enable service technicians to work faster and more consistently; it’s logical that when service techs work faster, they can service more machines per day. And with shorter downtimes, the OEM’s customers tend to be much happier.
That’s why Enigma creates software that helps OEMs deliver accurate parts and service information to service technicians, whether they work in a transit depot, an automotive dealership or a field service site. With Enigma technology, service operations become much more profitable because technicians are empowered with fast, accurate information at their fingertips. Furthermore, Enigma technology helps OEMs reduce the cost of publishing and distributing their service and parts information, which eliminates third party outsourcing costs and helps increase the bottom line.
You can read more on this subject in an Enigma white paper called “The Business Case for Implementing an Electronic Parts Catalog.” But don’t be misled by the white paper’s title; the paper is not about having a convenient online list of parts. Rather, the value proposition lies in having a comprehensive encyclopedia of all related service and parts information—from technical specs to service bulletins, illustrated parts catalogs, installation instructions and training videos—and integrating those elements with an OEM’s inventory and/or e-commerce system.
Blumberg suggests that companies should conduct market research to assess how much their customers would be willing to pay for value-added services, and he suggest they do research (and/or make reasonable assumptions) to predict how often their customers will require service. In general, Enigma agrees with his advice. OEMs would be wise to take the time to build a business case for their service operations because the aftermarket arm of their business is a profit center they cannot afford to underestimate or overlook.
For equipment manufacturers (OEMs), it’s important to provide parts and service information in a way that improves customer support in the dealership, depot and in the field. Parts managers, service technicians and field engineers often waste time searching through large quantities of OEM data to find the proper service and parts information. As a result, many OEMs are trying to simplify product support by publishing interactive (electronic) parts catalogs (EPCs) that deliver parts, product and service information as a single application to the point of need.
However, OEMs are faced with several challenges to assemble and publish service and parts data. Product information comes in multiple types (maintenance manuals, parts lists, service bulletins, technical specification, drawings, schematics, safety sheets, pictures, videos, etc.), multiple data formats (XML, PDF, RDB, JPG, GIF, etc., Word, Excel and even paper) and is stored in multiple databases/business systems (CMS, ERP, PLM, etc.). For OEMs to manage and control all the data required in the field may seem to be an insurmountable task, but it isn’t.
Most information, regardless of type, format or location, can be organized according to product division, family, model, sub-assembly, etc. (For more on this topic, see an earlier blog post on “Delivering Technical Publications Data.”) With this basic structure, the Enigma InService EPC application uses Microsoft Excel to help OEMs create a dynamic, online/offline EPC. The Excel templates provided with Enigma InService EPC offer a convenient way to manage the service and parts data within the technical support catalog. These templates allow EPC information to be easily added, modified or deleted.
Enigma uses Excel templates to make it easy for OEMs to organize and prepare service and parts information for online/offline distribution. When combined with the InService EPC publishing process, the OEM can be sure of the quality and accuracy of the resulting parts catalog. The benefit to the OEM is faster creation, publication and revision of a fully-functional, interactive EPC. The benefit to the OEM’s customers, dealers and field technicians is that they always have the most accurate parts and service information at-hand. By providing up-to-date information, parts managers and mechanics can quickly find the information they need, which accelerates maintenance and repairs, reduces customer support costs, and increases aftermarket revenue, bringing value to OEMs, dealers and customers.
To learn more, download our fact sheet, “Using Excel to Build Parts and Service Catalogs.”
A few months ago there was a story published in Australia about the number of licensed aircraft maintenance engineers (LAMEs) needed to properly service an airline fleet. The story highlighted comments made by a senior editor at Air Transport World (ATW) and federal secretary of the Australian Licensed Aircraft Engineers’ Association (ALAEA) that were critical of the work performed by overseas maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facilities. The article claimed that one particular Australian airline carried a ratio of 40-60% LAMEs (to technicians) at regional sites and had an overall group target of 30%. (The group target includes less-specialized activities like flight line checks). In contrast, overseas MROs that were performing more complex teardown and rebuild work were carrying a ratio of 4.5-10% LAMEs.
According to an Aviation Week survey of airframe MROs, Asia has proven to be a powerhouse for third party maintenance with four of the top ten MRO providers located there. However, regardless of location when making cost vs. quality decisions for aircraft MRO, establishing an effective LAME-to-technician ratio is critically important. Considering the potential risk to passenger safety, it seems that a conservative ratio would be best for quality. On the other side of this equation it’s important to look at LAME and technician training and the associated lead time and costs.
To support the rapid growth of local airlines, as well as third party MRO work from other regions, Asia has established many maintenance training centers, and while graduates are technically qualified they often lack field experience. Furthermore, as a relatively new market Asia doesn’t have a large pool of LAMEs and technicians with significant (10-15 years) experience. The comments from the ALAEA seem to raise concern that Asian MROs focus more on ROI than on technical aptitude and quality. However in a competitive MRO market the question is, how can airlines ensure maintenance quality while increasing aircraft uptime and reducing operational costs?
For most industries, to improve quality, consistency and speed requires automation. However, aircraft maintenance has very few processes that are straight-forward or repetitive, and so figuring out what can be automated can be difficult. As a result, skilled labor remains a key component of aircraft maintenance and overcoming any lack of experience will continue to be a challenge for airlines and MROs. In addressing this problem, an area that deserves more attention is the IT infrastructure and business systems that support the LAMEs and technicians.
Complex environments like aircraft maintenance require people to exercise decision-making skills and judgment. In such an environment, automated, integrated and synchronized business systems supply the information necessary to make a highly-skilled workforce more productive. Rather than having experienced personnel focus on emergencies or inspection and approval processes (looking for faults and chasing quality) they should be sharing knowledge to drive process improvement. To make this possible, LAMEs and technicians need fast access to accurate and relevant service and parts information.
Enigma’s InService MRO solution brings reliable information to maintenance personnel, regardless of their experience, to improve service decisions and to collaborate and communicate best practices across the hangar, depot and flight line environments. InService MRO can increase the percentage of work that is completed to specification and meets regulatory requirements. With more maintenance performed to plan there will be fewer errors, fewer delays and fewer fines. What’s more, experienced personnel will be freed up to focus on quality and process improvements.
When it come to maintenance, repair and overhaul of aircraft it’s awful to waste LAME time.