Aircraft IT MRO – August/September 2013

Aircraft IT MRO – August/September 2013 Cover


Name Author
Getting Better View article
Leveraging advantage out of software Sander de Bree, Managing Director,ExSyn Aviation Solutions View article
Mobility workforce Fernando Ferreira Matos, Head of Information Technologies,TAP Maintenance & Engineering View article
A fresh look at information Tim Larson, Chief Product Owner for TechSight/X suite of products, InfoTrust Group View article
How I see it Michael Wm. Denis View article

A fresh look at information

Author: Tim Larson, Chief Product Owner for TechSight/X suite of products, InfoTrust Group


Tim Larson, chief product owner for TechSight/X suite of products at InfoTrust Group considers Aircraft Technical Publication Standards – who they impact and why.

The first article on this topic (published Aircraft IT MRO volume 2 issue 3 – June 2013), offered a brief overview of trends impacting civil aviation in the 21st century, including the evolution of information exchange standards. Information exchange standards are used to make sharing information easier than it would be if every contributor to the technical information lifecycle – OEMs, their suppliers, airlines, and MROs – produced and managed information according to its own methods.

Without a common method for creating, managing, and delivering information, everyone in the ecosystem would be slowed down and the quality of information would greatly suffer. In fact, in industries like civil aviation – where timeliness and accuracy of information is critical in order to comply with regulatory requirements designed to ensure safe operation of aircraft as well as maximize the time aircraft are in service – the use of information exchange standards is paramount.

A brief history of information exchange standards in civil aviation brings us to one of today’s most significant challenges for all players in the lifecycle of technical information: the introduction of the S1000D information standard and the ability to operate in a multi-spec content ecosystem.

A brief history of Information Exchange Standards in Civil Aviation

For the past decade, manufacturers and airlines have based their maintenance and engineering information on ATA iSpec 2200. This specification was developed by the Air Transport Association (ATA) as a global aviation industry standard for the content, structure, and electronic exchange of aircraft engineering and maintenance information. The specification was introduced largely to address the massive volumes of paper required to produce multiple manuals and publications that accompany every aircraft.

ATA iSpec 2200 reduced dependence on paper by providing a common way to enable the electronic use of maintenance and engineering information in the aerospace industry. Its application moved maintenance and engineering documentation from paper to electronic format and it has been the dominant specification used in the aerospace industry for the past decade. During this time the Internet came into its own, only to be overcome by the more recent explosion of mobile devices that are leading the transition from the PC era to a post-PC era, and new generation aircraft such as Airbus’ A350 and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner that have crossed new boundaries with the use of ‘e-enabled’ aircraft.

Information handling in a digital era – the case for reusable content components and the origin of S1000D

Easy, instant access to information has changed the way organizations manage this vital business component. People expect to find information where they want it – in print/PDF, on websites, on smartphones and tablets – when they want it. No industry can today afford to delay the quick delivery of reliable information in all the ways that consumers of that information expect.

In response, industries for which information is a critical part of their business have revolutionized the way they create, manage, and distribute it. They have moved from a downstream, document centric focus on the output of monolithic publications to an information or content centric focus on the way information is created upstream. By shifting the focus from how information is packaged on the backend to how it is created or authored on the front end, these organizations are reaping benefits in the productivity of managing information throughout its lifecycle as well as improvements in information accuracy and consistency. These benefits stem from the origin of content itself when it is created as structured, or media- and format-independent, XML (extensible markup language).

XML is based on the creation of small, reusable content components. Each component has related metadata or information about it that can be used to determine its relevance for a publication. Metadata also makes it easy to search for and quickly find information. And because XML content components are not associated with a format or publication type, they can be assembled automatically, on demand, for multiple publications and formats – PDF, Web, or mobile.

Using content components in the aerospace industry

Recognizing the need to manage the voluminous amounts of technical information about aircraft in a more nimble way, in 2004 the ATA e-Business Strategic Planning Team tasked a group of its members representing manufacturers and airlines to evaluate the potential of using S1000D – an XML or component based information exchange standard first developed by the AeroSpace and Defence Industries Association of Europe (ASD) for the defense industry.

What is S1000D?

S1000D is an international specification for technical publications, utilizing a Common Source Database. It was originally introduced to the European community by the Association Européenne de Constructeurs de Matériel Aérospacial, representing the aerospace industry. [1]

Since its inception over 20 years ago, S1000D has grown to where it is now used widely around the world. Currently, its uses include, defense systems – including land, sea, and air products – civil aviation products, construction industry products, and ship industry products. [2]

The basic principles of S1000D are:

  • Information produced in accordance with the standard is in a modular form called a ‘data module’;
  • A data module is the smallest, self-contained information unit within a technical publication;
  • A data module must have sense and meaning when viewed without any supporting data other than graphics;
  • All data modules are stored and managed in a Common Source Data Base (CSDB);
  • Using a CSDB allows for output in either a page oriented or Interactive Electronic Technical Publication (IETP) that is consistent regardless of the IT platform used;
  • Individual data modules can be used many times in output. [3]

The benefits of using a modular approach are multi-fold and include:

  • Information consistency: Many different output forms can be generated from a single data source.
  • Cost savings: Achieved by reusing a single data module rather than recreating information each time it is required and by reducing the cost to maintain technical information.
  • Customized content: Allows sub-sets of information to be generated to meet specific user needs.
  • Information transfer: Facilitates transfer of information and electronic output between disparate IT systems.
  • Collaboration: Provides a single standard to support communications and data exchange among all participants in a given project [4]
Did you know?
The purpose of the ATA e-Business Program’s Civil Aviation Working Group (CAWG) is to develop the necessary modifications to enable S1000D to be the world-wide accepted future Technical Data exchange standard for the Civil Aviation industry. [5]

In contrast to the reusable, data module approach of S1000D, ATA iSpec 2200 is a document-based model with an emphasis on the output of legacy publications. As requirements for more flexible technical information management distribution continue to increase, the limitations of ATA iSpec 2200 become apparent.

Manufacturer and airline representatives on the ATA task group recognized the limitations of iSpec 2200 and the benefits offered by S1000D that address evolving information management requirements. As a result of their recommendation, the ATA e-Business Program entered into an agreement and signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate with the ASD (AeroSpace and Defence – industries association of Europe) and AIA (Aerospace Industries Association – of America) for the incorporation of commercial aviation requirements into S1000D.

For the past several years, the ATA has worked closely with the ASD and AIA to make S1000D the new information exchange standard for civil aviation. Moreover, Airbus, Boeing, and Bombardier identified S1000D as the information exchange standard for their new generation aircraft, which requires their suppliers, airlines, and MROs to be able to create, manage, and deliver technical information in S1000D.

Why S1000D is such a disruption: how S1000D is changing technical information management in Civil Aviation

The entry of S1000D into civil aviation through Airbus’, Boeing’s, and Bombardier’s new generation aircraft programs has created a disruption for all participants in the ecosystem. With S1000D come both benefits and challenges for everyone.

Primary OEMs: where information requirements begin
The primary OEMs (Airbus, Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer, etc.) determine the program or information standard to which suppliers must author their technical content and that must be supported by their airline customers and MROs. For existing aircraft, such as the Airbus A380 and the Boeing 777, these manufacturers established requirements based on ATA iSpec 2200. Other aircraft programs have used similar ATA iSpec 2200 requirements. Each of these primary OEMs has introduced its own unique needs into the ATA iSpec 2200 DTDs (document type definitions).

As mentioned above, Airbus, Boeing, and Bombardier have established S1000D to be the information standard for their new generation aircraft programs. For example, Airbus uses Issue 4.1 for the A350 and Boeing, which began the 787 program using ATA iSpec 2200 standards, now uses Issue 3.0 of S1000D for the 787.

S1000D benefits for the primary OEMs

The primary OEMs’ transition to S1000D signals a fundamental shift in the way they aim to handle technical information for civil aircraft in the future. With the data intense nature of new generation, e-enabled aircraft, they are demanding to move beyond the inefficiencies, information inaccuracies, and expenses of traditional document centric technical information management. Indeed, Airbus, Boeing, and Bombardier are driving an industry step change to a content centric model based on reusable S1000D data modules, a common source data base (CSDB), and their related benefits.

By requiring suppliers to provide information in S1000D data modules, primary OEMs can manage all technical information for their new generation aircraft programs in a single CSDB and more fluidly assemble information from numerous suppliers to produce the various publications they provide to airlines. Moving to the modular nature of S1000D data lets primary OEMs adopt a more frequent update model; they can even make real-time updates. It is worth noting, however, that while convenient for the primary OEMs, this can become a significant challenge for airlines in being able to handle revision cycles if they are not using either the proprietary system from the primary OEM or a manufacturer-independent S1000D solution that lets airlines manage technical information in either ATA iSpec 2200 or S1000D from any primary OEM in one system.

Component Suppliers: meeting requirements for multiple OEMs and multiple programs
Systems and component suppliers to the primary OEMs must be able to create, manage, and deliver information in all of the standards and versions required for the programs in which they participate, including variants of ATA iSpec 2200 and S1000D. As mentioned above, the notable exception is the 787, a program that already was underway with existing standards when Boeing moved to S1000D. Its suppliers were not obligated to provide technical information in S1000D. However, as Airbus and Bombardier require suppliers to support S1000D and Boeing continues to favor S1000D, it behooves suppliers to identify a solution for supporting multiple specifications so they can meet the obligations of all primary OEMS with which they work.

Today, suppliers are writing content twice, or multiple times, to meet different requirements: or they are copying and pasting content produced in one specification to modify it for another. Both practices delay the delivery of information – whether for new generation aircraft or for updates to existing programs – and increase the risk of errors. Moving to S1000D can actually address the problems of this approach through the fundamental concept of data module reuse.

Write content once, use many times
Suppliers that participate in S1000D programs can anticipate immediate benefits from moving to reusable data modules accessible from a CSDB. For example, a supplier that produces a component for both a military and a civilian aircraft, or for both an Airbus and a Boeing aircraft, may need to provide documentation for the military aircraft in one Issue of S1000D and for a civilian aircraft in a different Issue. Or they may need to provide the technical information to Airbus in one information standard and to Boeing in another.

The supplier can avoid authoring information twice or even multiple times – once for each set of requirements – by normalizing the data. This approach takes a current version of an information set in one standard and transforms content to the appropriate version of the S1000D specification for the purposes of authoring and content management. The content is then published out to meet the contractual commitments. S1000D is perfectly suited for this normalization process. Older versions of S1000D and ATA iSpec 2200 can be transformed to the latest S1000D Issue so that they can be managed in the same way.

To achieve this level of productivity, suppliers must have a transformation process engine – like the publication manager included in the TechSight/X Aircraft Maintenance Edition – to manage the input of data modules and the transformation of those data modules for output to multiple specificaticons to meet commitments. Doing this will allow the supplier to meet multiple sets of requirements without slowing down the delivery of information or compromising information quality. Furthermore, by writing data modules once and using a transformation process to output information to multiple requirements, suppliers can simplify the number of systems and skill sets required to manage technical information while reducing overall costs.

Airlines: what S1000D means for technicians
When we look at what S1000D means for airlines, we can break it down into technical publications management and technician user groups. For airlines that author some original content and manage their own changes, we once again see this need to manage content from multiple OEMs with the unique variability of the OEM application of the specifications. For all airlines there are the thousands of maintenance technicians who are the ultimate consumers of the information and must deal with human factors of content in multiple forms.

Before looking at the advantages of S1000D for the maintenance technician, let’s first address a misunderstanding in the industry about S1000D. As the industry makes the move to S1000D and we talk about the differences between reusable data modules and page-based information, often people conclude that the use of S1000D means that there are no manuals anymore. It is easy to imagine the common source database with individual data modules existing as separate bite-sized pieces.

The misunderstanding is that whereas the individual data modules do take a central place for content authors, the technicians consuming information to perform maintenance tasks are still looking at the assembly of the parts. Technicians are still using publications – any number of maintenance manuals that contain various data modules – to do their work. When technicians look at S1000D publications, they look familiar because the publications are similar to what technicians saw with ATA iSpec 2200 manuals. If you didn’t tell technicians what information standard was used they wouldn’t know.

In the S1000D world, technicians are the beneficiaries of new ways to search for and find information faster both in and across publications, more in line with their own evolving expectations to discover information that is tailored to their personal needs more easily. This is due to the concept of applicability, which is unique to the S1000D information standard. Applicability involves the tagging of data modules in such a way that lets a technician get only the content that is applicable to the airplane, engine, or component they are working on. There is no further need to check and see if the aircraft is pre-service bulletin or post-service bulletin. The condition and the status reside in the applicability tables and the non-applicable content is filtered out.

Applicability also allows technicians to approach the content from a subject level rather than a manual level. For example remove, install, repair, wiring, trouble shooting, etc. Fault data modules allow the IETP to use post-flight reports to quickly identify the correct trouble shooting procedure to use. The process data module allows for interactive and guided trouble shooting procedures, simplifying the trouble shooting procedure.

Airlines can also reuse procedural content in work cards that is contained in technical publications. In systems like the TechSight/X Aircraft Maintenance Edition, the work cards remain automatically in sync with the technical publications, reducing human error.

Turning back to the content creators in the airline; by using S1000D for the creation of information, airlines can take advantage of data module reuse, applicability (granular filtering based on the condition, configuration, or modification state of the aircraft or asset), tagging of tasks for specific tails, and more. S1000D gives them the ability to build pieces that can be used in multiple manuals or multiple times in one manual so that they can reduce the cost of producing publications and increase the consistency and accuracy of information.

To get to S1000D, key considerations for airlines include the procurement of an S1000D system with an XML editor, a CSDB, and an IETP; an interface to the MRO system for obtaining real-time information on the current configuration and modification state of aircraft; and organizational aspects such as training authors to work with data modules and technicians to become familiar with the information access… advantages they will likely appreciate.

The main question airlines need to ask is to what extent does the system need to be defined? For example, an airline has to be able to take in, manage, and publish S1000D content out to its technicians. This includes more than creating and storing data modules with an XML editor and a CSDB as mentioned above. Airlines need to consider going beyond the CSDB functioning simply as a repository and serving as a complete data management function with check-in and check-out as well as workflow, reporting, and other capabilities. Airlines should be aware of the disadvantages of a partial system versus requirements that can be met through a full S1000D technical information management system. And, like OEMs that need to publish to multiple specifications, airlines that have existing and new generation aircraft will need to create and publish technical information to IETPs for both iSpec 2200 and S1000D.

Consequences of losing control of technical information
With initial deliveries of the 787 now underway, how are the airlines receiving those aircraft meeting the requirement to use the S1000D information standard? How are those with existing and new fleets managing both ATA iSpec 2200 and S1000D content? And how will airlines handle programs for both existing and new generation aircraft from Airbus, Boeing, or other S1000D OEMs?

Boeing offers its technical information management system to its 787 customers and the option to use its own technical information management services. Since Boeing requires its customers to support S1000D, it is easy enough to include the system and require customers to use it. It is equally straight forward to provide a service to manage proprietary information because it leaves customers with virtually no other viable options.

However, airlines may be wary of proprietary systems and services from any primary airframe manufacturer for a number of reasons, including:

  • Lack of integration with configuration management systems – primary OEMs cannot provide integration to configuration management systems, which means that even though the OEM gets the benefit of an S1000D system, the airline does not get any additional benefit to exploit the powerful applicability model to serve information to its technicians based on the real-time configuration of aircraft. Without integration to the configuration management system, airline technicians do not get much benefit from S1000D over traditional iSpec 2200 systems.
  • Duplicate system costs – having no choice but to use a proprietary system for a new generation program and another system for existing programs requires duplicate systems, additional training requirements, and increased human factors issues, all driving increased costs.
  • Increased customization costs – if an airline makes a content change based on its customizations, the OEM may charge for updates. Incremental costs creep in.
  • Primary OEM restrictions – airlines’ technical publications departments may not want to be dependent solely on OEMs for management of their technical information. Airlines are then beholden to the OEM’s schedule, cost structure, and content management rules, which reduces airlines’ ability to manage priority changes, document style, ownership of the information, etc.
  • Competitive edge – letting the OEM control an airline’s customized data may not be palatable from a competitive perspective. In such a fiercely competitive industry, airlines are likely to seek to keep all competitive advantages under their own control.
  • Engineering IP (intellectual property) – many airlines have engineering departments with engineers who are equally skilled as those at the OEMs (many have come from the OEMs). These airlines use these engineering staff to develop improvements complete with airworthiness certification. The airline does not want to give that IP away simply because it is constrained to an OEM publications system. In the very competitive airline world, airlines need the ability to do what they need, when they need to do it.

Airlines that need to support new generation aircraft can consider alternative, manufacturer independent solutions that will allow them to manage all of their programs in a single system. This will allow them to retain control of their information while affording airlines the cost savings and productivity controls required to meet their business needs.

Where do we go from here?

For OEMs and their suppliers, the consequences of moving or not moving to S1000D are clear. In order to participate in new generation aircraft programs, they must be able to support S1000D, or by default they are ‘sun setting’ their businesses. They will be forced to play in the new S1000D world and will be challenged to identify sustainable solutions.

Airlines that take delivery of new generation aircraft also must make the move to S1000D. They can be appreciative to Airbus, Boeing, and Bombardier for leading them to adopt the data module reuse methodology with its wealth of productivity and information quality benefits. However, it is up to airlines and OEMs to explore options for how they will support both legacy ATA iSpec 2200 data and new S1000D content to successfully operate in a multi-spec content ecosystem.

In part three of the series, we will take a closer look at technology and some of the options for supporting evolving requirements and operating in a multi-spec content ecosystem.

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