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|CMS and MRO systems integration||Thanos Kaponeridis, CEO & President, AeroSoft Systems Inc.||View article|
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|Why you should insist your MRO Software is standards compliant||Kenneth N. Jones: Director of Electronic Data Standards, ATA e-Business Program||View article|
|Case Study: Flying High: Alaska Airlines and Boeing Mobile Line Maintenance Project||Rob Lowy, Project Manager, Maintenance & Engineering, Alaska Airlines, and Sherilyn Segrest, Program Manager, Fleet & Maintenance Solutions, Boeing||View article|
Case Study: Flying High: Alaska Airlines and Boeing Mobile Line Maintenance Project
Author: Rob Lowy, Project Manager, Maintenance & Engineering, Alaska Airlines, and Sherilyn Segrest, Program Manager, Fleet & Maintenance Solutions, BoeingSubscribe
For this case study, we first focused on the flight line, where the high volume of maintenance turns provides great potential for improved productivity and reduction in delays. In traditional line maintenance, a mechanic is frequently moving back and forth between the hangar and the airplane to retrieve the information required to resolve an issue. Figure 2 (below) shows what typically happens when an airplane arrives and the line mechanic identifies a problem.
All this time-consuming movement back and forth – with mechanics looking for and printing out information – adds no value to an operation and is contrary to Lean principles. We considered the potential for mobile solutions to streamline that whole investigation and trouble-shooting process, by eliminating or significantly reducing non-value-added steps, while also increasing visibility and security of maintenance information. The objective was to empower mechanics by putting everything they need to investigate a problem and identify and implement the solution into their hands at the airplane using mobile devices. This would eliminate the back and forth trips to the hangar, improve collaboration, and ultimately move the airline one step closer to a paperless operation.
The next stage for Boeing was to move to a collaborative customer engagement approach (see figure 4 below) to truly understand the pain points in line maintenance, and focus on defining a minimum viable product that would provide real value and meet the needs of airlines.
The workshop was constructed to be a creative, open-minded approach to understanding line maintenance, and how mobile solutions might make the process more efficient. By the end of the workshop, the group had established a set of ‘minimum viable products’, each scoped to the most basic level required to deliver a product that actually has value for airlines.
Following the workshop, the team agreed to a 90-day challenge to create working software to take to Alaska Airlines mechanics for use in a two-week trial. As a result of that trial, Boeing and Alaska learned directly from mechanics’ operational use of the applications and captured feedback and suggestions for new features or changes. Further trials were extended to include Norwegian Air Shuttle and flydubai over the course of the development process. After the initial trial, we conducted a ‘pivot or persevere’ exercise, and ultimately decided to combine two products and create a new one, resulting in the release of three new Boeing products: Toolbox Mobile Library, Maintenance Turn Time and Toolbox Mobile Parts.
Boeing worked closely with its development partners to develop and validate strong business cases for these products. As a result, all three airline development partners began implementing Boeing’s line maintenance products in their own Maintenance and Engineering organizations.
Line maintenance mobile applications
Toolbox Mobile Library is designed to improve efficiency for maintenance technicians.
This mobile application hosts Boeing and airline documents from the Library module of Maintenance Performance Toolbox. With Toolbox Mobile Library, technicians now have instant access to maintenance documents, wherever and whenever they are needed.
Maintenance Turn Time allows airlines to quickly identify and resolve non-routine maintenance problems, reducing delays and cancellations and improving productivity. Technicians can access Maintenance Turn Time from a mobile device at the airplane to easily and immediately troubleshoot maintenance issues. A collaboration feature lets users share information securely in real time throughout the maintenance and engineering organizations.
Toolbox Mobile Parts allows technicians to check the availability of required parts using a mobile device, reducing the need for trips back to the line maintenance office. Maintenance and Engineering personnel have direct access to the most current inventory information, wherever and whenever it is needed.
Toolbox Mobile Parts integrates seamlessly with Toolbox Mobile Library and Maintenance Turn Time to provide a full mobile maintenance troubleshooting solution. All information is connected – the solution pulls history information from the maintenance planning system, and also sends information back to the system of record.
The implementation at Alaska Airlines
Seattle-based Alaska Airlines accounts for about 3% of the U.S. market and operates an all-Boeing 737 fleet. The airline’s maintenance and engineering organization has 16 stations and 680 technicians – half based in Seattle, the largest station.
The current position
Alaska has already implemented Jeppesen’s product for pilots in the flight operations. On the maintenance side, the airline is using Boeing’s Maintenance Performance Toolbox (see figure 6 below) Library, Authoring and Systems modules.
In 2013, Alaska Airlines conducted time studies with technicians to determine how much time could be saved if they had mobile devices. The result of the time study suggested Toolbox Mobile Library could save several minutes per mechanic per shift as soon as the application was implemented. Over time, Alaska expects this productivity saving to increase significantly once all three line maintenance applications are fully implemented. The business case also included a device ‘refresh’ after two years because technology advances so fast.
During the time trials, the mechanics preferred the iPad Minis, which could fit in a vest pocket, over the larger iPad format.
Implementing the mobile solution
Alaska is in the midst of deploying the Boeing line maintenance mobile applications, rolling out iPad Minis to all stations, starting with Seattle as the largest station. Alaska’s infrastructure was not originally designed to support the volume of data required in the early releases of Toolbox Mobile Library. Together, Boeing and Alaska vastly improved the ways which data was delivered to the application so that mechanics could continue to search content while totally disconnected from the internet, working on both infrastructure and app changes. The app continues to refine the method by which it delivers data in order to limit the impact on IT infrastructure and the mechanic’s user experience.
To ensure that technicians are compliant, Alaska uses a compliance report which is part of the Toolbox Mobile Library. The device reports a transcript of all manuals downloaded on the device, and the compliance report collects the data status of all devices. Alaska’s devices synchronize every 24 hours, a time limit that the Toolbox Mobile Library allows each airline to configure and control.
In order to make the iPad Minis durable for the line maintenance environment, Alaska fitted the devices in Survivor Cases made by Griffin. Alaska uses Airwatch as their mobile device management solution– using the process as flight operations to gain efficiency.
A number of recommendations have emerged from this process that might be useful for others embarking on a similar mobile strategy.
First, it’s important to understand your company’s mobile strategy. Does somebody from an executive level want you to go mobile? If the company’s already gone mobile with flight operations, that’s a big opportunity to learn. Also, it’s important to understand if IT has special considerations around devices – for instance, are they OK with Apple products?
You’ll need to know the business process impact of any mobile initiative. Although we see a trend towards more individually assigned devices, other companies may allow a ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) option, or they may choose to manage devices like tools – accessible to whoever needs them, as and when required.
We also recommend involving the IT organization as early as possible, even though some IT organizations may resist changes around mobile initiatives. Because of potential resistance, it’s even more important to get them in early and understand limitations, such as wireless, with which IT can help. Involve IT as much as possible because they’ll understand the pros and cons of different devices, security considerations or other distribution challenges that might exist. They’ll also be able to support integrating the mobile devices with the other systems. Device management is a big consideration, as is data management.
In summary, it’s important for a Maintenance & Engineering organization to understand your mobile strategy, be willing to adjust and drive your business process and include your IT as a critical part of your success. You’ll find that you reap instant benefits and efficiencies for your mechanics.
Rob Lowy is responsible for the Maintenance and Engineering (M&E) Mobile project at Alaska Airlines. Previously, a Mobile Project Manager for the Alaska Airlines Flight Operations Division, and before that, head of Weight & Balance Engineering and MEL (Minimum Equipment List) Coordinator for the airline, Lowy is currently LEAN certified. He holds a bachelor’s of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering degree from the University of Washington, and a Master’s degree in Project Management from the University of Alaska – Anchorage.
Sherilyn Segrest leads the Electronic Logbook program in the Digital Aviation business unit of Boeing’s Commercial Aviation Services organization. She has previous experience as a Lean Evangelist supporting several Boeing software development programs. In previous product management roles for Boeing and other organizations, she guided product roadmap development, managed customer and supplier relationships, successfully implemented cost saving measures, and streamlined business process changes. Segrest received a bachelor’s of business administration in information technology at Baylor University, Texas.