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Meeting the new MRO order: Mobile MRO as part of the ERP
Author: Espen Olsen, European Director Aerospace & Defense, IFSSubscribe
Meeting the new MRO order
As Espen Olsen, European Director for Aerospace & Defense at IFS explains, a fast changing market and requirements demand a new approach to MRO
A changing world for civil aviation
From the advent of new manufacturing materials and ever more complex modular engines to new entertainment systems, the civil aviation support industry is changing dramatically. These changes will also have a knock-on effect on the companies that specialize in maintenance of aviation assets, and on component repair shops, as well as original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Manually-driven spreadsheets are just not up to the job, but integrating smart devices is. In this article, we’ll examine how all parties involved in Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) can adapt and remain competitive in a landscape of rapidly advancing technologies.
Given the numbers of aircraft in service today, the potential for impact on the bottom line and how critical passenger safety is, MRO has evolved to become a major market differentiator within aviation. Visiongain predicts that the value of the commercial aircraft MRO market in 2014 will reach a huge $53.4bn. It expects this trend will continue but the market will face many new challenges, including from some OEMs such as Boeing looking to increase their market share. Traditional third party MRO providers and airlines will need to adapt to this changing market in order to remain competitive.
The drivers changing the market
Each new technology coming into the sector – in the form of composite materials, super-alloys, complex avionics, engines with the latest wide-chord fan technology, compressors with advanced blade and disc design and advanced in-flight entertainment – brings with it widely different MRO demands. Add to this the fact that many items are becoming commoditized and therefore disposable, and it’s clear that these changes are increasingly affecting how manufacturers deliver into the industry and how service providers operate.
Based upon OEM projections, the current generation of large aircraft is likely to benefit from a more than a 75% reduction in annual structural repair requirements due to the application of composite materials. The reality, though, is that total structural repair man-hours could actually increase as a proportion over the next 10 years, driven by these newer fleets and the need for more specialized engineering skills. With overall MRO demands being greater, the need for supporting IT solutions and specialty training to enable such organizations to perform and manage complex composite repairs also increases in importance. There may well be an increase in the price of MRO support in the future if processes are not efficient.
As we said at the start of this article, manually-driven spreadsheets and paper-based management systems are no longer up to the requirements of the civil aviation market of today, let alone this blue skies future.
With MRO being so critical and market demands and technology rapidly changing, then by its very nature effective and efficient support demands increased agility in order to cope with such change. And that requires any support solution to be equally agile, adopting specialized industry functionality within a full ERP business supporting capability.
Adopt a holistic approach to maximize revenues
But what’s driving these changes? The market is increasingly being driven by competition, a need to improve fuel efficiency and reduce costs wherever possible especially with very low operating margins.
The Wall Street Journal recently revealed that, in many cases, 99% of the revenue received per flight by airlines is needed simply to break even on the high costs incurred in operation and maintenance. The largest cost to airlines is fuel, followed by salaries, taking 29% and 20% of revenue respectively. But these costs cannot easily be influenced or maximized by operators in terms of profit. One area where operators can exercise influence and where technology can be used to optimize operations and help boost profits is that of maintenance, where costs typically make up 11% of revenue. As such, organizations in this field are increasingly focusing on advanced enterprise support systems to manage, track and optimize MRO processes in order to maximize profit in this way.
By ensuring a more holistic approach to maintenance operations, it’s possible to achieve increased value from IT investments. Support systems which communicate information between four key elements – business, maintenance, operations and supply chain – enable this optimization by integrating problem solving quickly and more efficiently. And the sums indicate that if operators can reduce maintenance costs by just ten per cent, they could double their profits.
If we combine these market changes with the fact that some OEMs are starting to offer MRO themselves and that some airlines are beginning to reduce outsourced work by bringing maintenance back in-house, it is clear that third-party MRO companies must focus in this area to keep up and to remain competitive.
Complexity looking for a simple solution
In order to track certain support processes within civil aviation MRO – such as where parts are in their lifecycle, the cannibalization of another aircraft, the rigors of configuration management or how certain suppliers are performing – third-party organizations in particular need to have a comprehensive support solution in place to effectively manage these processes. And the more holistic and integrated an ERP solution is, particularly in terms of business and maintenance functions, the more simple it becomes to accurately input and then extract management information, drive in efficiency and drive out value.
Integrating data, processes and metrics is key in all of this – being able to track and optimize the cost of labor versus the cost of an individual component, all cross-referenced to the need for the plane to be returned to service at a certain time – all information must be delivered in one place in order to achieve this visibility and for MRO shops to remain compliant with the requirements of large airlines and regulatory control.
This is especially important for those airlines and organizations managing multiple fleets of aircraft, aircraft types, and engine types and manufacturers. Third party MRO providers can also integrate with, and benefit from, such an approach, as it provides them with better access to vital information, improving safety and efficiency. In this context, mobile and smart devices within an enterprise strategy can offer a gear shift in efficiency delivering targeted information in real-time.
Mobile smart devices in today’s market
Nowhere is the use of smart devices more practical than in the aircraft MRO world; offering even more opportunity to leverage the investment made by a business in enterprise software systems. Today’s generation of MRO engineers grew up with computers in the home, cell phones, and more recently smartphones and tablets. In a consumer-driven age of the bring your own device (BYOD) trend, mobile applications can bring major benefits to the industry providing the issues of regulation and safety can be taken on board.
Tablets are naturally adaptable to the support of general MRO – familiar to a broad spectrum of users, having productive user interfaces, powerful enough to run mobile applications yet portable and relatively robust – they also provide instant ability to take photographs of a specific part which needs repairing, offer communications channels as well as potentially incorporating wearable technology. They are maximizing efficiencies and time savings in MRO and broader support processes by giving the technician the ability to approve a work order, view stock availability, access technical drawings or check repair history at the touch of a screen.
Availability of information
There are several areas where mobile devices can offer this improved MRO capability. Aircraft traditionally hold a lot of paper maintenance manuals – mobile devices offer access to these manuals but on a device in a technician’s pocket and this can be integrated into the broader enterprise MRO solution. It all allows for better revision control and ensuring that engineers are working with the latest revision of documentation and active, accurate and effective part identification because the mobile solution forms part of the end-to-end enterprise solution. Mobile devices can also enable work to become more interactive via the inclusion of videos and for example 360 degree rotational images.
Picture the scene: A maintenance engineer is examining a fault on an aircraft and has the required panel open with the task in progress. Rather than simply assessing the situation, attempting to identify the specific manufacturer part number, returning to the warehouse to retrieve the relevant part and finding that it is not currently in stock; solutions now enable the engineer to use a mobile device to identify the asset, see immediately whether it is available and arrange for someone to bring it to them in situ; to then carry out the repair and complete certified documentation. Even better, the mobile solution should identify the part in anticipation of the process the engineer is following and check he is qualified to do the repair. This can hugely improve efficiency; enabling engineers to do their jobs better.
Another area is accessing the repair history of the specific aircraft or trends across the fleet type or of the specific asset. Stand-alone mobile technology or niche mobile solutions address point problems but having the mobile device as part of a broader enterprise strategy and solution where the mobile devices offer a window to the broad based ERP software, its maintenance processes, sign-off controls, supply chain picture and the configuration management rules is much more effective. In short, a mechanic can target the exact information he or she needs to carry out a repair at any location and follow a rigorous MRO process, whether it’s within a sprawling hangar complex, or on the tarmac at a remote location. Furthermore, all of this can be managed under consistent and up-to-date business processes integrated with other key process elements.
But mobile applications must not overload the user with too much information (this has been an industry trend to push forwards complex IS technology as hardware and bandwidth capabilities have improved). Apps are the way forward in what can often be a stressful, complex operational environment in civil aviation MRO. Here, speed, effectiveness and safety must be maximized and Apps can improve this significantly.
MRO engineers need an anticipatory depiction of the information that allows them to solve their problem quickly – whether that is through information on a specific part or a schedule for a job – all of this information needs to be readily available at their fingertips. And there is also the potential for further maximizing efficiencies and time savings in MRO and broader support processes further by developing these processes into a context aware environment, where the technology knows the environment in which it is being used, and can adapt to it, for example providing the right manual for an aircraft component based upon where the engineer is standing in relation to the aircraft. Removing complexity with targeted Apps is important because complexity inevitably will lead to mistakes which result in increased cost at best or safety issues at worse.
Making the right decision at the point of need
In any MRO situation it is likely that operations planning, the maintenance supervisor, maintainer and operators are geographically separated. But the maintainer will need access to fault information at all times. A mobile strategy within an enterprise solution addresses this as the maintainer will want to be able to make a decision about whether to repair or replace a given component immediately or whether the repair can be delayed; to check whether the aircraft is still airworthy or not? The operations planning team and the maintenance supervisor will need to assess the impact on fleet planning.
Lack of real time access to this data, in either direction, can also be a flight safety issue. Must the operator pull the asset from duty until the problem is resolved? Or can the requisite part be ordered and the asset repaired when the part comes in? Or perhaps that line operator, using the app, can determine that, while the problem is in fact a flight safety issue, there are two of the requisite parts in stock, and he can simply run one out to the asset for immediate installation.
Agility is the answer
In many instances, it’s the engineers themselves who are driving changes in the MRO solutions market, pushing companies to enable the use of smart devices in particular. But by enabling mobility on the shop floor – or in the cockpit – such organizations will see significant benefits in terms of remaining competitive in the market through improvements across the business enterprise.
Combined with a sophisticated ERP support solution, MRO providers can significantly improve efficiency, improve the accuracy of data captured, and dramatically simplify what is traditionally a slow, paper-based process. Longer-term, with the advent of the Internet of Things and increased adoption of Health and usage Monitoring Systems (HUMS), perhaps we’ll see mobile technology develop even further with the asset itself immediately understanding its state of repair and where it needs to be in the maintenance process, with the fleet managed accordingly.
Add to this the development of wearable technology, context aware solutions and predictive analytics, and we could see significant reductions in complexity and workload for civil aviation MRO operators.
But standalone mobile technology or niche mobile solutions only touch on the business benefits achievable. Having the mobile device as part of a broader enterprise strategy is the key and that in itself needs to offer agility in design and have specialized industry functionality within a full ERP business supporting capability. In effect, where mobile devices are part of and offer a window to the broad based ERP software.
Espen Olsen, European Director Aerospace & Defense, IFS
Espen is responsible for Business Development and Sales in A&D at IFS, and has a background in the Royal Norwegian Air Force. In his 15 years with IFS he has worked with a variety of clients across the A&D sector, both in Civil Aviation as well as in defense, and has been working with defense logistics and issues related to the transformation of the defense sector in Europe. He has also been working very closely with IFS’ focus on Complex Assembly MRO (aka Engine overhaul), and has taken part in both sales as well as implementation with customers such as Finnair Technical Services (now GA Telesis), Alitalia Maintenance Systems (AMS) and more recently Emirates
IFS Applications offers flexible, module based business solutions that manage the entire civil aviation lifecycle of contracts, projects, MRO, assets and services. Applications include functionality for contract and project management, risk management, budgeting and forecasting, engineering, material management, sub-contracting, document management, fabrication, service and maintenance management, as well as financials and human resources. Being component-based, it is easier to implement and can be incremental to align with the growth and scope of a business.