The numbers of aircraft in service today is unprecedented and MRO is a major and swiftly evolving market. New developments have to take into account increasingly competitive profit margins, extensive regulatory frameworks and passenger safety. With some claiming that 99 per cent of the revenue received per flight by airlines is needed simply to break even, MRO is taking centre stage in the battle to keep airlines profitable, and mobile technology is really going to drive innovation and profitability in this market.
Today’s generation of MRO engineers grew up with computers in the home, cell phones and, more recently, smartphones and tablets. They are well versed in how such technology works. In this age of “bring your own device”, mobile applications can drive innovation in MRO.
New mobile applications combined with agile resource planning tools, will enable MRO shops to keep up with the pace of change, helping them move forward and embrace further changes in the future while avoiding costly new software developments or extensive training. Here's how.
The pivotal change
Traditional MRO involves a lot of paper maintenance manuals – a mobile app offers these on a device in a technician’s pocket. These devices enable work to become more interactive, more interesting and, arguably, more effective with the inclusion of videos and 360 degree images.
Similarly tablets are adaptable to the support of general MRO. Portable and relatively robust, they also provide ability to take photographs of a specific part which needs repairing, as well as incorporating wearable technology.
It is the maintenance engineers on the ground who will benefit the most from this technology and it will provide opportunities to improve efficiency. Instead of assessing the situation, attempting to identify the specific manufacturer part number, returning to the warehouse to retrieve the relevant part and finding that it isn't currently in stock, engineers will be able to examine faults on an aircraft in real time using a mobile device to identify the asset, immediately ascertain whether it is available and arrange for someone to bring it to them in situ.
By giving the technician the ability to approve a work order, view stock availability or check repair history at the touch of a screen or button, mobile devices are maximising efficiencies and time savings in MRO and broader support processes.
Optimising operations for business agility
Mobile devices also offer a window to enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, its maintenance processes and sign-off, as well as supply chain and configuration management. Businesses should look to integrate mobile apps as an extension of their full ERP suite, as opposed to a separate entity. In this way MRO providers can significantly improve efficiency, improve the accuracy of data capture and simplify what is traditionally a slow, paper-based process.
The more holistic an ERP solution is, the simpler it is to extract management information and benefit the bottom line – and this includes the integration and use of mobile technology. In short, a mechanic can target the exact information he or she needs to carry out a repair at any location, follow a rigorous MRO process, whether it’s in a sprawling hangar complex or on the tarmac at a remote location.
But the use of mobile applications must not overload the user with too much information. Apps rather than full applications are the way forward in this stressful, complex operational environment.
Springboard to the future
Longer-term, with the advent of the “Internet of Things” or health-and-usage-monitoring, 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 MROs.
IFS’ research and development team is already trialling notifications from IFS applications on a Samsung Gear 2 smart watch as a proof-of-concept to demonstrate the ability to engage with content from ERP and asset management systems. The project aims to show that users can not only read updates, but make transactions, send alerts for processes and receive important notifications in real time.
In many instances, engineers themselves are driving the changes we are witnessing in MRO. But by enabling mobility on the shop floor—or in the cockpit—organisations will see significant benefits in terms of remaining competitive in this market.
Espen Olsen is European director for aerospace and defence at IFS.
More information is available in IFS’ white paper: Civil Aviation MRO - The pivotal role of mobile in a dramatically changing market.