MIAMI BEACH, Florida—Honeywell has begun marketing a system it developed and has been using internally that allows technicians inspecting aircraft engines and auxiliary power units (APUs) to work through check lists and record their work with hands-free via voice commands.
The benefits Honeywell has seen include speedier work, greater adherence to standard procedures and increased accuracy of record-keeping. It also makes it easier to get metrics on both the procedures and individual technicians’ performance. Moreover, technicians seem to like the system, as it frees them from much paperwork and data entry.
“It just makes my life easier,” says Andrew Newingham, who works on APUs at Honeywell. “I’m on old helicopter guy. Give me a wrench and I can work all day. Give me a keyboard and I’m all thumbs.” Videos of Newingham and others working with the system can be viewed at www.vocollect.com/feature/inspections.
The system includes a rugged, modular headset and computer-communications unit that can be hand-held or strapped to a technician’s belt. Use of the system begins with training—both for users and for the computerized system. Technicians learn procedures and menus; Vocollect learns users’ pronunciation of words.
The path to developing an aerospace MRO voice-recognition system began in 2012, when Honeywell was interested in improving its own maintenance practices and discovered a company called Vocollect that offered headset and computer systems for workers in warehouses and, more recently, the automotive industry.
Vocollect’s technology can be adapted to almost anything that has a scripted workflow, says Joe Stepanski, a Honeywell senior program manager in product-support engineering.
The first application was to engines and APUs that Honeywell maintains and repairs at “induction,” the point at which it is brought into the shop, inspected and assessed. It was deployed in June 2014 at operations in Phoenix. Facilities in Singapore and Rounheim, Germany, are to get it soon. And Honeywell is planning to expand use of the system to work downstream of induction.
As the two companies worked on developing the aviation maintenance and inspection system, somewhat coincidentally, Honeywell acquired Vocollect’s parent company, Intermec, in September 2013 for “approximately $600 million.”
Voice-recognition systems are common these days. But to achieve high performance, a system needs to cope well with industry-specific vocabulary, individual users’ idiosyncrasies and background noises. It is such areas that have led to Vocollect’s 75 patents in the field, says David Brosette, a strategic account manager with Honeywell Scanning & Mobility’s Vocollect Solutions, who demonstrated the system at Aviation Week’s MRO Americas exhibition and conference here this week.
“We specialize in the industrial environment,” says Prakash Somasundaram, a Vocollect product manager, who was also at the show.
Honeywell has seen the time required for documentation during induction cut 30-40% and accuracy doubled, Brosette said, but “what really resonates [with potential customers] is adherence to process.”
Bossette declined to discuss prices because so much for potential customers depends upon variables like the number of procedures, their complexity, and how many Vocollect user sets are needed. But he said there is a price for the hardware then an ongoing subscription fee for the service. And he said, in structuring deals, Honeywell “wants to make sure customers have a [return on investment] within one year.”
So far, the Honeywell Vocollect team does not know of similar systems being offered elsewhere. But Somasundaram said, “We expect competitors in aerospace and defense.”