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Snecma Rapidly Prototypes User-Focused Aftermarket Services

To develop innovative aftermarket services, Snecma works with customers to improve the user experience by addressing specific problems.

Snecma is using methods similar to those usually found in a fabrications lab to devise new aftermarket services. One of the first creations has been real-time support for a borescope inspection. The engine manufacturer is now working on improving health monitoring. The new approach is expected to make the technician’s job easier and to provide more relevant information.

“Three years ago, our CEO asked us to innovate in services,” François-Xavier Hussenet, head of Snecma’s service innovation workshop, tells Aviation Week. In doing so, the newly formed team took inspiration from other industries, where user experience is the top priority. New job profiles, such as user experience designer (see below), thus made their way into the company.

Being centered on the user involves working with the airlines. “We challenge ourselves—do we know the customer that well?” Hussenet asks rhetorically. He emphasizes that the approach is different from listening to a customer requesting a new service and creating it. In the latter conventional way of working, engineers center on their own knowledge, as opposed to the final user’s experience. In the new modus operandi, “we try, with the customer, to define where the ‘pain’ is and solve it,” Hussenet explains.

A “pain” in this context, is a word taken from cognitive sciences. Rather than suffering, it is about the potential of improving the user experience—by decreasing complexity, for example.

How can an idea be brought into the service innovation workshop’s fab lab and turned into a service offer? “A contributor first has to demonstrate that an idea brings value to our company and the customer,” Hussenet says. An idea that makes it to the fab lab is only at the “intuition of added value” stage. “We then make the service a bit more tangible; we write a storyboard or we film Lego characters, aircraft, etc.,” Hussenet says.

Storyboard in hand, the fab lab’s experts go and meet a potential customer. “The potential user can challenge our concept—the sooner the customer kills our bad ideas, the sooner we can progress on the good one,” Hussenet says.

Detailing the storyboard involves describing when and how interaction takes place between the customer and Snecma. A smartphone interface can be prototyped on paper. The workshop uses small sheets of paper, the size of a display, and pictograms. The paper prototype is then tested with the potential user. “Early in the process, much quicker than what writing software would enable, we can be quite close to reality,” Hussenet says. The fab lab’s 3-D printer may also be useful in the creation process.

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Now at the pre-production stage is B.SIde, a service and accompanying tool created to augment a borescope inspection. A touchscreen, an Internet connection and a headset can be linked to any kind of borescope. An expert (in-house or from Snecma) can thus remotely help the maintenance technician in real time. Among the functionalities are voice conversation, chat and annotating of an image.

Luxembourg-based carrier Luxair helped devise B.SIde. “The first version the potential user can see is far from the final product, but such a raw prototype helps you find additional needs,” Hussenet explains. Erratic Wi-Fi (an issue notably due to engine-generated electromagnetic interference) led Snecma to add an ethernet socket to the device.

Christophe Henriot, Luxair’s head of engineering, adds that the tool’s design criteria include robustness, as “no IT expert is available in the hangar.” The successive prototypes were gradually moving closer to Luxair’s needs, he says. Another benefit is that Luxair’s mechanics have enjoyed being involved so early in the design process, according to Henriot.

The new approach is much faster. “Between the paper version and the last prototype, it took us 6-8 months—by aviation standards, this is the speed of light,” Hussenet says.

Making the most of existing engine data is part of the service innovation workshop’s goals. The focus is on the CFM International CFM56-5B and -7B variants because many are in service and some are aging. Their onboard electronics were designed to ensure optimal operation, rather than transmitting data from sensors. Nevertheless, vibration, temperature and oil parameters are available, and airlines have health monitoring in place. Snecma is now striving to take that to a higher level of prediction.

“From partner airlines, we are obtaining engine data and processing them with our algorithms,” Hussenet says. These operators are S7, Air Arabia, EasyJet, Luxair, Royal Air Maroc and Air Côte d’Ivoire. Highlighting so-called “weak signals” in past data, Snecma is endeavoring to link them to subsequent problems.

“The co-design process will last throughout 2016,” Hussenet says. It will follow the same lines as the creation of B.SIde. Then, tests will take place with real-time data. The service innovation workshop aims to make the improved health monitoring offering commercially available from mid-2017. 

New Job Profiles

Snecma’s service innovation workshop has introduced new job profiles for an engine manufacturer. The user experience researcher looks at the user, how he/she uses a tool or service and especially focuses on specific “pains” and how to get rid of them.

The user experience designer, in turn, concentrates on how the user will obtain answers—how many mouse clicks, for example, for a given amount of information.

Finally, the data engineer is an expert in Big Data, using algorithms to highlight prominent, relevant facts. 

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