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The RealWear HMT-1 uses voice controls for data visualization and remote collaboration functionality.

2018 MRO IT Wish List: Hands Free

With old technology as a backbone, how airlines and their maintenance suppliers are modernizing MRO IT and embracing mobility.

Printed headline: Voice Overs

Much focus in the airline industry has been placed on dealing with the challenges presented by older aircraft staying in service longer than expected, but what about older software systems?

A critical insight from Oliver Wyman’s 2017 MRO survey is the ongoing upgrades of MRO IT systems that there are to keep up with evolving technology and regulations. Constraints within the industry caused by outdated IT systems were of concern for 62% of respondents, and nearly 50% believe that IT budgets are not keeping up with the need to upgrade old systems or install new ones. Nearly two-thirds of the entire U.S. commercial fleet is still using Sceptre—which is based on software code nearly 40 years old—as its primary maintenance control system.

According to David Marcontell, Cavok Group’s general manager, the problem with systems like this is not the core idea behind them, but their stand-alone nature. “It is so incredibly expensive to move and migrate large fleets from one system to another system,” says Marcontell. “Making a change simply for technological reasons is a really difficult business case.”

Christopher Rospenda, global transportation leader for the Internet of Things at IBM, echoes these sentiments. “The challenge with MRO and airlines is that they’ve had very little ability to invest in their systems, and because of that you wind up having a hodgepodge of systems put together that costs more money in the long run to maintain than it does to get the productivity out of them,” he says.

RealWear

The RealWear HMT-1 uses voice controls for data visualization and remote collaboration functionality.

Rospenda has seen many customers asking for “pay-as-you-go” services from software providers due to budgetary constraints. “Instead of plug-and-play, they want, ‘play, and I will capture it.’ They don’t want to do the integration—at least not yet.”

Marcontell sees many airlines investing in middleware to help legacy platforms interface with new technologies. “This is creating an interesting domain for these middleware software providers who write infrastructure platforms that allow you to interface with mobility platforms and things like that, yet still map that data and perform various intermediate transactions to ready the data for entry into the core database of one of these legacy systems,” he says.

The sheer amount of data to be captured can also be an intimidating prospect. According to Oliver Wyman’s 2016 MRO survey, the global fleet could generate nearly 100 million terabytes of data by 2026.

“It’s this gray cloud out there that [airlines and MROs] know is coming,” says Rospenda. “They know there’s some benefit, but trying to find the right diamond is very difficult. That goes back to the expense involved in investing in systems, and you have to have some idea what you’re looking for with data and predictive maintenance.”

Marcontell says data used for predictive maintenance is further complicated by “dirty data”—data that does not meet a particular syntax format or is incompatible or incorrect in some way. According to Marcontell, the MRO IT industry is putting forward-looking efforts into ways that software—rather than people—can clean up and interpret this data. “You’re not going to fundamentally change the underlying data architecture for these legacy systems—you can’t easily do that—so how do you avoid the problem in the future?” he asks.

Mobility is an increasingly popular software trend that could play a crucial role in utilizing data analytics more efficiently. “Paperless is the big wish list,” says Rospenda. “But it takes the ability to capture it digitally, and some of the old systems don’t do that.”

Both Rospenda and Marcontell point to hands-free, voice-driven interfaces as a growing trend into which many airlines and MROs are looking. Citing the example of retail workers interacting with each other as a team via headsets, Marcontell says that for maintenance technicians using voice-activated devices, the team will now include the computer.

“We’re moving into a world where somebody is going to start really perfecting the ability to do the aircraft logbook via [voice-driven systems],” says Marcontell. “It has the ability to take the voice recognition and complete the entries in a real-time basis. It basically memorializes that content into the logbook but does all of the interesting metadata tagging that you want to do for future analytics.”

For a maintenance technician completing a task such as changing a brake, these hands-free, voice-activated systems allow instructions to be pulled up quickly and easily while also recording the work automatically for compliance purposes. “It’s all done in this highly efficient manner that allows the technician to really multitask in many cases and become seamless with this piece of software,” says Marcontell. “The future world is a technician with one of these devices feeding them instructions.”

In the past year a number of new, “smart” wearables have been introduced, including Upskill’s Skylight platform, the RealWear HMT-1 and the latest version of Google Glass for hands-on workers. With the wearables market expected to have a cumulative compound annual growth rate of nearly 40% in the next decade, according to Global Wearables Technologies Market Forecast to 2025, these new technologies may play a key role in bridging the gap between aging software and big data.

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