Fast 5: Behind Air Canada's Parts Tracking Processes

Richard Steer, vice president, Air Canada Maintenance and Engineering, discusses how the airline MRO keeps up with changing demands around component tracking and which new technologies it will look to.

Does your maintenance operation track components in a similar method across all of its facilities?

Air Canada Maintenance does track its components to ensure that we understand their usage with regards to each station. This allows us to better predict future needs, ultimately ensuring that we are prepared to provide support to each our fleet type at a station. This allows us to always focus on our customers and make sure that we are providing a service that is second to none. Our Trax application allows us full visibility on all touchpoints with regards to parts and tooling, from the shipping and receiving functions to the end state of our AMEs and technicians being issued the component for use.

What are some examples of ways Air Canada has sought to improve its parts tracking processes in recent times?

We are always looking for ways to continually improve our processes so that we can consistently deliver excellent customer products. In the past we adopted 2D and 3D barcoding, which has decreased the amount of keystroke needed to be performed by the teams. Mobility has been a major theme of our transformation and the logistics team was the first to launch this within Air Canada Maintenance by issuing tablet devices to our frontline teams. These enabled them to move from a stationary workspace to one where transactions can be completed in real-time on the fly. We have also been quick to utilize GPS, which has produced a great amount of data that puts our teams in a position to succeed when making decisions. GPS units are installed on certain high value components so that we can track them easily. Safety being paramount to Air Canada we’ve worked to equip these devices to use sensors that turn on and off depending on the airspeed and altitude of the aircraft. We have also prototyped Visual Displays, which show the status of specific components, which again provide our teams with valuable data to make better strategic decisions that ultimately impact our customers in positive ways.

Are there any notable challenges associated with parts tracking?

Like any global organization, the biggest challenge is the size of our operation. We have eight warehouses across Canada and two within Europe that are staffed by Air Canada Stockkeepers. In addition to these facilities, we have components in dozens of other countries that are managed locally by third party providers and remotely by our Stockkeepers. The logistical challenges range from differing languages, government and contractual regulations, time zone differences and communications abilities. This is why it is so important that we continually look for ways to improve our processes, harness the benefits that new technology provides and ensure that we have a valuable and accurate software system.

Does Air Canada employ much in the way of robotics across its warehouses?

Currently we do not, however our teams are examining how robotics could enable the operation to be more efficient. Some of the items our teams are now examining include the use of drones within our warehouses, which could assist our teams during our audits; to the use of automated delivery vehicles, which could improve of coverage over large areas such as the warehouses in our hubs.

Where does it feel the next innovations will take place in warehouse automation or parts tracking techniques?

Technology continues to advance at a rapid pace so it is important that we continually stay at the forefront. As we look towards ways that innovations will impact the warehouse or parts tracking abilities, I think the use of artificial intelligence, drone technology and greater enhancements to GPS will shape much of our future.

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