With more than 650 aircraft operating all over the world, FedEx Express faces immense challenges in getting the right parts to the right place fast. Smart IT tools are an essential element of its repair and part management, according to Mark Yerger, VP of materiel management.
The carrier uses some modified inventory modeling and optimization tools to seek optimal part placement at hundreds of airports around the world, Yerger explains. Then, working with IT and maintenance partners, FedEx automates the scheduling of tasks and staging parts on aircraft so every time an aircraft is on the ground, there is an opportunity for maintenance.
The carrier tracks its urgent AOG shipments using the same SenseAware devices used to support FedEx customers “to report location and movement of these high-value shipments and set alerts when things don’t go according to plan,” Yerger says.
To forecast part and repair demand, FedEx uses a combination of historical demand, component reliability data, health-monitoring tools for aircraft and engines, its own aircraft condition monitoring and decades of maintenance data. The aim is “a proactive maintenance system to drive parts off before they fail,” Yerger says. This is a rapidly improving work in progress. “The first couple of years have shown both great results and the huge promise of even greater effectiveness going forward.”
The materiel manager is especially proud of achievements in hub locations where maintenance is most constrained. “Using inputs from radio calls to our workbench maintenance app on the iPad to the requests keyed in by our maintenance operations control center, we can find the part, pull it and deliver in-stock parts to the maintenance customer at the aircraft in 15 minutes.” And RFID tagging and tracking tools give managers three-dimensional locations to track parts rapidly.
Materiel staff use FedEx’s own logistics services to move AOG parts seamlessly from start to finish rather than over the traditional steps from warehouse to airport counter to the next airport counter and then to the airplane. “We can now optimize delivery from origin to destination ramp or gate for either speed or lowest cost with a one-click optimizer,” Yerger notes.
Yerger says the best inventory management technique is “to keep things moving.” FedEx tools enable removed parts to flow directly from the removal airport to repair suppliers. Shipping paperwork is generated for the mechanic in conjunction with the maintenance transaction. “This marries up with the workscope and airworthiness paperwork at the repair location with increasing automation,” he says. FedEx works with a select group of suppliers to better automate return records and shipping information, especially electronic airworthiness and maintenance records. “These will help us move to the digital twin environment both for parts we own and parts we exchange with suppliers.”
One goal is to be able to “treat everyone’s inventory like our owned inventory,” Yerger says. FedEx will then be able confirm the provenance, maintenance, reliability and value of a part it has never seen before with the same confidence as a part it has owned and maintained in its own shops for 15 years.
The future holds even more promise. FedEx Chief Information Officer Rob Carter called for an aviation blockchain at the recent Blockchain Global Revolution Conference in Toronto. “A true digital-twin and smart logistics system will enhance handling of airworthiness, customs, hazardous materials, ITAR and commercial information across blockchain-enabled participants,” Yerger predicts. He foresees a “revolution” of better safety, higher reliability and lower costs as MRO, especially component MRO, truly enters the 21st century.