Disrupting MRO

The touch-labor-driven needs of maintenance mean that it is less open to true technological disruption than other industries.

Talk to any venture capital investor about what they are looking for in a startup and the word "disruption" will soon crop up--technology or a new way of doing business that upends, and improves upon, the previous paradigm.

Within aviation the main technology disrupter has been the jet engine, while equally transformative in terms of business practice was the low-cost carrier model pioneered by Southwest Airlines.

It is unclear, though, whether similar fundamental shifts have occurred in the MRO sector.

If a mechanic from 1970 were to step into today's most advanced hangars he or she might struggle to identify the odd 3D printer, laser cladding arm or inspection drone, but the basic apparatus and manpower of a heavy check would feel familiar in many ways.

The touch-labor-driven needs of maintenance mean that it is less open to true technological disruption than other industries, although of course technology is constantly refining the execution of certain tasks, from automated inspection to inventory management.

One day these incremental changes will add up to a workspace that is unrecognizable to the baby boomer generation, while in the interim certain technologies are set to lend the hangar a distinctly futuristic feel.

A prime example is the fully powered exoskeleton, one of the first industrial iterations of which is set to be released next year by Sarcos Robotics.

Its Guardian XO suit will allow workers to effortlessly lift 200 lb., but its most important contributions are likelier to be towards worker safety and longevity.

“Aerospace has the same challenges as other industries, notably worker shortages and the amount of injuries that occur,” says Kristi Martindale, head of marketing for Sarcos.

She points out that back injuries are a $100 billion per year problem in the U.S. alone.

“Exoskeleton suits are designed to alleviate or eliminate those type of injuries. They will also extend the useful working life for somebody who has been in the industry for some time,” Martindale adds.

To find out more about exoskeletons and other transformative technologies such as augmented reality, see next month’s Inside MRO.

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