LONDON—Innovative technologies such as drones and virtual reality could help the MRO industry address the labor shortage and drive efficiencies, but slow progress due to regulatory challenges still stands in the way of progress. Could lessons learned from other industries be the key to bridging the gap?
Speaking at MRO Europe Oct. 17, Partel-Peeter Kruuv, interior project manager at Magnetic MRO, used the example of a 3D printed tray table to illustrate the frustration of having an innovative solution to a maintenance problem on paper, but no approval to actually use it.
According to Kruuv, replacing a broken tray table in an aircraft can be costly and take a lead time of up to 1-2 months, but there is “basically no way to print that table to install it by morning because, legally, design organizations need to state that installing the table does not affect the electrical system, for example.” Regulation, argues Kruuv, is never up to date with technological possibilities, and there needs to be a better common understanding in the industry.
“Examples like this where there is actual need, there are tools, there is know-how, and it’s safe, feasible and ticks all the boxes but cannot be done is a big problem I see,” he says. “I hope that within the next 5-10 years we are able to solve it.”
Much like 3D printing, automated aircraft inspections via drone are becoming increasingly common within MRO, but receiving regulatory approval for them remains a challenge. According to Rahul Ghai, AAR’s chief digital officer, the MRO believes the drone inspections it recently began trialing with Donecle could drive more than 50% in time savings, but the technology still requires regulatory approvals at this point in time.
“Over time this should be a superior manner of general visual inspection, but we need to work through the regulatory approvals to get to that point,” explains Ghai. The key, he says, is selling the technology from a safety standpoint rather than from an efficiency standpoint.
“It’s about engaging on the basis for which those regulatory bodies would be able to understand the true benefit,” he says. “The regulatory bodies wouldn’t particularly care if the airline or the MRO was getting more efficient as a result of these technologies.”
Nigel Thomas, head of Capgemini’s MALS (manufacturing automotive and life sciences unit), points out that other industries are actually using new technologies such as augmented and virtual reality to help with regulatory issues. Thomas says one major pharmaceutical manufacturer uses AR to re-certify workers to go back to the production line after they have been away for a period of time. When it comes to regulatory challenges, Thomas believes MRO needs to learn from other industries to help keep pace as new technologies are introduced.
On the factory production line, Boeing is taking lessons learned from younger generations’ consumption of video games and YouTube videos. According to Jason McCauley, senior manager business development, global fleet care at Boeing, the gamification of data could be a great tool to both address the technician shortage and drive efficiencies.
“Anytime you’re going to work on a car today, you look at a YouTube video first to make sure you know how to do it. So as we’re delivering task cards digitally to mechanics, how do we get data on, maybe, the last time they performed a particular task?” says McCauley. He adds that pushing instructional videos to a mechanic’s device can help improve the efficiency of task delivery while adding a level of competition can incentivize individual workers to perform better.
By sharing personal data on how proficient they are with various tasks, McCauley says Boeing workers on the factory production line can be encouraged to perform better and innovate on a personal level. This data could also help companies find better ways to perform work by driving both local and global crowdsourcing of problems.
“You might have a phenomenal engineer solution at Vienna and there might be a completely different MRO in the Philippines that has a related solution, but together, if we’ve got a platform for them to collaborate, they can come up with something amazing—sort of a Kickstarter effect,” says McCauley. “How can we bring that forward in the industry as a means to make the work more fun, more exciting and more efficient for our customers?”
When it comes to using data for efficiency, the Lufthansa Group is taking lessons from retail. According to Alin Kalam, strategic BI and analytics lead for Lufthansa Group, one of the company’s ongoing projects relates to the “Amazonization” of spare parts. The basis of the project is using data insights to store statistically important spare parts in places where they might not make sense at first glance—something Kalam says supermarkets have been doing for some time now. Ultimately, Kalam says the project aims to make sure spare parts are stored in a way where they can be found most quickly and easily when things happen on the ground, which will reduce delays.