Digitization is not the only area of innovation in MRO, but it is an important one. And the field is complex enough to require a holistic view of all that remains to be done.
Ramco Systems now supports a number of airlines, including Air India, Republic Airways, Cobham, Astra Airlines and Far Eastern Transport. These other carriers are all undergoing a digital transformation of aircraft maintenance, according to Vivek Tom Raj, aviation solutions manager, Ramco. He tries to make his customers see the whole transformation.
The bedrock of digital transformation is real-time capture of MRO transaction data at source, Raj notes. Then come insights from artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). The third step is innovation to exploit these insights.
Raj ticks off some of the major road markers in this transformation: using bots and mobility, applying ML and AI to data, ensuring all solutions are fully mobile and using optical character recognition and API-based data interchanges to induct data.
Paperless task cards and manuals are one early objective of transformation. Manoj Kumar Singh, Ramco's senior vice president and head of U.S. aviation & MRO business, estimates that a fleet of 250 aircraft can generate 25 million paper records a year. Although OEMs have moved to HTML cards, most legacy task cards are still in PDF, Microsoft Word, XML or SGML format. “It can take 3-4 hours to prepare paper for a layover check,” explains Singh.
The basic steps to digitizing task cards are to analyze content, insert semantic tags, review for anomalies and lost data and then augment the cards—for example, for digital sign-offs. “It’s a big job, and we automate it,” Singh says.
Another step is real-time visibility of all resources necessary for maintenance. Then managers can use ML to assist in decision-making, in this case setting a maintenance plan that minimizes downtime and can also deal with surprises. The Ramco exec calls this process an “intelligent Gannt,” naming it after the long-used paper project scheduling tool. This smart Gannt automatically assigns human resources based on skills and availability. Ramco has developed its Crew Anywhere, Mechanic Anywhere and Tools Anywhere mobile applications to enable collaboration in this planning process.
Multilingual chatbots can move toward reducing the human effort necessary to retrieve data or obtain answers to frequent questions from manuals and databases. Ramco has bots to answer common questions: a mechanic bot, a supplier bot, a customer bot and an AOG bot. For example, a bot can tell a mechanic whether a given part number is available, how many are in stock and the status of a requested part.
Ramco bots are now multilingual, including Spanish and Chinese. Alerts and notifications also can be automated for cases such as when a job is completed, what a mechanic’s next task is and, for managers, any unplanned leave by a mechanic.
ML can also spot patterns in common forms like purchase orders and fill these out automatically, which are subject to human review but can substantially reduce staff requirements. Ramco itself has begun automating the assignment of cost centers to aerospace MRO invoices, with manual checks for accuracy. The process gets increasingly accurate as experience and corrections accumulate.
Singh says “the possibilities of AI and MIL are limitless.” One use case is automating the boring and labor-intensive manual entry of shipping notes. ML can simply take the name of the company to which a shipment is being made and, based on past data, fill in all the rest of the shipping note data, subject to manual check.
And there is more to come. Next-generation digital technologies include drone inspections, wearable devices and augmented reality tools for learning and assistance.