Should MROs invest in portable maintenance aids?

Are portable devices gaining traction in the aircraft MRO sector? Such equipment potentially offers efficiency and convenience advantages to workers, saving them from having to wheel cumbersome tools over to the systems they are inspecting, repairing or testing.

But the devices can be flimsy, expensive and difficult to use – and this could result in wiping out the productivity gains they were introduced to achieve.

One company to implement mobile solutions is Airberlin Technik, which has deployed Asus Transformer notebooks running Android operating systems since 2013.

It says the tablets have enabled efficiency savings of up to a fifth. Airberlin mechanics working on an aircraft can connect to the company’s server with their tablets for real-time data queries and task distribution; and have the ability to access maintenance software and manuals. Airberlin also hopes to implement digital signatures in order to eliminate the paperwork created by the current need to print out job documents and manually sign them off when tasks are completed.

The tablets are only as good as the software that runs on them, however, and Airberlin was forced to create its own programs in advance of anticipated releases from the big maintenance software providers. There is also a lack of standardisation among big suppliers and OEMs, notably Boeing and Airbus, and Airberlin has found that even  comparatively simple procedures such as logging into maintenance manuals can be stymied by the wrong choice of operating system.

But the biggest annoyance for line engineers reliant on mobile devices is an unreliable internet signal. “Connectivity at the moment is one of our biggest showstoppers. In on-call maintenance everything needs to work instantly but with mobile devices and the current generation of 3G at some airports we have a lot of trouble,” confirms Christian Wolter, head of IT systems and projects at Airberlin Technik.

Advanced software solutions will therefore have to be developed before portable maintenance aids become even more widely accepted – but these are in development, and in some cases, on the market.

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