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Opinion: To Redefine Aerospace We Must Reimagine Aftermarket MRO

Ajay Agrawal, president of aftermarket services for Collins Aerospace, says aftermarket MRO must embrace digital innovation to bring value to customers

Agrawal heads Collins Aerospace’s commercial and military aftermarket business and customer service organizations.Aviation aftermarket MRO is a value-added service that accompanies the delivery of new aircraft. While the aftermarket plays a crucial role in the aviation industry, it doesn’t receive the enthusiastic headlines that often accompany new aircraft.

It’s easy to understand why. Touchscreen avionics, lie-flat seats, virtual windows, inflight entertainment at terrestrial speed and LED cabin lighting that can deliver 16 million different colors . . . you see the challenge. Put these components in a new aircraft with the latest engines and a breathtaking sweep of wing, and it’s tough to compete for ink.

Yet it will be impossible for the aviation industry to achieve the elusive ideal of frictionless travel if the aftermarket is an ongoing source of inefficiency and delay.

It’s ironic that within such a high-technology industry digital innovations are not being leveraged well. Hundreds of thousands of transactions take place among airlines and their aftermarket providers every day. Surprisingly, a lot of this happens with old technology. Customers and MRO facilities continue to post inquiries via email: The amount of manual intervention required for the aftermarket to ensure on-time deliveries is inefficient.

Add to this the fact that a large number of aircraft systems and components are maintained “on condition,” resulting in a paradigm that causes delays and cancellations because we wait until systems or components fail.

To effectively redefine aerospace, we must reimagine aftermarket MRO. Industry suppliers must do more to deliver an aftermarket digital ecosystem that decreases inefficiency and improves the customer experience.

The solution is an aftermarket digital ecosystem that both leverages and delivers innovation in hardware, connectivity, analytics and the more traditional aftermarket playing field—customer support.

Four action items that can help are:

1. Smarter hardware delivering the right data. Many aircraft systems are not designed for connectivity and prognostics, leaving valuable information about the status of aircraft equipment unknown. We need smarter systems that alert operators to maintenance needs before minor issues become major events. A good example is current smart/connected products that significantly improve landing-gear performance and reduce aircraft downtime.

2. Connectivity to resolve data access. The world’s best asset intelligence (or predictive) models cannot overcome scenarios where data cannot be moved quickly and reliably from source to decision. Today there is too much data coming off aircraft on the ground being stored inadequately. This leads to inefficiencies, manual errors and lost/corrupt data events. These capacity and connectivity constraints for movement of aircraft data limit value creation and innovation. Systems exist that capture data from aircraft buses and make it available for various use cases in airline operations—but they are not on enough aircraft to create a truly connected aftermarket ecosystem.

3. Predictive analytics to quickly aid airline maintenance and ops teams. Newer aircraft platforms capture massive amounts of data, but this does not guarantee improved predictive maintenance capability. We must target the right data and interpret it the right way. Today, the product expertise of system OEMs delivers smarter analysis that enables more targeted outcomes. The goal of OEM suppliers is to move high-impact aircraft systems from on-condition to prognostics-based maintenance that provides products with deep engineering and analytical expertise.

4. More integrated customer support solutions. While predictive models are one part of the overall equation, the other is better customer support. The focus should be on a closed-loop, end-to-end operation that enables spare parts to be positioned proactively, based on fleet needs and where proactive removals are validated in MRO shops. This data enables MROs to learn more about the operation of products in the field versus their expected design performance. In some instances, engineers are now leveraging this data and intelligence to drive product improvements.

Collins Aerospace and others help customer-support solutions leverage multiple digital products that operationalize predictive maintenance. However closer collaboration between leading players in the industry is needed to accelerate progress and bring actionable solutions to the customer faster.

When aircraft are on the ground instead of in the air, passengers, airlines and OEMs suffer. And that is nobody’s definition of frictionless travel. There must be a digital transformation of the aftermarket ecosystem that helps enable, empower and drive the aviation industry forward.

And who knows? The aftermarket just might give that “breathtaking sweep of wing” a run for most enthusiastic headlines.

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