Aircraft maintenance is increasingly being planned, managed, tracked and guided by software. To get the most out of these digital MRO tools, software tools with different functions must work together, to collaborate seamlessly, just like MRO employees do.
John Stone, vice president product management at Ultramain Systems, explains how this collaboration can work between Big Data analytic and predictive maintenance tools and maintenance and engineering management systems.
“The M&E/MIS system is the heart of ensuring that the maintenance program is effectively planned and properly executed,” Stone says. Big data and predictive systems can change the planned program by recommending maintenance actions at intervals other than what the MIS is forecasting. The maintenance execution systems must automatically receive and act on these changes.
Stone’s software, Ultramain, enables external systems to send event triggers such as fault codes or central maintenance computer messages that will automatically activate pre-defined maintenance activities. “For example, an engine trend monitoring system can send a fault code that could trigger a 25-cycle oil sampling task to be activated for that particular engine.”
The software’s ability to react to recommendations made by external systems reduces the chances that predicted events will not be proactively handled. “This can be a big deal when engines are considered,” Stone stresses. Ultramain also has a built-in reliability tool that takes internally tracked task data and data from external systems to highlight areas of a maintenance program that should be investigated. Investigations in turn allow projects to be created around events and analytical findings, ultimately leading to changing maintenance programs, maintenance providers or suppliers. The software’s integration framework allows it to integrate with nearly any external system.
The collaboration works the other way too. Modern management systems also feed predictive systems data. Version 9 of Ultramain and its electronic log book software can retain every maintenance activity, both routine and non-routine, in a rich repository that can feed analytic systems.
Stone emphasizes that crucial to software collaboration is the ease with which the maintenance system can share data with other systems. “It seems like a pretty straight forward task. However, when you consider the variety of interface protocols, data-field formats and sizes, and existence of data fields within maintenance systems, it's more difficult than it sounds.”
So MRO managers should begin by asking, how does a system support interfaces? Most MRO management software requires interfaces that must be coded by software vendor. “This means additional time and cost for the customer,” Stone says.
Sometimes, MRO staff try to bypass this coded interface by extracting data directly from the systems’ database. Stone says this approach can work, but it is risky. “Unless the user fully understands the database schema, he runs the risk of using incorrect data elements in the analytical platform.