Modern software can often do amazing, complicated things that humans could never attempt. But software can also perform some routine tasks, now done by humans, less expensively, faster and more accurately.
Sander Bree, CEO of Amsterdam’s Exsyn, calls this Robotic Process Automation, or RPA. Exsyn has begun to apply RPA to aviation, including aircraft maintenance.
Gavin Gronert, aircraft data consultant and lead engineer for RPA solutions, says RPA is non-disruptive yet transformative. RPA allows users to create a software robot that mimics human actions working with the same user interface, he explains. For example, data entry into an ERP, archiving files or downloading data. Robots are trained for these tasks with the same instructions used by humans and each robot has its own virtual workstation.
The big advantages of RPA are low costs, rapid implementation time, removing errors, a 24-by-seven workforce, and freeing up aircraft engineers for higher-value and more interesting work.
For example, one EXSYN client used RPA to automate creation of work packages in its maintenance department. Three engineers had spent many hours each creating these packages, and the maintenance department sometimes lacked the resources for this critical work. After RPA, only one engineer was needed to monitor automation and handle exceptions. Manhour savings, cycle-time reduction, increased service and workload management were the biggest gains.
Another EXSYN customer wanted to transfer files from an old system to a new one. Modifying the old system to do that would have been costly and time-consuming, as would assigning many employees to the extraction. RPA enabled a robot to go through the entire system and download every needed file, and all within a few weeks. The robot downloaded 50,000 files and 20 Gigabytes of data into the airline’s new system with minimal human help.
RPA is most suitable for rule-based or repetitive processes that humans now perform on computers. Gronert stresses that RPA requires minimal changes in a maintenance department and modest changes in the MRO IT system. But he says it is important to have a solid business case or pilot project up front, consult with another firm that has implemented RPA and keep employees informed to reduce possible resistance.