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The Peculiar World of MRO

Calendar March 26, 2015 | User Geoffrey Godet

In May 1927 Charles Lindbergh flew the Spirit of St. Louis on the first non-stop, trans-Atlantic flight from Long Island in New York to Le Bourget in Paris. On his arrival in France he was greeted by a huge crowd keen to witness this feat of technology, engineering, and human endeavor.

Today, almost 90 years later, aerospace is still an industry that inspires greatness in our work. A lot has changed in those 90 years, but in many ways, some things are still the same – antiquated, inefficient and in need of investment.

The aerospace industry is a peculiar world. The aircraft sits at the center of a complex ecosystem of hardware, software, content and data, with many stakeholders and decision makers influencing the service lifecycle of such a valuable asset.

But it is a divided world of both old and new: We work with bleeding edge technology, but many of our working practices have been unchanged for decades.

It is both rich and poor: Trillions of dollars are spent each year on new aircraft and systems, but margins are very small and many airlines operate at a loss while most OEMs make significant margins.

It is bloated and lean: Some of our industries’ working practices are complex beyond belief due to the tradition of regulation, safety, and quality. But equally we continuously innovate to improve safety and efficiency.

It is complex but elegantly simple at the same time: The supply chain incorporates thousands of vendors’ information all contributing to a single aircraft taking off every day. Operators are integrating requirements and mandates from several OEMs, regulatory agencies, suppliers, operators, and MROs to ensure the safety of all and reliability of thousands of daily flights.
It is fragmented, but connected: Many aircraft and systems work in isolation from the outside world, but on the most modern aircraft, passengers, crew, and aircraft systems are in constant communication with the ground.

Finally, although we have the most sophisticated of technological systems, we are an industry that is heavily reliant on paper.  Take the Airbus 380, the latest double-decker, super jumbo for instance. Its sophisticated onboard systems generate up to half a terabyte of data on every flight, but it is still reliant on the 8,000 sheets of paper which it also generates each year in airworthiness and maintenance activities.

 

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The Spirit of St. Louis on the other hand had no digital technology and only generated 174 sheets of paper during its entire life in service.
The process of creating content and delivering it to the aircraft to facilitate maintenance and flight operations activities is a process that we call “Content Lifecycle Management.”

Typically this is a process that is largely unchanged since Charles Lindbergh’s days.  Content is authored by the OEMs such as Boeing and Airbus and distributed to the aircraft operators (the airlines) via various means. Regulatory agencies issue Airworthiness Directories and Service Bulletins, in paper mostly, that need to be incorporated into the airlines’ manuals and processes. These vary from OEM and airline, but may include 20th century technologies such as fax machines, post, and CD ROM. Needless to say, it is an inefficient process which is both cumbersome and convoluted.

Once the airline has received the content, they will load it to their internal systems, before disseminating and distributing work instructions to their fleet. Again this distribution process can take various means where fax machines, printers and even delivery vehicles are called into play.

The whole process is made even more complicated by virtue of the fact that most airlines have more than one aircraft and engine type; they operate across multiple bases, countries, and continents; and that each stakeholder in the process has their own way of working, their own content standards, and their own specific requirements.

The complexity only increases when you account for the incorporation of changes required by aircraft updates, configuration changes, conversion from passenger to cargo, leases, multiple sells from operator to operator and region to region. And for marketing requirements and engineering operations’ constant needs for change and improvements.

You would think that in the 21st Century there would be a better way of working.

Thankfully there is…
Modern technology and the latest content standards allow companies like ours to develop solutions for the OEMs, the airlines, and the MROs to work smarter. The goal is to leverage modern technology and common standards to ensure data interoperability and integrity between the players. While industry standards like S1000D, ATA, etc. are established, on one hand, most OEMs have modified these industry standards to suit their operational needs that have been emerging throughout the lifecycle of each of their asset programs (some designed more than 40 years ago when even the industry standards were not released yet!). On the other hand, operators are left with the need to integrate and manage all these different data specifications.

Our data processing tools allow for the harmonization and automatic conversion of these disparate data standards in a form that can be managed and consumed by a single system within an organization.
Our content authoring solutions allow collaboration between the OEMs to deliver a consistent and unified stream of content to the operators.
Our content management and delivery technologies allow content to be augmented with context and rich media to allow end users to be more efficient and effective, whilst still ensuring the highest possible quality and safety standards.

At the consumption end, the latest consumer technologies allow for mobile and user friendly tools to be used where it counts the most – at the point of performance.  Through connected tools we also provide a means to optimize content through user feedback, notifications and content annotations providing essential utilization data to content authors.

This completes the content lifecycle management and allows us to help our customers turn their content into knowledge.

Like us, our customers are not content with the status quo. We are working with some of the best companies in aerospace, both OEMs, operators, regulatory agencies and MROs to develop the next generation of content lifecycle technologies which are focused on delivering the right information to the right people at the right time.

Shortly after his historic flight, Charles Lindbergh said:

Living in dreams of yesterday, we find ourselves still dreaming of impossible future conquests

We share that same dream.

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