As the aviation world came to a halt nearly overnight at the start of 2020, the future looked uncertain. Adaptability became a necessity, some chose to downsize fleets, while others forced aircrafts into early retirement. With the reduction in fleet sizes and flight hours, many airlines were forced to cut Maintenance Repair Operations (MRO) spending and defer maintenance as much as possible.
With this being the first decline in years for aviation, coupled with a new level of uncertainty, it was expected that many digital investments and technology rollouts would be put on hold. But for some MROs the opposite happened as many began to adopt new technologies that enhanced collaboration, remote access, security and operational agility.
These notable and innovative technologies are advancing business models to support long term growth across the MRO industry.
For years worker shortages and skills gaps have impacted MRO providers. Millions of dollars in work orders were being unanswered as there was simply too much work and not enough people to get the job done. Adding layoffs onto the preexisting labor shortage, this problem has severely expanded.
To stay competitive companies are reimagining how they recruit, train and retain skill workers. Augmented reality is revolutionizing how MROs are tackling these problems. Now digital work instructions can be delivered to the shop floor with the use of headsets, cell phones, tablets and screens. 3D work instructions are easy to follow and help overcome cognitive barriers that typically occur with traditional learning materials.
Onboarding new employees can be more effective and eliminate the need for outdated lengthy training manuals. Unlike a fully virtual training approach, AR creates a structured hands-on training experience where trainees can follow at their own pace. Safety information can be overlaid onto physical objects, superimposed into experiences, as well as checklists for guidance.
Recently, PTC worked with the Air Force 58th Special Operations group at Kirtland Air Force Base to implement AR into their maintenance training processes to overcome a shortage of experienced trainers, and to increase the time those experienced personnel are engaged in maintenance actions versus training.
These units utilized PTCs Vuforia Expert Capture to capture work instructions for new personnel. Previous training required skilled workers to set aside time to train new employees. Today new personnel can utilize these pre-recorders AR work instructions to train and skilled personnel continue their aircraft maintenance tasks.
Prior to the pandemic many procedures were still accomplished manually and required physical signatures. Things changed in March 2020 when the FAA released a long-waited policy that included the use of both real-time and recorded video for issuing 8130-3s or airworthiness approval tags. These platforms slowed the spread of the virus, allowing workers to connect and collaborate across the globe.
As travel restrictions have eased, these technologies are still being used, and have been applied beyond inspections. Many field service operators have experienced faster turnaround times after being able to connect with subject matter experts at the push of a button. Over a live video feed, both parties can connect and collaborate, even leaving annotations on the screen. With remote assistance many are experiencing faster turnaround times on unexpected repairs, as well as a decrease in travel expenses.
Typically, there are two types of maintenance activities, scheduled or preventative based on historical data, or unscheduled or reactive maintenance after a fault or break has occurred.
With the power of an IIoT platform, companies can wrap and extend existing data systems, and remotely monitor their assets in the field and receive real-time insights. These asset performance management solutions range from condition-based monitoring to basic notification and EAM integration to complex predictive and prescriptive analytics solutions. With an agnostic and open platform, solutions can be easily scaled across multiple assets and sites. Intuitive dashboards within the platform are easy for non-experts to understand data and can easily be customized.
Combining predictive analytics with IoT can detect trends to determine anomalies and patterns to enhance decision making. The automated creation of alerts, work orders and supply requests can reduce time, manpower and ultimately increase readiness.
This Predictive Maintenance approach creates a robust picture not only on how the aircraft is performing as a whole, but it can also display the status of an entire fleet. With the visibility and awareness of the data, MROs can act ahead of operational disruptions. This insight into performance and upcoming faults can allow MROs to efficiently schedule staff, prepare tools, and preorder parts to streamline each repair. Overall this will lead to an increase in flight safety and fewer operational disruptions.
As the industry advances to their next chapter, the pandemic’s long-term effects are beginning to emerge. Many larger players in the industry have been weakened financially in the crisis, which has restricted their operations. With this shift, new leaders are emerging in this market as innovation continues to create opportunity and new revenue streams. While there is not one clear roadmap to recovery, being able to predict, adapt and perform will help shape strategic decisions for future business resilience within the MRO.