Configuration Management for Complex Assets
We are getting into an era where tremendous inventions and engineering marvels taking shape in front of our eyes. At one time flying across continents was considered to be challenge. When this become reality with aircraft, focus shifted to improve the efficiency of these marvels. Latest of the latest aircrafts being designed are expected to offer increased operating efficiency, enhanced passenger comfort and lesser noise. In future hope we will even never realize a takeoff and landing! While it becomes imperative that manufacturing being one side of the coin, maintaining these marvels working for the intended purpose is the other side of it. It is the daunting responsibility of airlines to keep it running. Latest engineering advancements have paved the way to develop huge complex assets like aircrafts, locomotives, automotive, earth movers etc. However, when it comes to maintaining these assets, one important challenge is to manage their whole assembly structure, which we call as 'Configuration Management'.
Some key reasons for this are:
1. Need for visibility of Asset configuration which comprises of various major component assemblies like Engines, Landing gears, Transformers, Traction Motors, Rectifiers etc. This helps in maintaining the Asset configuration up to date which ensures that the asset is intact with all mandatory components
2. Ability to track component and sub components at serial number level inside the major component assemblies with their designated positions on the Main assembly (like Aircraft, Locomotive, etc.). This helps is following the movement of life limited subcomponents across different parent assemblies and implementing engineering changes (Service Bulletins, Directives, Campaigns, etc.)
3. Integrating configuration information with maintenance (includes maintenance programs, inventory optimization for alternates and spares, etc.)
4. Preserving maintenance history of each components for regulatory compliance and warranty tracking
In this blog, I thought of highlighting on how software helps in managing these tasks for complex assets. This thought is more justified if the number of such assets increases. There are two types of software vendors available - (a) best of breed which cater to the specific industry segment and need of configuration management and (b) Asset Management Systems bundled with configuration management capabilities flexible enough to suite requirements across industry segments. Best of Breed software provide the advantage of industry specific terminology, process and functionalities. However, advantage of having asset management capabilities as a backbone helps in integrating many down the lane processes such as Maintenance Planning, Procure to pay, etc.
Some of the common features provided by these software are - define the asset configuration, build the complete assembly, track them at serial # level, identify spares required at each position level, map maintenance programs for each sub component, track their movement across multiple parent assets, and archive the complete maintenance history. Some software even have the striking feature to depict the Asset assembly on a past date.
One another challenge faced by maintenance departments is availability of spares when any unscheduled snag / defect is identified. If this happens on a critical asset like aircraft (which typically happens in line maintenance where aircraft is about to start for its next flight), it mounts the pressure on the maintenance staff to rectify the snag with whatever possible options they have. In such cases, options of alternate parts, swapping parts across parent assemblies, cannibalizing the parts from assets siting in repair shop etc. becomes the need of the hour. Software provides help in such need by providing the list of alternates for a specific component, its availability in inventory and across various parent assemblies and their condition.
Regulatory compliance on scheduled maintenance and engineering changes from OEMs / Regulatory agencies is one of the vital process to be managed by maintenance organizations. This can be tied up using the Work Management modules available. It can also be extended for managing warranties with additional advantage of capitalizing the maintenance cost for warranty covered parts.
With the above features and options available to choose from, organizations have choice to find the best suitable type of software and reap the benefits accordingly.
Next time when you get a chance to fly, you will realize that you are flying in an engineering marvel built on a complex structure intact with several thousands of smaller components. A big team of professionals are working day and night to keep them flying and make our flying experience a remarkable one. And software inside a computer is helping these professionals to make this happen. Let us have a happy journey!!!