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Knowledge Based Solutions can keep the Aviation industry afloat…

At an average the net profit margin of the airline industry stands at around 2-3%. How can this profitability be enhanced further for long term sustenance of the industry? The key lies in the current cost structure of airlines. According to various statistics, the cost contribution for the airlines is projected as fuel cost 49%, aircraft cost 18%, crew cost 14%, maintenance cost 14% and others 5%. Costs like fuel and aircraft are beyond the control of airlines and are driven by many external factors. The next biggest cost is maintenance and airline industry can directly control this cost by improving its effectiveness and efficiency. Typically maintenance of air fleet consists of both scheduled and unscheduled maintenance activities. Scheduled maintenance involves daily checks, A, B, C, D checks. There is about 60% chance of having damages found in these checks which require repair. The unscheduled maintenance include repair of unforeseen damages caused by events like bird hit, hail storm, lightening strike etc.  It is essential to shorten the repair cycle time and increase the availability of aircrafts for operations. This is evident from the fact that each aircraft on the ground cost is estimated to be about $100k per day.  

Further introspection and analysis would help to address this problem. The cost of maintenance includes both material and labor cost. In this labor cost can be reduced to sizable extent by using advanced technologies like knowledge based engineering (KBE). Let us look at more carefully the entire repair and maintenance cycle of airframe. Through knowledge based solutions, costs involved in activities given below can be reduced drastically
        Managing manuals like Structural repair manuals (SRM), Component Maintenance Manuals (CMM), Aircraft Maintenance Manuals (AMM) etc
        Finding and following the instructions given in manuals
        Diagnosing and assessing the damage
        Identifying repair solution from manuals
        Preparation of repair procedure and documentation
These activities consist of about 22% of the total labor costs of airframe maintenance. A conservative estimate shows that this can be reduced to about 5% by using knowledge based solutions. Hence, about 17% savings can be realized.

Knowledge based solutions and Knowledge Based Engineering (KBE) in particular is based on capturing repair and maintenance knowledge and embedding this knowledge into a web based systems (KBE system) and utilize such system in the repair and maintenance of aircraft.  For example, if we look at the SRM manuals alone, there are voluminous documents. It is also not easy to interpret them to identify a repair solution for a typical damage. The situation is even more complex for composite based aircrafts whose documents will be much more voluminous compared to metallic aircrafts. Think of an equivalent web enabled, knowledge based system which can provide repair solution based on certain queries from the users. This will replace static voluminous documents with an expert system. In earlier days technology was not matured enough to create such advanced systems. Now this is certainly possible. There are many such scenarios where we are collaborating with our customers to leverage technology and in particular knowledge based solutions for enhancing effectiveness and efficiency of engineering and maintenance activities towards driving up the profitability of the industry.

Do you see any such trends in the industry you operate?


Remote Diagnostics can be used extensively to quicken even the scheduled maintenance. RD involves sensors on-board the craft body and engine which send their live health reports to base locations.
Based on these reports, maintenance engineers can estimate if some assemblies need prior treatment, and if others can continue without servicing each time. This would result in more effective services and reduced service TAT.

Undoubtedly, such real time data as sent by in-flight sensors needs special storage, and analysis. This calls for appropriate data-warehouse stratgeies, analyzing and reporting capabilities.

These systems can also be tied back to the KBE systems to suggest exact steps to mechanics when they encounter specific scenarios while repairing/servicing the parts.

I would like to quote the need for KBE system not only in the Aero industry, but also Auto industry.In general, Auto industry warranty cost absorbs 10-20% of the company revenue.This cost incorporates Service Engineer/Dealer cost to fix, Material cost, other miscelleneous cost. Prior to introducing KBE system using PLM Application,there were manual product warranty failure documents to record/communicate nature of failure across various stakeholders. One of the main challenge in the manual system was addressed by KBE using PLM application to reuse the preliminary repair knowledge gained by a service/dealer engineer to other service/dealer engineers across the globe. Apart from that,today KBE using PLM application addresses the whole process of registering product failures,carrying out first hand reparis, grouping similiar repairs, conducting preliminary analysis,assigning to process owners for root cause analysis, identifying corrective actions and implementing the solution in the new product.In a nutshell, KBE system (Custom Build / COTS Applications) can facilitate quicker resolution of product failures to ensure more turn around time for the vehicle owner and less warranty failures for the new products.

Interesting thoughts...Though KBE is essential, i am not sure how far it would go in improving your bottom line..Its very hard to believe that professional mechanics would need some kind of a guidance in trying to figure out the actual problem..It might sometimes be required for aero, but never in the case of auto...Aero firms employ lots of aircraft maintenance engineers who might be able to rectify a problem even when woken off from sleep...Not sure whether KBE would go a long way in quickening things...

Coming to the point of RD, GE employs that for their aircraft engines...But the problem would still identified at a higher level as you cannot fit sensors all around the engine or a plane(Cost issues again)..

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