The human element of IT
Turkish Technic is in the process of networking its entire MRO operation in an effort to better track, measure and control its resources—including the technicians themselves. By giving leaders and technicians the capability to locate people, equipment and information within seconds, the organization foresees higher productivity, greater levels of employee engagement and reduced instances of improper tool, chemical and equipment usage.
The initiative, launched in 2010, came about after leaders noticed inefficiencies in their resource utilization. Aviation maintenance technician (AMT) utilization time, or the percentage of billable hours versus actual work hours, was just 60%. Lost time frequently arose from searches for tools, spare parts, maintenance documents and ground support equipment (GSE). At the same time, the MRO's overstocked inventory costs were, on average, $2.5 million per aircraft—a figure leaders believed could be sharply reduced with better inventory management.
To date, GSE and the tool shop are fully networked; technicians, rotable components, even hangar space/scheduling will be networked in the future. “My vision for the project is a network of all the resources that are part of the MRO process,” says Orkun Hasekioglu, research and development projects manager at Turkish Technic. “These resources will be able to communicate between each other throughout the airport.”
The Networked MRO paradigm uses a combination of IT networking technologies including RFID, sensor networks and ADS-B. Turkish Technic employed the most appropriate technology for each particular case, and all of the resources networked through various technologies are inter-networked and can cross-communicate. One of the key components, however, is the sensor network technology, defined by the IEEE 802.15.4 standard. Unlike RFID, which is passive and requires close proximity to read the data, sensors enable two-way communication between resources, have greater range and can perform computational capabilities that enable them to determine their location and send that information when requested. “I believe this technology will become one of the enabling technologies in aviation maintenance, just like RFID,” says Hasekioglu.
For instance, in the tool shop, a graphical user interface (GUI) shows the status of each tool, where it is located (using RFID or sensors) and whether it needs to be serviced. If the calibration time on the tool is passed or chemicals are past their expiration dates, that information is instantly visible through color coding on the GUI, eliminating the probability of technicians using an out-of-calibration tool or expired chemicals. “Using an uncalibrated tool or a chemical that is expired is a compliance issue,” says Hasekioglu. “Those kinds of occurrences have improved because now we can more accurately track those resources.”
For GSE, one of Turkish Technic's main problems was simply locating the right equipment at the right time. “When we started tracking and measuring GSE, we found that close to 50% of the equipment wasn't used because we didn't know where it was,” Hasekioglu says. “Now, technicians can instantly access [equipment] location via a screen on a PC.”
Turkish Technic expects to integrate its technicians into the network by the second or third quarter of 2013. Hasekioglu said this piece has been delayed due to human resources issues and union concerns about closer monitoring of performance and location, but he added that they are working through those issues now.
If an agreement is reached, each technician will become a node on the sensor network. AMT sensors may be small enough to fit on their ID cards. Through those sensors, managers will be able to communicate with AMTs anywhere at Istanbul's Ataturk International Airport—the limit of the network's range—to determine their location, find out what task they are working on, ensure they are safe, send work packages and more. “Anything you can't see or monitor, you can't manage,” notes Hasekioglu. “Sensors will help us measure technician efficiency and if their efficiency drops we can investigate that.”
It will be an information-gathering tool, not a disciplinary tool, he adds. Armed with data, leaders can measure how much time technicians spend on billable work and target the root causes of decreased efficiency, through process improvements or through initiatives targeted at more “human” elements such as stress, distraction, disruption, fatigue or other universal degraders of performance.
“Our objective is safety of the technician as well as increasing utilization of technician time,” Hasekioglu concludes. “Technicians would like to reach the documents they need, the tools necessary for their work, the right GSE, but in most cases much of their time is spent seeking these things or going to a monitor and entering information about the job they have done. All these things can be automated through the network.”