Lufthansa Technik’s Digitalization Drive

Credit: Lufthansa Technik/Sonja Brueggeman

Lufthansa Technik (LHT) wants to transform itself into “the number-one digital aircraft MRO,” according to Vice President of Information Management Stephan Drewes. What exactly does that mean?

“All core information processes will be replaced or augmented by digital processes,” Drewes explains. “Not just supported, but replaced or augmented using data.”

As an example, Drewes cites planning for an aircraft maintenance layover. Rather than just using data supplied by the customer for this layover, LHT will use data from previous layovers or similar layovers to improve planning.

A process example is performing a table inspection of dismantled engine parts. Instead of a paper agreement on the inspection’s scope, supplemented perhaps by a one-time visit by the customer during the inspection, LHT uses digital tools to enable the customer to watch the whole process from the customer’s home base, observing the engine from different angles and consulting on the inspection process.

The long-term goal of the digital transformation is seamless data flow from the moment planning for an MRO event starts through execution and design of any modification on through archiving of all the data.

Since there are so many opportunities to improve maintenance by digital tools, Drewes says LHT is now reviewing all the possibilities systematically. “We want to do the best ones first,” he adds.

The definition of ‘best’ and the priorities for digital innovation are set by two metrics: impact on LHT and the customer, and what the enablers of the change must be—in other words, benefits and costs. However, regulations requiring persons and paper to move data remain a hurdle to implementation and still need to be dealt with. For example, data entry from job cards into machines is often performed manually due to regulations, but this could be much more efficient if done automatically.

Still, the scope for digitalization is huge. LHT now has 55 digital initiatives running, it expects to have 200 going by the end of 2022 and it plans to grow this to between 250-300 by the middle of 2023.

Which LHT MRO shop functions will be affected? “Everything, eventually,” Drewes says. Changes will be prioritized by impact, but should transform all shop documents, including aircraft maintenance manuals, illustrated part catalogs, digitized job cards and schedule planning. “If we do it well in five years, you won’t be able to find any paper anymore—not a single piece.”

The shop transformation will also affect communication with external parties, customers and suppliers. Drewes wants to expand the use of digital interfaces with maintenance customers rapidly, enabling them to see the work as it is performed and to respond quickly to questions about additional work. This virtual approach will be expanded beyond airframe MRO to engines and components.

When LHT redelivers an engine, it must still deliver “tons of paper,” Drewes says, because of regulations and lack of data standards. Scanning these documents onto PDFs to be put on CD-ROM drives is “pretty good,” but common standards acceptable to all could enable more efficient data transfers.

According to Drewes, invoicing should be electronic too. The overall aim is complete and immediate transparency so airlines can know the status of all work and LHT can dramatically improve its own logistics.

As for suppliers, much has already been digitalized under ATA Spec 2000 and Spec 2500, but Drewes says more can be done.

One hurdle to digitizing documents has already been overcome. Global regulators are generally willing to accept electronic signatures on MRO docs, and LHT is now using e-signatures in its VIP completion shop.

Digitalization of LHT’s global MRO network will not happen all at once, nor by command. Each shop, whether for landing gear, components, engines or airframes, will choose to deploy digital tools when it is ready. Drewes believes airframe shops are similar enough so that once one shops adopts a particular digital process, “it can be copied and pasted for an easy deployment in other airframe shops.” However, some other businesses, such as landing gear and component repairs, differ enough that transfers will have to be done on a case-by-case basis.

To speed the digital transformation, LHT is partnering with several internal and external parties, including 2,000 IT developers in subsidiary Lufthansa Industry Solutions. It is using a new approach, called DevOps, under which the same coders both develop and maintain each new application. Apps are broken into smaller modules so maintenance can be performed on the preceding app while the next one is under development.