Fast 5: How AJW Technique Is Driving Digitalization Efforts

Sajedah Rustom, CEO of AJW  Technique 

Credit: AJW

Sajedah Rustom, CEO of Montreal-based AJW Technique, discusses the company's digitalization efforts to date and where the repair specialist will look to further implement technologies in the future.

What are some of AJW’s efforts around digitalization?

Over the past couple of years, we have implemented a few different projects that are centered around the problem statements that we face within the MRO industry. We have implemented dynamic pricing models, which lead us to predictive maintenance inputs, and radio frequency identification (RFID) technology for tracking and tracing repairs. Along with that, we have also implemented a fully dynamic tablet workflow application, which allows our technicians to spend their efforts on touching the component, working on the repair and gaining access to all the information that they need to manage the workflow on their tablet everyday. 

We are now looking at the link into predictive maintenance and we are working with a lot of the leading industry partners. In terms of blockchain, we are not scared of being one of the first MROs to advance forward with strategic partners on that front. We are also looking at augmented reality as a mechanism to train technicians to commoditize the legacy knowledge and use it to bring up the workforce. We are very open to all sorts of technology. As business sponsors, we have to be a bit vulnerable and know that we are going into an agile situation. So, we have to be willing to learn as much as the workforce is willing to come on that journey and we need to sponsor it and we need to manage the change.

How is AJW coping up with digitalization and what benefits are you acknowledging?

The company is adopting to digital transformation very well, in the context of the industry. The industry still has a way to go to become more mature in certain areas, but we are certainly not risk averse and we are happy to lead from the front with our digital transformation. At the core of any successful digital transformation are always the people and the mindset. It is really the hearts and minds that you have to marry up for the technology to be adopted and for the change to be managed. 

We've put an incredible amount of effort into the input and adoption of the technology and continuing to manage the people, engage them, change the culture and make it more cohesive and open minded. Looking forward, as leaders we need to sponsor and invest in every day processes, and that's going to be the key to keeping that openness and continuing with digital transformation into the future. 

How has the perception changed for MRO companies, in terms of adapting and investing in new technologies after COVID-19?

It is important to always think about quantitative and qualitative returns on investment because the boardroom always wants to know what is the return on investment. It is really important to focus on a mid- to long-term ROI for technology because by the time you adopt the technology and see its efficiency and the benefits, it's going to be months or maybe years for the payback. 

Along with the dollars and cents, we should also consider factors such as employee engagement, bringing up the younger workforce culture, smarter ways of working and doing things differently. It is important that the industry works together so that airframe manufacturers, airlines, component OEMs and maintenance shops advance digital technology, while opening up their data systems and collaborate to move the industry forward.

With the industry looking to attract young talent, how do you think the younger workforce is coping with digitalization iniatives?

The younger workforce are very engaged and very excited about it. We always face this dichotomy with the senior workforce, who have a lot of tribal knowledge and they have done things a certain way for many decades. What we have done at AJW is to marry up this expertise and knowledge over decades and years of experience with a younger workforce that is open to the technology and is willing to learn the expertise of the senior workforce. It will create an incubator, which is a cross section of old and young and diverse roles and approaches across the business. 

What does future demand for digitalization look like for the MRO industry?

Many companies used COVID-19 and the lack of volume and downtime of the industry to reset their foundations and explore and adopt digitalization. Currently, the entire industry is facing a labor shortage. There is not a huge value proposition for younger engineers and entrepreneurial thinkers to join the industry because there is a perception of over regulation, overly focused on compliance, and lack of flexibility. Therefore, I think the industry has no choice but to move into the digital world to attract the labor and to continue to grow.

We are seeing now in our business that the third year of COVID is ending; we are pretty much back to 2019 levels, but we don’t have access to labor. We have to compete and work smarter or at least work differently. The value proposition of bringing new energized labor into the industry, and the fact that we have to work smarter, be more efficient, and to cope with the 2019 levels with a lot less of what we had before, means we have no choice but to move forward.

Prachi Patel

Prachi Patel is a London-based Associate Editor for Aviation Week's MRO editorial team. She writes news articles and designs data infographics for Aviation Week's commercial aftermarket output.