MRO's Paperless Progress

AAR is among the industry MROs planning for a digital future.
Credit: AAR

One ultimate aim of aftermarket innovators is to digitalize the entire MRO document and communication system. While still a long way from achieving that, it is nevertheless a major first step is for each MRO to go paperless inside its own operations. That alone would reduce costs, errors and time while archives of digital records are dramatically easier to search and analyze for continuous improvement.

Alton Aviation managing director Jonathan Berger has predicted that a few MROs may go completely paperless -- defined as using electronic task cards and e-signatures for both routine and non-routine tasks, plus giving mechanic access to digital manuals on personal devices -- in 2021. 

There are certainly signs of progress. But one hurdle is that the largest and most sophisticated MROs, the ones most likely to develop paperless capabilities, are so diverse in operations and locations, that going completely paperless everywhere is tough. Nevertheless, there is impressive progress, on the line, in hangars and in engine shops. 

Mark Joppe is project leader of paperless maintenance in Lufthansa Technik’s Fleet Services, which does line maintenance. Joppe says electronic task cards for non-routines have been in place in Fleet Services since September 2015 and e-task cards for routines were deployed in November 2018. E-signatures went into operation with the e-task cards in both instances and went “hand in hand with direct electronic archiving.”

Manuals and other documents have been available electronically for more than 15 years. But when Fleet Services mechanics switched from cell phones to iPhones and digital docs were converted to mobile formats in summer 2017, front line techs had the e-docs “on hand every time at Fleet Service,” Joppe says.

These changes have been made at all Fleet Services sites in Frankfurt, Berlin and Munich, as well as LHT-owned line stations throughout Germany.

LHT developed its electronic document application, Maintenance Log, to interface with its MRO IT system manage/m. Maintenance Log first focused on apron maintenance and hangar repairs that are considered line maintenance. But in January 2020, Fleet Services had to interrupt further developing Maintenance Log and clone its current capabilities for Lufthansa Airlines.

Joppe says paperless services are now available for non-routines in both line and base maintenance. Basic paperless services are available for C checks, but further programming is needed to make these services more convenient.
The paperless Maintenance Log app can connect with the electronic technical logbook of Lufthansa Airlines, but roll-out of this connection is up to the carrier. Wizz Air recently became a customer of this e-techlog application.

Other global MROs are on similar paths in hangars. “Equipped with tablets, mechanics at AFI KLM E&M’s maintenance centers are becoming more efficient, making hangar visits faster and more reliable,” summarizes Ruben Rijpkema, product owner for the base maintenance journey.

Previously, mechanics seeking access to maintenance manuals went to a station and authenticated themselves on manufacturer websites. They then printed out documents and took them to aircraft. The process was inefficient, time-consuming and required paper and car movements.

AFI KLM E&M already has one hangar running smoothly without any paper. Tasks are digitally distributed, started and closed on personal tablets. Manuals, service bulletins and pre-defined faults can be accessed directly from the digital task cards. Non-routines can be created as a mechanic looks at the defect itself. Then the support staff evaluates the non-routine and digitally sends it back for execution. All finished tasks are closed with personal passcodes or digital fingerprints. 

Rijpkema says this paperless process, in addition to efficiency, yields both more and much more accurate data. “Digitalization means complete traceability in all operations and creates troves of data that can be analyzed and sorted into block chains to further enhance services we provide airlines.”

Currently, one of the MRO’s hangars is proving all this in practice, and other hangars are on schedule to follow. The innovation exec says all the MRO’s sites will eventually go paperless. “We are fully confident AFI KLM E&M will be fully digital within two years and aim for less than one year.”

GAMECO plans to have electronic task cards for routines done on China Southern airframe maintenance in June, according to General Manager Norbert Marx. Electronic cards for non-routines are already in use for China Southern checks. E-signatures will go active in June. GAMECO mechanics already have access to digital manuals on the personal devices, according to Marx. 

These moves to paperless, digital task cards, e-signatures and digital manuals, are or will be deployed at all GAMECO facilities.
ST Engineering is close to achieving 100% paperless operations for engine MRO after implementing its Engines Visual Information Systems (ENVIS) in 2018, according to Lee Hui Fung, SVP of innovation & continuous improvement for commercial aerospace.

ENVIS includes electronic worksheets, the equivalent of electronic task cards, for both routines and non-routines, and electronic sign-offs for work done. By April 2021, ENVIS was deployed for CFM56-7Bs at both Singapore and Xiamen. “For CFM56-5Bs, the new e-worksheets are undergoing final engineering review and expected to go live in the coming months,” Lee explains.

More functions and advanced features are being added to ENVIS. These include replacement of radio frequency identification of mechanics with facial recognition to make work more secure. The MRO is also integrating ENVIS with other systems, including robotic systems and autonomous ground vehicles.

As engine MRO is predominantly station-based, e-manuals are accessible not on personal devices but at e-workstations in each work area.

AAR is earlier in the paperless journey than some other MROs, but planning for a digital future, according to Matthew Kammerait, director digital product management.

“Over the last couple years, AAR MRO has run a number of pilot implementations of different paperless capabilities, all of which are culminating in this newer, more comprehensive effort that leverages our existing technology backbone but complements them with brand new technologies . . .,” Kammerait explains.

In AAR’s current operations, non-routine task cards tend to be more digitized since these are generated internally. In contrast, the format of routine task cards largely depends on what AAR gets from its customers.

But new technologies AAR is developing will allow it to take routines in the same wide range of formats it receives today, including paper, physical storage media, PDFs and advanced digital content, and integrate all these into a paperless workflow.

To go from pilot paperless projects to operational deployment, AAR will spend the next several months developing its digital tools, collaborating with customers and FAA and refining both applications and workflows. Kammerait’s goal is to be digital end-to-end, or paperless, the following year.

Gains for AAR and its customers should be significant. In one recent project, AAR analyzed the difference between a traditional paper-based task-card workflow and the digital process it is designing for the same purposes. It found that almost 25% of workflow steps now involve dealing with paper.