For many products the cost of service, maintenance, replacement parts, and upgrades over its lifecycle can be a larger proportion of lifecycle cost of ownership than the original acquisition cost. Managing these “downstream” activities efficiently is an essential element of ensuring product availability, product safety, and minimizing total cost. For the product supplier this can also be a larger profit pool than that of selling new products. In aerospace in particular, maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) is key to operational efficiency and safety, to maintaining airframe asset values, and as a profitable revenue stream both for part and service providers.
Why Does Part History Matter?
Effectively managing parts histories is a key element of improved MRO economics. This is especially true when the parts are time limited and/or rotable. But ensuring part authenticity, proper application of service bulletins, configuration compatibility, time in service limits and prior maintenance/overhaul status is important for many types of parts. Missing or incomplete history data can result in labor expense for researching history and possibly an inability to validate airworthiness. Incomplete part histories or counterfeit parts can lead to lower performance, compromised safety and lost revenue for MRO suppliers and their customers.
The most common way to track a part’s history includes identifying them using serial numbers which are then matched against records in paper or electronic logs. Many parts are not serialized making their maintenance histories perishable. Inspections to identify parts, researching parts histories, and validating the physical configuration of an airframe, engine or other system components can be time consuming and expensive.
Where physical serial number tags are used, they can be replaced or supplemented with machine-readable bar codes or RFID tags. However, these tags typically contain only a limited amount of information such as part number, manufacturing date and serial number and they still require researching logs for history data. Some of this can be automated with enterprise IT systems, a large investment, and in most cases is problematic when customers use multiple third party MRO providers and for rotables which may move between customers at every service or overhaul.