The days of relying on paper, pencil and memory to monitor the status of mechanics, jobs and materials—and steer maintenance projects toward completion—may be numbered. Ordering parts, tracking progress on different tasks and recording hours worked is complex enough. But dealing with the inevitable delays, glitches and bottlenecks while keeping a steady hand at the tiller is a different matter.
These challenges have spurred more and more organizations to adopt software solutions that help them manage the process–planning work, buying parts and scheduling labor while getting aircraft back to the customers on time.
There are around 100 maintenance and engineering (M&E) software systems available on the market. At least one is based on a well-known enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Others were designed for maintenance from the start although they may include ERP functions like financials and human resources. And some fit a specific niche in the maintenance ecosystem like automated electronic commerce or publishing. There is software for customers of every size, from small repair stations all the way up to major MROs.
In addition maintenance software solutions are starting to offer cloud-based access, personalization to roles or individuals, access via mobile devices, and connectivity to aircraft before they reach the gate.
British Airways Engineering’s SWIFT MRO is based on SAP’s ERP system. The organization is now partnering with Tata Consulting Services (TCS), its support provider, to market the system to airlines/MROs worldwide. They landed a Far Eastern flag carrier last year and have other prospects in the pipeline. “Most large legacy carriers in our target market have not made the transition from old mainframes to modern, scalable, robust, supportable platforms,” says Rajan Bindra, British Airways Engineering’s commercial sales manager.
The MRO counts among its strong points that its sales team includes both maintenance experts and IT experts. Prospects can come to London, see the system in use and question the users without restriction. Airlines can host the system on their own servers or have TCS host it for them. The latter route becomes a cloud-based, software-as-a-service offering.
British Airways Engineering also has developed a mobile solution for line maintenance via iPhones and iPads. The MRO planned to ramp up from 15 to about 100 users by the end of April 2013. The PC-based solution already had been tailored to job functions, so that individuals see transactions relevant to them, but mobile access takes personalization a step further, Bindra says. “When you log into the application, it knows who you are and brings up tasks and jobs that are specific to you.”
British Airways Engineering also is working on real-time maintenance data feeds from aircraft to the ground. The MRO wants to have this application in place when new 787s and A380s start arriving this year. Data is transmitted from the flight deck electronic tech log—part of the electronic flight bag—to the ground, so that maintainers can get up to 16 hours’ notice. The MRO is fine-tuning this capability, using two 777-200s retrofitted with electronic tech logs provided by Ultramain Systems, and the interface has been live since April 2012.
Other products are built specifically for the maintenance market but include traditional ERP modules like financials and human resources. These hybrid solutions try to offer the best of both worlds to customers who may not already have an out-of-the-box ERP system.
Ramco’s Aviation Suite includes back office functions such as finance and HR, as well as deep maintenance and engineering functionality, says Thamizha Nambi, the company’s senior vice president for aviation solutions. The software also can integrate with Oracle or SAP, if a customer already is using those ERP systems.
Ramco’s latest release, version 5.6, adds a feature called WorkSpaces, which tailors the software experience to specific roles in the organization. This specialization, or personalization, feature allows managers, when they log in, to see everything they need to know, such as transactions pending approval and exceptions in a visual way. Role- and functional-area WorkSpaces include tech records, stores, procurement, receiving, sales, accounts payable and accounts receivable. Ramco has a wide customer base among regional airlines and helicopter operators.
Ramco’s solution is accessible via a customer’s own network but also via the public cloud, using Web giant Amazon’s server services. Among the benefits are flexibility and long-term savings, as customers offload the costs of buying and maintaining hardware and software. Security is not really an issue because each customer’s data is stored in a separate database, Nambi says. The software already is tuned to leverage the capabilities of mobile devices such as iPads and iPhones.
Nambi notes other emerging trends. People want to be able to perform searches on application data—to find, for example, what transactions are open for a particular component, he says. They want to be able to mine their data. In response, Ramco is rolling out an enterprise search function with release 5.6.
Personalization also is becoming more of a trend, as software migrates to mobile devices, Nambi observes. The user naturally wants to see only what is relevant to his job. The next step in personalization is for the software to use location information that is available from an iPhone, he says, to reduce the volume of data the user is required to enter. This could be integrated with a part or tool request, for example. Ramco expects to integrate location intelligence into maintenance transactions in the next version of the software, he says.
Pentagon 2000 Software’s Pentagon 2000SQL is an ERP because “it supports all of an enterprise’s general business…activities—including accounting and financial reporting,”as well as industry-specific maintenance functions, according to the company.
Its “core” modules, however, include functions such as inventory, quotations, vendor RFQ-purchasing, shipping and invoicing, electronic catalog, and virtual warehouse management. Among the system’s strengths are its complex materials management capability, says Kirk Baugher, executive vice president of business development. Typical MRO software systems are not strong in this area, he says.
Among its customers are Fokker Services, HEICO, Airbus Military North America, L-3, Elliott Aviation and “lots of repair stations,” Baugher says. More than 80 percent of its customers are in the aerospace industry. Pentagon 2000SQL also offers out-of-the-box links to Aeroxchange and Aviall.
The software, which uses Microsoft SQL Server database, takes about 30 minutes to install, Baugher says. Implementation, including data conversion, takes weeks to months. The company partners with Rackspace to provide cloud-based access, but most customers host the software on their own server networks. The software also can be run on an iPad over WiFi, he adds. Bombardier/Flexjet uses the system for heavy maintenance, employing battery-powered laptops on roller carts, Baugher says. The software is commercial off-the-shelf, or COTS, but is flexible enough to allow users to customize forms and set different behaviors.
In the middle of spectrum are mainstream solutions that focus on a wide range of maintenance functions. Among these are AMOS, EmpowerMX and Commsoft’s OASES.
Swiss AviationSoftware emphasizes that its AMOS solution is not an ERP but a “best-of-breed,” maintenance-specific application. Although the product has “HR” and “finance” modules, these are intended for MRO usage only and cannot replace the similar-sounding HR and finance modules of an ERP system, the company explains. The HR module in AMOS, for example, covers maintenance functions like shift planning, resource management, and capacity planning but does not offer pay check management. AMOS, however, does interface to ERP systems.
Key AMOS modules include material management, engineering, planning, production, maintenance control, component maintenance and quality control. Users can access the software through their own networks or over the Web.
AMOS is scalable from 10 to several hundred concurrent users or from one to several hundred aircraft, according to Ronald Schaeuffele, the company’s CEO. The solution is flexible enough to accommodate the needs of 110 diverse customers worldwide, including major low-cost, regional and flag carriers, large airline groups and MRO providers.
EmpowerMX also is a mainstream application. The company stresses that its software is not a “point system,” but can serve every facet of maintenance, including areas such as invoicing and resource management. It offers solutions for three aviation verticals: FleetCycle Aero for airlines, FleetCycle MRO for third-party MROs and FleetCycle TS (technical services) for process outsourcing.
EmpowerMX recently signed Delta TechOps to a long-term subscription agreement, using the software company’s cloud-based FleetCycle MRO Manager product as its “primary maintenance execution tool in all of its airframe MRO facilities.” Other EmpowerMX customers include Southwest, Frontier Airlines and U.S. Airways.
The MRO Manager product also provides management dashboards that give at-a-glance visibility into key metrics for “instantaneous decision making,” according to the company. Managers can view displays showing, for example, estimated vs. actual hours, estimated vs. actual cost, and critical path items.
Commsoft clearly distinguishes its product from ERPs. While ERP systems may provide managers with control and visibility into their business processes, they tend to be less than optimal for maintainers, says Nick Godwin, managing director of Commsoft, the developer of the OASES, the Open Aviation Strategic Engineering System M&E tool suite. In addition, true ERP systems “cost a fortune and nearly always require a middleware system to adapt them to the maintenance environment,” he says. He considers OASES to be in the middle of the spectrum.
Commsoft also targets customers in the mid-range—airlines with up to 50 aircraft—as well as third-party MROs and commercial airworthiness management organizations (CAMOs) that manage the overall maintenance for groups of airlines or corporate fleets. OASES uses the Oracle database and Linux operating system. Commsoft has a considerable customer base in Eastern Europe and Russia. One CAMO in Russia manages maintenance for five airlines flying 737s, 757s and A320s. Another CAMO customer in Scotland controls 32 corporate aircraft.
Commsoft offers a hosted version of the product, but 90 percent of its customers prefer to buy their own servers and host the software on their own networks in their own IT environments, Godwin says. In fact, the German authorities are refusing to let operators access M&E systems via the cloud or hosted environments, he says. Performance, at any rate, is almost always better with standalone systems, he says.
Manual or electronic input of information from Excel or other sources required at the outset, but once the database has been populated, one person can manage 50 to 60 vendors, for example, according to Godwin. The full system can be implemented in 10 weeks, which is a relatively rapid turnaround, he says.
Some software tracks maintenance and other software prioritizes and tells people what to do, says Sridhar Chandrasekaran, vice president for strategic services with Realization. The latter is Realization’s Concerto, he says.
“We have a system and method specifically designed for a highly variable operation like MRO,” he says. You can make all the schedules you want, but something will go wrong, Chandrasekaran says. “When all these things change in execution, we still provide a good priority system. That is a failure of traditional MRO software.”
Realization’s value proposition is that its software can reduce turnaround time by around 20 to 50 percent and increase productivity along the same lines, he says. Based on critical chain methodology, Concerto tells you when and how much work to release and—based on buffer management calculations—informs you where your priorities ought to be.
The software also produces reports, describing items such as performance across all aircraft, location of bottlenecks and what people should be working on. Concerto is a Web-based system, and the majority of users interact with the software that way.
The software is versatile enough to fit the needs of software development projects, as well, Chandrasekaran says. A recent customer is the Software Maintenance Group at the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex. The Group, which provides avionics test software, had work in progress (WIP) in the form of a backlog of software programs. The real issue was to make sure that the engineers were working on the right task. Concerto helped them significantly reduce software development cycle time, he says.
When it comes to shopping for parts, repair vendors or equipment loans to cope with AOG situations, Aeroxchange is a key player. Owned by a group of airlines, the company provides software for high-speed, automated business-to-business transactions.
“I have built an electronic community of suppliers and electronically orchestrate the ordering stream,” explains Al Koszanek, Aeroxchange president and CEO. The community includes more than 2,000 suppliers for purchasing and some 1,500 repair vendors.
The software is “very complementary to the maintenance packages, in that I bolt on to the supply chain function and provide a very high-end EDI [electronic data interchange] service to the client.” The company also provides bridges between its software and maintenance programs such as AMOS and Ramco, as well as to most ERP systems.
Aeroxchange offers a family of EDI products, such as AeroBuy for parts collaboration, AeroRepair, AeroComponent for electronic pool management, and AeroAOG for inter-airline loans. AeroAOG, for example, gives participants instant visibility into inventory running into millions of parts at some 750 different line stations worldwide. The system also provides reporting functions, such as status of orders relative to shipment and on-time delivery performance for suppliers. Customers include the likes of UPS, FedEx, Lufthansa Technik and Jet Blue.
Enigma Information Retrieval Systems’ InService MRO specializes in the publishing and delivery of maintenance documentation. It includes publisher, revision management, viewing and job card generation modules. MROs can use it to aggregate internal and OEM content into a “one-stop library,” the company says. Among Enigma’s customers are Air France – KLM, FedEx Express, Korean Air, American Eagle, Rolls-Royce and Goodrich Aerostructures.
Enigma says its product stands out from comparable software in that handles content—whether SGML, XML, S1000D or PDF—in one, unified repository and allows a single interface for all airline content.
Enigma also integrates with maintenance and planning systems. It is the only vendor that has integration agreements with both SAP iMRO and Oracle cMRO solutions, according to the company.
Decision Software Systems’ AvPro software, based on the FoxPro database, is used it to track aspects of maintenance work such as project schedules, employee hours and part numbers.
Customers can pick and choose between modules dealing with inventory management, asset management, work orders, component maintenance, accounting and employee training. Small to medium-sized organizations are the best fit, says Nathan Schnurman, business development manager.