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Strong economy increases travel and passenger traffic for airlines across the globe, leading the industry to invest heavily in new aircraft while keeping legacy aircraft in operation to augment current passenger travel.

Third-party maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) providers reap the benefits as airlines delay retirements of older aircraft, maintaining revenue streams by offering specific areas of expertise. However, aircraft slated to arrive throughout the next 10 years are made from new materials, feature new technologies, and provide extensive data on their health, all of which benefit original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and owner/operators. This means that fewer maintenance dollars will be left for regional, niche third-party MROs that could ultimately find themselves out of business.

According to research firm Oliver Wyman’s “MRO Survey 2019: Bigger, Stronger, Faster,” third-party MROs view the biggest disruptor as “growth in OEM aftermarket presence.” This report also identifies a broad complacency in the industry. When the industry was surveyed about its response to an economic downturn, it looked at it as a time to downsize, introduce operational efficiency measures, or reduce innovation. Why is it that companies only decide to act when they are negatively impacted?

This thinking creates third-party MROs that can’t evolve and – if they don’t transform now – will soon be history. Downturns mean less work, but there’s a talent shortage in the industry, so MROs must be careful not to overreact when reducing headcount. Companies must act and think differently about approaches to MRO, compete today, and future-proof their business.

Tip 1: Shift the MRO business model

OEMs’ aftermarket takeover did not happen overnight. A decade of thoughtful consolidation wrested control of a large share of the supply chain. OEMs see opportunity in the MRO space to enable new business models where they own the data chain, from manufacturing to service. This deeper level of service leaves third-party MROs at a big disadvantage.

Controlling data creates opportunities to leverage advanced maintenance approaches. Big Data, predictive analytics, and machine learning provide insight into aircraft health, improve maintenance planning, and create industry platforms. The technical advantage goes to OEMs, who, unlike MROs, make heavy investments to support their new business models.

The good news: MROs have rich data that can work in concert with OEMs’ shifting business models. Controlling, normalizing, and creating value from this data and coupling it with industry-level platforms will give MROs a seat at the table.

Tip 2: Build a digital record

With new aircraft entering the market and legacy aircraft remaining in production, visibility across aircraft life cycles is critical to ensure aircraft remain operating efficiently and safely with minimal downtime. Internet of Things (IoT) data, predictive analytics, and simulations all offer value to manufacturers and engineers, but only when used in context. Building and maintaining a digital record of product configurations as they are manufactured, maintained, and upgraded, allows MROs to keep assets in the field and digital twins synchronized.

This first contextual digital twin is created during the as-built phase of manufacturing – recording the product configuration, including special features or options used, and capturing serial numbers. Users update the digital twin whenever a significant change is made to the asset – for example, if electric motor serial number #001 is replaced with electric motor serial number #002, the corresponding change is made to the digital twin.

Using the digital twin configuration, simulation models can be built specific to characteristics of a particular asset and coupled with IoT data generated from this asset to predict potential failures.

Tip 3: Embrace process flexibility

Today’s third-party MROs operate with different, disconnected systems. Worse, due to lack of functionality or workflows with existing solutions, they probably use hundreds of personal spreadsheets. Organizations that prepare now with financial and technical investments in platform-based, robust MRO solutions capable of leveraging information and system interoperability will be ready to compete in this new era.

Third-party MROs must move faster with a modern, open, flexible, scalable, and upgradeable solution that coordinates engineering and manufacturing disciplines with expanded MRO capabilities to lower costs while using resources efficiently. This will increase the amount of maintenance work they can manage.

MRO solutions must manage the life cycle of complex, multi-disciplinary maintenance and manufacturing requirements for line, airframe, component, and engine support. Benefits include:

  • Increased visibility of job status, start to finish
  • Reduced operating costs, improved inventory accuracy, work order profitability
  • Compliance, traceability, accountability for regulatory reporting
  • Adjusting resources improves scheduled maintenance, reduces turnaround time
  • Streamlined processes between companies, departments reduce costs

Tip 4: Rethink technology

Combine MRO capabilities with a resilient platform for industrial applications that can sustain solution viability. An all-encompassing platform allows companies to incorporate engineering, manufacturing, and maintenance disciplines. Providing users with critical information fosters an environment with continuous creativity and collaboration.

A flexible platform can connect disparate information sources that adapt as a business or regulations change. These platforms connect to a wide range of tools and systems and provide a way to insert new technologies – such as IoT data or predictive analytics – and retire outdated technology to take advantage of future breakthroughs. Finally, a flexible platform allows tracking and automating changes that occur while maintaining an asset to keep its configuration current.

Investing in the right people and using platform capabilities to incorporate engineering and manufacturing disciplines lets MROs expand business opportunities. Connecting disparate systems and aligning business processes unlocks new chances to create revenue and stay competitive.

Recommendations

Opportunity awaits third-party MROs that can monetize their data, processes, and insight. Platforms with robust MRO capabilities that allow for full digital twin configuration are essential for maintaining components, engines, and airframes on next-generation aircraft. A platform approach allows organizations to evolve as the industry changes, upholding multiple business models and support agreements between OEMs, third parties, and owners of aircraft fleets.

Aras Corp.

About the Author: Jason Kasper is the product marketing manager for Aras. He can be reached at info@aras.com.