Spotlight on Computer Software

Computer Applications page title

A few things to consider

By Joe Escobar

There are many computer applications available nowadays for aircraft maintenance facilities. If you are in the market to purchase a product, there may be many questions running through your head. Where to start? What to look for? This article will help jump start your search and help you make the choice that best fits your needs.

Should you invest in software?
Chances are, if you haven't invested in some sort of maintenance software program, you probably will soon. Computer systems are an efficient and easy way to keep track of maintenance hours, inventory, scheduling, and other structured processes. They save you time by storing the information and being able to call it up quickly or by eliminating paper and filing areas. Even if you have an older product, there may be others out there now that can make your life a whole lot easier.

Do I have the equipment to support this product?
Keep in mind that your computer system may not be up to the task of supporting a new software application. As you start to look at products, the vendor will recommend a certain type of computer or network. If in doubt, ask. Better to know ahead of time that you need additional hardware rather than being surprised at the end.

What is my goal?
The most crucial part of the initial investigation is "what kind of application are you looking for?" Do you want a maintenance library? Do you want to track work orders and labor costs? Will an internet-based system be a benefit? With so many products on the market, you can find one that is tailored to your needs; you just need to do a little legwork. Take a good look at all the job processes in your company. Mark the ones you are looking at improving by implementing a new computer-based application. You should have a clear idea of what you want it to do and what features would be nice to have, but not necessary. Make sure the benefits of implementation will outweigh the costs because in the long run, the money that you invest in the new software will need to be justified against those expected benefits.

Some application features
Now that you are ready to start talking to individual companies, here are some different features that many of them offer.

Maintenance tracking. This allows the user to track maintenance on their aircraft. When was the aircraft last in the shop? When is its next scheduled inspection? In addition, it can help track maintenance and fault histories.

Technical/regulatory reference. It seems like the days of paper manuals are going away as more and more aircraft are supported by electronic maintenance and parts manuals. But even if your aircraft is not supported, there are AD/TC libraries now on CD to make life easier. No more filing microfiche every couple of weeks. Just put the new CD in the computer, throw away the old one, and you're updated.

Electronic work orders/work cards. There are numerous ways to keep track of work orders/work cards electronically. Some systems let you enter the information into the computer, but you then need to print out the discrepancy and sign it off manually. Others have electronic signature capabilities where user preferences are password protected in order to allow them to sign off work cards. The FAA has bought off on electronic signatures so long as control can be established such as swiped ID cards or password protected logins.

Personnel/labor tracking. This is the ability to track labor hours. It can be a beneficial tool when working with multiple work orders. The labor on each aircraft is immediately accessible. This aids in labor tracking and budgeting. You can also ensure maintenance personnel are not overbooked for repairs.

Accounting. As the name implies, this offers accounting tools to help the bean counters see where all of the company's money is going. As with the maintenance side of things, if accounting is one feature you are looking for in your application, be sure to get someone from accounting involved in the process to get their input and buy-in of the product.

Life limited parts tracking. Life limited parts tracking can be one of the most time-consuming tasks in keeping up with a logbook. The products available help track these components letting you know in an instant if an item is coming up due or past due. These alerts are dependent on hours/cycles being entered into the system.

Initial onsite training. Training is a very important aspect of a new application purchase. Some companies come to your facility to ease the transition learning period. Even if they don't offer on-site training, they should offer some type of training and ongoing customer support.

Maintenance scheduling. This is another benefit of computer applications that are tied to the operations side. Any upcoming maintenance items are highlighted. The flight schedule can then be worked around the known upcoming maintenance event as well as staggering the routine maintenance of multiple aircraft.

Electronic logbooks. Some products offer the choice of electronic logbooks, allowing all the records to be in a central location and easily found. The logbooks can be burned onto CDs and sent with an aircraft if maintenance is being performed at another facility. This makes logbook research and updates easier than paper logbooks.

Inventory control. You can take better control over your inventory. Let the application keep track of inventory and notify you in the case of low stores. Some offer tracking time on sensitive items like calibration due dates for precision measuring equipment. You can even forecast the upcoming demand for spares and other resources based on past tracking and forecasts.

Purchasing. Keep a record of purchases, prices, and methods of payment. This could help you make a decision down the road about keeping an aging aircraft or show your buying habits.

Internet-based. More and more products these days are internet based. The information is stored on a computer, but accessible via the world wide web. This can either be hosted at your facility or at the software provider's location. If you have numerous employees that are at remote locations, they can log on to any computer with internet access and view vital information with real-time accuracy.

Cost estimation. This can be a valuable planning resource. Expenses can be forecast based on past maintenance history and projected schedule.

One last thing
The maintenance computer applications that are available are not a cure-all for poor productivity. If there are poor work processes in place before implementation, unless these are addressed, they will still affect productivity, maybe even more so. Also, good employees can become less productive if they get frustrated due to problems with a poor system. Since they are the ones that will be using it, it is a good idea to get their buy-in before the purchase decision is made and make sure to support them through the training process.

Start your research
On the following pages, there is a compilation of application products as well as the features each product offers. These are based on solicitations sent out by us that were returned. Keep in mind that these categories are broad. Although it can be beneficial in helping you narrow down your search, you should still do your homework. Contact the companies and ask them for more information on their product. Look at demonstrations and evaluation programs to make sure the program does the job processes you set out as the goal.

To see what's available in maintenance software, CLICK HERE to view a reference chart in PDF format.

To viewa list of the companies with links that are listed in the reference chart, CLICK HERE.