Computer Applications: Variety of software products available for maintenance operations

Computer Applications

By Joe Escobar

Technology is increasing at a rapid pace these days, especially in the area of computers. There are so many advances in software and hardware that it can easily seem overwhelming when trying to choose the right system for your operation. But it could be an inevitable choice. With fierce competition in the aviation market, choosing a software application could either help you slash costs and reduce maintenance times, or it could lead you right to the poor house. One thing is for sure - you need to do plenty of homework and make sure that you make a choice that best fits your needs. There are several factors to consider when making this choice.

Legacy systems

The On-Line Dictionary of Computing defines a legacy system as: A computer system or application program which continues to be used because of the cost of replacing or redesigning it and often despite its poor competitiveness and compatibility with modern equivalents. The implication is that the system is large, monolithic, and difficult to modify.

A major decision when looking at a new software application is whether you want to find one that can work with your existing legacy system or whether you want to start off with a totally new application.

Many sorfware companies are able to sucessfully work with legacy system integration. One example is EDS/PLM Solutions. Its recent work at Tinker Air Force Base integrated five different legacy systems onto one web-based application, creating a portal that actually connects to its existing systems. Before, the process involved multiple re-entry of the same information into the different systems that weren't communicating with each other. Now, after logging on, the mechanic is able to view maintenance manuals and IPBs electronically and place orders with just a click. In addition, it integrated a Local Area Network of Fujitsu handheld devices so that the mechanics could have access to the information that they needed without having to leave the aircraft. In fact, it is working on incorporating voice recognition technology and speech-to-voice synthesis into the handhelds in the near future so that a mechanic could give a verbal command for the system to go and get the tech manual, bring it up, and have the section read to them while they have their head and hands on a maintenance task. They could even rewind and ask it to read the sentence back to them if necessary.

Handheld applications

Like EDS/PLM Solutions, many software companies are offering the ability to incorporate handheld devices with their systems. These have benefits such as portability and quick and easy access to data. On the downside, they have relatively small screens compared to computer monitors and may prove difficult to read in certain cases.

Sinex offers a handheld configuration to their product. Their software is a web-based system that offers users instant access to the aircraft records. It is a total system that allows for parts inventory tracking, routine and non-routine writeups, corrective action, and labor tracking.

Different solutions

There are different software solutions based upon what needs to accomplished. Avexus, for example, offers its Impressa enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution for MROs. Also able to integrate with legacy ERP systems and applications, it has a wide range of applications including, customer service modules, material management, labor control and management, and financial performance reports. It even offers a Training and Qualification module that allows organizations to track and monitor the training and certification needed by employees to perform specific tasks.

Maintenance write-ups

One of the biggest headaches in a typical maintenance operation is non-routine writeups. In a typical maintenance check, hundreds or even thousands of writeups can be generated. Several software companies are offering applications that can streamline the whole process. For example, Perspective Handheld NRC allows mechanics to enter non-routine writeups on handheld devices as they go. It uses pick lists where possible (ATA codes and aircraft zones for example) to simplify the process. It is offered in a wireless option where the Handheld NRC instantly uploads the non-routine data into the system, or a batch mode where the data is entered into the handhelds and then dropped into a cradle to synchronize with the system and download the data. The information can then be processed for disposition.

Pentagon 2000SQL is another application able to work with non-routine writeups. In fact, the whole process, from initial discrepancy writeup to parts ordering and corrective action can all be done electronically. Like others, its web-based system allows for instant access and update of information anywhere there is the ability to connect to the Internet. In addition, it has integrated the ability to play multimedia videos. So if it is set up, a mechanic can view a training video before starting a major task.

Safety first

Electronic entry of maintenance actions can not only save time, but it can also add a measure of safety.

Stan Melling of Sinex discussed added safety benefits of this type software, "One of the things that typically happens in an airline or a regional airline maintenance practice is that once the airplane rolls in, you've got upward of 50 mechanics on a shift, so probably close to 150 that may touch the aircraft on a day. You can have anywhere from 200 routine tasks to 3,000 routine tasks in a given check. In a purely paper environment, it's easy for a check to, in a sense, spin out of control in the context of what you are doing, what the next most important priority in the check is, and how to maintain the continuity between work shifts. And from a safety perspective what our program is doing is it's enhancing the ability of mechanics to communicate with each other what's been done on a job. It does it in a couple of different ways. One is the turnover writeups are more clear because they are typewritten rather than pen and ink. And typically a problem in a pen and ink environment is you may have very good handwriting, and I don't. So there's room for interpretation, there's room for error in the way that the writeup is actually written and interpreted. An enhancement to safety is that the person who is reading the card is reading it from a typewritten format which is a lot better than trying to understand a handwritten document. The other thing that enhances safety is that jobs have to be done in a certain order. For instance, if you have jobs that require hydraulic power, you want to be absolutely certain that everybody understands who's working on what. Because you could get into a situation where somebody has their hands inside a confined space and actuation of the hydraulic pumps could injure that person."

In the long run, investing in a new software application can help save time and money and contribute to added safety. The bottom line is to do plenty of homework before jumping into any system. Find out what the company's track record is. What product will be most useful to your needs? With all of the products available today, you are sure to find one to fit your needs.

10182 Telesis Court
Suite 600
San Diego, CA 92121
(858) 352-3300

EDS/PLM Solutions

(800) 498-5351

6525 The Corners Parkway
Suite 405
Norcross, GA 30092
(770) 409-7676

Pentagon 2000
Software, Inc.

The Empire State
30 Fifth Avenue,
63rd floor
New York, NY 10118
(800) 643-1806

Sinex Aviation

11 East Superior Street
Suite 400
Deluth, MN 55802
(218) 723-7887