So Much Data
So little information
By Bill de Decker
July / August 1998
They say we live in the information age, but most of the time, all we get is reams of data that do not tell us much of anything. In fact, data is pretty useless from a management point of view, until someone has tabulated, organized, and analyzed it. Because, that's when data becomes information you can use to better manage your operation.
The maintenance of aircraft is an excellent example of this. Consider the drawers full of work orders, log book pages, part tags, purchase orders, inventory records, etc. that reside in any maintenance department. Usually, this data is carefully filed and never looked at again unless there is some specific maintenance problem or question. And so, the data sits in a filing cabinet, until moved to long term storage or thrown out. Obviously, it is very important to have all of this data available in case there is a problem, but it does not help one bit in managing the maintenance department. And yet É that same data contains a treasure-trove of information, waiting for the smart manager to mine and put to use.
One way good information can make you a smarter manager is by focusing attention on the things where extra effort will make a big difference. We've all suffered from examples where that focus was on the wrong thing. For example, one company I worked for had a policy, and I'm not making this up — that you couldn't get a new pencil from the supply room unless you turned in a pencil stub less than 2.5 inches long! The policy didn't last very long, but while it was in effect, I'm sure it saved a bunch of money on pencils. However, there was also a complete mismatch between the effort required and the impact on the company's bottom line.
There are a number of techniques used to match effort and impact. One frequently used technique divides a task into its sub-tasks, and then focuses on the five most expensive ones. Typically, these five most expensive sub-tasks will account for 60 to 90 percent of the total cost of the task. In short, this technique focuses attention on the high impact items.
A second technique to match effort and impact is to list the cost for every occurrence of a particular maintenance action for a specific component or task, such as the overhaul of a gearbox. This focuses attention on the variation in cost that often occurs from one overhaul to the next. The goal, of course, is to understand what causes these variations.
A third technique is to benchmark the various cost factors experienced by your operation against data from other operators, databases and manufacturers' published data. The idea here is to see how well you are doing when compared with others and to understand what is causing the differences.
Our company has analyzed work orders for tens of thousands of flight hours covering various fixed and rotary-wing aircraft. Some examples of the potential impact of this type of analysis follow:
One analysis we did of work order data for 4,600 flight hours in the life of an 8-seat small jet, focused on the cost of parts by ATA chapter. The five ATA chapters that consumed the most parts were as follows:
These 5 items account for 70 percent of the total cost of parts for the aircraft and are clearly the area to concentrate on for cost savings. The listing quickly confirms that whatever effort this operator can spend (better negotiations, more training) on reducing engine overhaul and repair costs, is well worth it.
One surprise is the cost of parts for the navigation system. Further investigation showed a large part of the problem was the fact that the operator had installed 12 vertical gyros over the 4,600 flight hours, instead of the one or two the factory data would predict. Is there a cooling problem? How about some troubleshooting?