High Tech Maintenance: Reliance on computers is growing!

Sept. 1, 1999
High Tech Maintenance

Reliance on computers is growing!

By Fred Workley

September 1999

Fred Workley is the president of Workley Aircraft and Maintenance Inc. in Manassas, VA. He is on the technical committees of PAMA and NATA and participates in several Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committees. He holds an A&P certificate with an inspection authorization, general radio telephone license, a technician plus license, ATP, FE, CFI-I, and advance and instrument ground instructor licenses.

Earlier this year, I had to find replacement power supplies for a simulator.

I called up the company that had made the original power supplies back in the seventies. I asked to speak to a salesperson in order to get a current catalogue. I was told that they didn't have salesperson or technical advisors, and that they didn't have paper catalogues any more. I was told that the only way to contact the company was through its web site!

I was fortunate to have Internet access, but, many aviation technicians don't have a computer yet. So how will they deal with companies that have already made the transition from paper-based to all digital information? I am convinced that unless you are aware of the issues involved with electronic commerce, it will become increasingly more difficult to run the business side of keeping aircraft flying.

We are already at the point where you have to have a computer just to find all the information that you need to maintain aircraft. Computers can already keep track of everyone's time. We have computer-based learning systems, and, electronic manuals are now taking the place of paper manuals. Some of us are already feeding an electronic log book everyday and we sign it with an electronic signature.

Whether you are a one person shop or one of many mechanics, the only way to survive in this aircraft maintenance business is to remain competitive in the marketplace by providing superior maintenance and products, improving customer service, streamlining operations, and lowering costs.

To achieve this, a new emphasis may need to be placed on Information Technology. I contend that doing everything you did before and just adding a computer to duplicate the information in a different format isn't saving you anything. The real advantage may be to speed up and streamline the supply chain to provide just-in-time airplane parts that are critical to return the airplane to revenue service. If you did a number three check last year, what did you use for parts and expendables? A good data system may make provisioning for the same check this year much easier. Easy access to the man-hours on the last check may make scheduling easier this year and help retain your customers.

The importance of the World Wide Web is linking aviation companies and individual mechanics. You can find almost anything. We all know about Murphy's Law, but do you know about Moore's Law? It says that the amount of information storable on a given amount of silicon will roughly double each year. I believe that is true. Our task is to be able to find information in our own computer system and online. I suggest that you look at the computer as just another tool. Just like any computer, electronic commerce should access data easily through independent computer systems, share it, copy it, transfer it, recover it and backup/restore it at a lower cost than a manual, paper procedure.

You may start seeing the term "intelligent commerce." Through intelligent software programs or Internet search engines, we can quickly determine where parts are located and their availability, plus the best price. The same software can provide analysis and trending. Electronic Internet commerce may actually save money in procurement and fulfillment activities. Even the individual mechanic can now be a player in getting the cost advantages and rebates often only available to larger companies in the past. The Web makes supply chain management cost effective.

There are already Web-based ordering systems available. Some of these are called, intelligent trading programs. They make transactions easy by quickly filling place orders, while immediately shipping from distributors to suppliers, or sometimes directly to your facility. They offer full accountability for shipping and transportation tracking for the whole logistics system while ensuring on-time delivery from the lowest cost supplier.

For those aviation technicians who have computer technology anxiety, integrating new electronic commerce system need not be painful. There are ways of becoming technologically adept without severely altering your lifestyle.

Some these include:
•Taking computer courses at local colleges and technical schools
• Books and training manuals at local libraries
• Software support groups
• On-line training available on the Internet Just start asking around, you'll be surprised at how many resources are availble just for the asking, and in many cases for free of charge. Happy computer keyboarding and Keep em' Flying.