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Maintenance

Bits and pieces

Pattonair is using technology to increase efficiencies in supply chain management. Ian Harbison reports from Derby
 

These days, supply chains worldwide are under stress on as the big two aircraft manufacturers continue to increase production rates. In the MRO world, there is always pressure for checks to be completed on time to avoid delivery delays.
    
The recognition that supply chain management requires a specialised skill set and its own super-efficient processes and procedures has been slow. These are not usually found in a typical aerospace manufacturing company, so, increasingly, this activity is being outsourced.
    
A company that has taken advantage of this is Pattonair, based in Derby in the UK, next door to its biggest client, Rolls-Royce, a relationship that started in 1992. Wayne Hollinshead, CEO, points out that the company was formed in 1970, and its continuous success means that it now counts as customers other major companies such as Airbus, BAE Systems, Boeing, Eaton, GE, Meggitt, Pall, Parker, Safran Group and UTC Aerospace. Additionally, it is involved with a number of MRO operations. About 75% of the business is associated with long-term contracts, the rest is ad hoc work from responses to RFQs.
    
The company has just over 1,000 employees, spread across facilities in the UK (Derby, Woking and Wolverhampton); Europe (Berlin, Milan, Taverny and Wrocław); the Americas (Fort Worth, Indianapolis, Ogden, Montreal and Rio de Janeiro); and Asia (Singapore and Xi’an). Many of these, like Derby, are co-located with major clients.
    
A particular speciality is C class components, such as fasteners, seals and clamps, bearings and electrical components from cabling to switches, backshells  and connectors. While most of these are small and relatively low cost items, demand is high – a million sales orders and 100 million deliveries of piece parts each year – so the  company has considerable purchasing power. However, accurate forecasting is also needed to make sure that orders are placed for the right quantities at the right time. Often, a customer will provide its own production and shop visit forecasts, but, says Dave Fawcett, Group Commercial Director, Pattonair is responsible for the overall planning and it has developed its own forecasting and inventory solution called Akrivis.
    
This can be tailored to the specific needs and supply chain challenges faced by each customer (currently, it carries out over 170 separate customer forecasts and inventory solutions each month, across 20 different replenishment methods). It can calculate ideal safety stock levels to ensure that service is maintained without surplus inventory holdings and be integrated with the load planning and capacity management systems of suppliers to ensure availability. The company is now looking to introduce machine learning and artificial intelligence technology to further refine the forecast  process, which will reduce unnecessary inventory and reduce cost.
    
The benefits can be seen from the case of one major aftermarket customer with three large repair shops. Processing a complex combination of 15,000 stock keeping units (SKUs), where only 21% have consistent monthly demand, and the addition of a further 2000 SKUs, Akrivis produced 99.8% parts availability and a £3 million reduction in inventory holding, while forecast accuracy has improved by 20%.
    
Once the procurement process has been completed, the next step is receipt and storage of incoming material. The company is planning to move to a paperless supply chain, not least because documentation is the biggest recurring problem.
    
The location of items in the warehouse is logged so that retrieval is simple. Operatives use a trolley, which has a tablet linked by wifi to the central IT system. All the details of each job to be collected are available and the system also provides route information between the storage bins – ‘walking is waste’, says Hollinshead – and there are plans in Derby to install conveyors for delivery of items straight to the dispatch area, instead of being delivered by trolley.
    
An important part of the work is pre-kitting for production and MRO. The idea is that all the necessary parts can be delivered to the work station in anticipation of the start of the next shift, with all the right part numbers and the right quantity (automatic counting using a light system is being considered to ensure 100% accuracy). These are built up using a photo guide with the parts and number of each item.
    
For the Rolls Trent XWB, around 40 kits are required for the assembly of an engine. When the OEM moved to a moving assembly line, it became even more important to ensure on time delivery of parts.
    
In 2017, the company moved beyond their traditional model with the development of Agile Warehouse (see MRO Management, December 2017). This self-contained unit contains drawers that can be stocked with all the parts, tools and personal protection equipment required and flown to the location where they are needed. The original use was in support of engine trials at remote test beds, but it has since deployed to ensure continuity of production at a manufacturing site when there was a supply problem.
    
This has now been followed by Agile Vend, which is currently on trial with a European customer. Again, it can be configured to meet particular requirements, but is connected to Akrivis, allowing consumption to be monitored constantly and billed to the right contract, while replenishment can be arranged as required.
    
Future developments include new facilities in India and Poland. A 1,800m² warehouse is being fitted out in Bangalore and is expected to be ready early next year to support international companies in the country’s national aerospace centre. There might be a two way flow, as demand for machined items is increasing and local firms will be assessed for quality and price. Hollinshead says the decision to open the facility has been influenced by recent Indian Government moves to attract inward investment for the industry and to develop commercial aviation generally. The newest Polish facility in Wrocław – some back office operations are located there – will support the growing aircraft engine industry there, which includes MTU and XEOS, a new GE/Lufthansa Technik joint venture. It will become a European warehouse hub and will also be used a test for new warehouse technology.
    
The company uses standardised processes wherever possible, but allows local variations where this offers advantages.


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