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Maintenance

Work smart

If there is a shortage of engineers, then one solution is to make them work more efficiently. INFORM has an answer
 
INFORM Software, based in Aachen in Germany, was formed in 1969 as a spin off from the local university, says Luis Alvarez, Aircraft Maintenance Solutions Manager. Initially, it offered bespoke optimisation services to various clients but, in 1985, it started to develop its own products, reaching into industry sectors such as logistics, supply chain management, credit card fraud prevention and aviation.
 
For the latter, it began with ground handling, launching GroundStar, which it says is the most comprehensive software suite for the optimisation of aviation processes currently on the market, covering such diverse areas as turnaround management, gates and stands management, ramp services, workforce management, passenger services, special services, deicing and GSE management.
 
He explains that the system has been adopted by over 70 customers at 170 airports, including airlines and ground handling service providers. That means a variation in the number of customers at each airport and in the range of capabilities in use.
 
However, the core elements remain the same. As airline operations are based on a winter and a summer timetable, the schedule for each half of the year can be taken and 
the software used for long term planning. The first step is to produce a workload forecast, based on arrival and departure schedules during the day. The next step is a shift plan for each activity, followed by a daily operations plan, which defines the optimal staff requirements for each activity. 
 
With this background, the Line Maintenance Solution was added in 2014, and is now in use by major airlines in Europe, North America and the Far East, as well as ground handling and maintenance suppliers all over the globe.
 
While the timetables still form the basis of the analysis, he says one of the biggest challenges in this area is the number of unscheduled technical events that can occur, with potential knock-on consequences for other operations. One feature of the software is the automatic assignment and notification of a suitably qualified person to attend to a problem, such as a licenced engineer. This fits well with the increasing use of advance warnings of problems being transmitted to the maintenance control centre before the flight lands. 
 
The system incorporates analytical tools, which can be used to compare and contract task times between aircraft types, airports and customers.The line maintenance module can interact with the rest of the GroundStar modules, so a revised departure time can be advised across the network, and operations rescheduled accordingly. The company has a HubControl product, which can link all the operational aspects of daily operations from fuel to catering. There are no customers to date but two airlines have sister ground handlings companies running INFORM’s other software and they receive information.
 
The next logical step is the extension to base maintenance, although he comments that there is more interest at present in line maintenance, due to the shortage of skilled labour. In addition, GroundStar has an interface to AMOS from SWISS-AviationSoftware. He notes that ERP systems support the complete Part M maintenance process and have tools for those purposes. However, only INFORM offers an optimisation module completely dedicated to staff planning. For that reason, the company is working with an airline to develop an initial system covering A checks, which should go live in late 2018, early 2019. 
 
The new Base Maintenance solution establishes an optimal template for maintenance progress, assesses actual against planned progress, and automates and prioritises task assignment. The progress of individual tasks is fully documented so that the status of the overall maintenance check is clear and transparent at all times. As the system measures findings during the inspection phase against the expected findings, delays can be anticipated easily and in sufficient time to take corrective action.
 
The software can manage, monitor and optimise maintenance activities in real time, and correctly re-assign staff based on their skills and location as tasks evolve. An optimal shift plan that takes into account shift types, shift rules, shift (de)briefings and break rules is generated based on the workload requirement that have been calculated during the planning phase. These shifts are associated to qualifications and are the foundation for assigning shifts to staff, something which is also supported by the solution.
 
The system helps production planning engineers by planning the phases of maintenance tasks, checking spares availability, and supporting coordination with material suppliers. Shift planners benefit from improved planning of team requirement by the matching staff availability against the planned maintenance activities. The software helps dispatchers to coordinate teams and their work, as well as monitoring the workflow and seizing control measures. Lead engineers can oversee the progress of work and enter adhoc tasks. Engineers, technicians, mechanics, electricians and IFE specialists benefit from improved, fluent communication through the task-based mobile workflow and status reporting. 

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