We’re hearing a lot about Big Data these days. Mostly it’s about organizations collecting vast amounts of customer and user data – and then trying to make sense of it to improve various business operations. The truth is Big Data is not always about highly complex algorithms. Sometimes it is simply about being able to access the information that you need at the right place and at the right time. Let’s take a look at aerospace maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) operations to see how real-time information access can be just as important as complex information analysis.

According to the FAA, in 2011 there were 7,185 aircraft in the US commercial fleet. Each of these planes must undergo a rigorous schedule of servicing, ranging from routine inspections to major system overhauls. The obvious challenge is that each time a plane is taken out of service for maintenance it can’t be used by the airline to generate revenue. For passenger aircraft, this could translate into a revenue loss of six figures or more, per plane, per day.

In an industry that already operates on thin profit margins, aircraft MRO organizations are under continuous pressure to be as efficient as possible. The challenge is that a variety of obstacles can easily delay turnaround time, including:

  • Delivering and tracking maintenance job cards
  • Finding approved procedural information
  • Tracking completed tasks and generating related non-routines
  • Identifying maintenance records for individual aircraft
  • Selecting and procuring required replacement parts

Most of this information is available to the maintenance technicians, but not without challenges:

  • Information can be stored across multiple physical and electronic repositories
  • Alerts for updated/new part and procedure information are delivered inconsistently
  • Tracking completed work and generating the necessary signoffs

So how can an aircraft MRO organization leverage Big Data technology to improve operational efficiency and minimize downtime? Let’s take a look.

1)      Centralize information: This may seem like a simple concept but it can be a challenge to execute. A central database must not simply store all necessary data, but it must also link back to the source files to be sure that all updates are automatically delivered to workers in the field. Importantly, all industry standard file formats such as ATA, S1000D, DITA, and Docbook must be supported.

2)      Filter according to defined user roles: Even in specific environments such as MRO operations, the volume of product, part, service, and regulatory data can be overwhelming. This makes it a challenge to find the relevant information that MRO technicians need to quickly complete tasks. One easy way to make Big Data more approachable is to filter information according to specified user roles. By presenting only the information associated with a specific operation or aircraft tail number, service technicians are better able to focus on completing the task at hand.

3)      Make information searchable: Even with information filters in place, it can be time consuming for service technicians to search through thousands of pages of maintenance documents and parts catalogs for information on a specific task. This means that data needs to be delivered in a form more advanced than a simple viewer. Intelligent search and context awareness (such as bookmarking, hyperlink management, and tail number effectivity) are essential elements for supplying MRO information quickly and accurately.

4)      Mobile delivery: The topic of how to integrate mobile technology into aircraft flight and maintenance operations has become prevalent at many industry conferences. Challenging however is the fact that there is no single operating system that can deliver information across all mobile platforms. To overcome this obstacle, MRO data can be delivered through a web interface – making it accessible on any hardware system with an internet connection and a web browser.  For inflight and other disconnected operations, local servers and applications, even on a tablet or laptop, can provide the necessary platform to find and create content.

5)      Content authoring: A major functional area in every MRO environment is the planning, part tracking, and visit packaging of scheduled routine maintenance. Therefore integration of a content authoring/publishing system into an MRO data management tool provides a significant amount of added value. With the capability of authoring routine and non-routine job cards directly from the data collection environment, maintenance activities can be efficiently created based on established maintenance schedules and then be tracked according to organizational needs or industry requirements.

6)      Use consistent structure:  One big advantage of Big Data technology is that separate metadata is avoided since it requires up front modeling and data capture.  Instead, the data itself should be capable of being mined in any number of planned and unplanned ways.  Using structured data in content authoring provides unlimited search and reporting options.

7)      Learn from experiences:  The biggest reward for investments in Big Data analytics are realized when granular events are studied and improved.  This is a regulatory requirement for all aircraft operators as part of a Continuing Analysis and Surveillance Systems (CASS) plan.  Detecting trends in failures, part usages, non-routines, and life limits using Big Data tools allows operators and regulators to continually refine maintenance planning operations that support cost reductions and safety of flight operations.

By combining these key elements of data management, MRO operations can be greatly economized. From an operator level, access to more intelligent information means that more time is spent completing tasks than finding or processing paperwork. From a business level, more efficient operations translate into reduced aircraft downtime,  driving higher margins.

Hopefully you can now see that the significance of Big Data isn’t just about collecting vast amounts of information – in this case it is creating more value with the information that you have. While the example that I’ve provided here is focused on the aerospace industry, there are similar applications for advanced data management that address the broader needs of other specialized industries such as industrial manufacturing, oil and gas, high tech, and transportation.

We spend a lot of time here at TerraXML providing our customers with solutions that enable “intelligent operations through intelligent data”. Be sure to subscribe to the blog so you can keep on top of industry trends we’re seeing in the creation and delivery of technical information.