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Smooth soaring — Servicing planes fuels KM demand

By Kim Ann Zimmermann

As you might expect, a lot of things in the aerospace industry are accomplished on the go, and that includes accessing the knowledge management systems that retain information about the history of a particular plane as well as the diagnostic manuals to repair it.

Experts on a particular aircraft are located in far-flung regions of the world. And often information about a particular aircraft is stored in a centralized database that is not always easy to access when a mechanic is trying to address a problem that has grounded a plane.

Because an aircraft can be in service for several decades, it's important to provide mechanics with immediate access to a plane's service history as well as to information on how experts have addressed similar problems in the past. Planes, particularly military aircraft, are constantly being updated with sophisticated equipment.

While safety is of the highest importance, time is also essential in the aerospace field. If the plane is out of service for any length of time, the airline can lose hundreds of thousands of dollars and cause passenger ill-will, something that the industry wants to avoid.

Many aerospace companies are addressing the issue of companywide access to the knowledgebase by implementing portals. Lockheed Martin, for example, is using Vignette’s Application Portal to distribute content, applications and services to employees in 40 business units across the country.

“Through the integration of e-business tools, Lockheed Martin is able to deliver a single user interface with a single sign-on capability to our Web-based environment, resulting in increased utilization of resources and user productivity,” says Vince Angelucci, WebServ product manager, Lockheed Martin Enterprise Information Systems.

The main objective of the knowledge management system recently installed at another large aerospace company is to provide access to critical information for solving complex problems associated with aircraft maintenance and support. The field service engineers who work on the aircraft possess valuable experience and knowledge associated with difficult-to-solve aircraft maintenance faults. Unless the engineer has a practical way to communicate discoveries and solutions back to the system, the information does not get shared and cannot benefit other field service engineers who might face similar situations. To meet that objective, the aerospace company requires visibility across the enterprise and into the various troubleshooting events that take place remotely.

“One of the challenges of providing knowledge management tools to the aerospace industry is that you really have a number of knowledge pools,” said Phil D’Eon, chairman and CEO for Casebank Technologies, which serves a number of aerospace customers including Air Canada and British Airways. Casebank is working with partner PeerDirectto provide a knowledge management system to the aerospace customer mentioned above.

Recapturing experience

“There are so many components to an aircraft, and each component has its own set of diagnostics. The people who own and service the aircraft need to have all of that information, and the people who make the components need to gather information about how their components are performing in particular aircraft and in specific situations," says D'Eon. Tighter knowledge management can also result in fewer, needless repairs. “Unnecessary part changes are a very big problem in the industry,” he says.

A key issue for aerospace companies is that current workflow processes do not always require technicians to record and communicate complex issues into a centrally available database for others to access, according to D’Eon. As a result, technicians do not have access to information about a problem that might have already been solved by someone else. That means that countless hours are lost determining the issue, and if there was a misdiagnosis, equipment can be inappropriately allocated and expenses incurred.

“Knowledge management tools can take the experience of a seasoned mechanic and flow that information seamlessly back into the system to help other technicians make the best decision possible and improve the chance of a first-time fix,” says Darius Knight, VP of sales and marketing for Casebank.

Air Force and KM

During the Iraq conflict, some of the F-16 fighters and Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance aircraft were equipped with laptops that had a subset of the U.S. Air Force’s entire maintenance database. That enabled the aircraft to be serviced successfully in the field.

In addition, the Air Force is implementing XML as the standard file format, and using technology from Ixiasoft and Veridian Systems. Before the project, thousands of pages of AWACS documentation had been stored as SGML (Standard Generalized Markup Language) files, printed and distributed to maintenance, procurement and other Air Force officials.

Before the new system was installed, some documentation was online, and some remained in paper form. That made accessing all the most timely, pertinent information more difficult.

“Now if they upgrade the aeronautics in the field, the next technician who touches the plane knows the history,” says Philippe Gelinas, CEO of Ixiasoft. “That makes things a whole lot smoother.”

Kim Ann Zimmermann is a free-lance writer, 732-636-3612, e-mail kimzim2764@yahoo.com.

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