An aircraft’s main purpose may be to profitably transport passengers and materials to business and leisure destinations. Or it could be to reliably deliver military personnel and material to geopolitical hot spots. Yet regardless of how each aircraft manufacturer ultimately measures success, they all grapple with the same basic question: What can we do to optimize our asset’s availability for its intended use?
This is a service challenge as much as it is a matter of superior product design. In fact, for today’s most innovative manufacturers, these two operational disciplines—design and service—are increasingly intertwined.
Service is simply different in aerospace and defense (A&D). A large aircraft is a highly complex product with a very long lifecycle, often more than 30 years. This means that most of the aircraft’s cost of ownership will lie not in its original purchase but in its ongoing service. And this leads service to be not just the protector of the product’s effective performance but also a key driver of the manufacturer’s continuing improvements in product design, and a primary source of ongoing revenue.
It should be of little surprise then that A&D manufacturers are increasingly investing in processes and technologies for service lifecycle management (SLM). Pressures on them are intensifying. They must get all they can from their service organizations and activities.
This requires better product intelligence, as well as better product performance. Three realities in particular are pushing A&D manufacturers to step up their SLM strategies.
The first is heightened demand. Our skies today host more aircraft than ever. While jumbo jets ferry families from Atlanta to Alaska, large cargo planes carry material from Amman to Afghanistan, with every other air transport need being met in between.
When it comes to service, the operator’s imperative is to get the right service person with the right information and parts, to the right place at the right time. Their goals are to minimize mean time to repair and improve first-time fix rates. With so many aircraft in use worldwide, service must be delivered as close to this high standard as possible, or else the costs of waste, inefficiency, and rework will soar and many operators will be pushed out of the realm of operating profit.
The second is changing market forces. The single biggest factor affecting cost in commercial aviation in the last decade has been fuel. Historically, this was never as big an issue for military aviation. Enter the sequester. Now makers of military aircraft feel the big squeeze, too. All must do more for less. Design innovation is critical. Manufacturers have responded by developing lighter aircraft with more fuel-efficient engines. And they rely more and more on embedded web-connected sensors and software to manage, monitor, and measure aircraft functions.
Are you familiar with the Internet of Things (IoT)? This is the concept in practice. The aircraft themselves are collecting and distributing the product performance data needed to develop more economical aircraft designs and optimal servicing schedules.
Finally, there are new ways to purchase. Many aircraft users today don’t actually buy a product or service; they buy performance. That is, they contract for a minimum rate of aircraft availability over a specified period of time. The manufacturer or other service contractor must then meet or beat this metric.
Rolls-Royce, with its “Power by the Hour” performance-based contracts dating back to the 1980s, and their TotalCare service solutions for aircraft engines today, have been pioneers in the pay-for-performance philosophy. Aircraft buyers and sellers are now rethinking the distinctions between “product” and “service” to focus instead on customer value.
Can you see where this is leading? Design for service. Service, the function that’s usually closest to the customer, feeds engineering with reality-based measures of product performance. Engineering, in turn, designs products with service optimization in mind.
This is the long-sought systems engineering approach—holistic and synergistic—and it’s transforming product development processes and accelerating product design innovation for leading A&D manufacturers worldwide.
Technology is the enabler. Only a decade or so ago, the data storage and analytics tools needed to deliver on the “design for service” dream weren’t quite there. They are today.
Sensors and software on smart connected products collect and crunch the billions upon billions of bytes needed to drive condition-based and reliability-centered maintenance programs. Advanced algorithms help manufacturers plan for service parts inventories around the world. Service leaders can predict, with ever-greater precision, just what parts will be needed, in what quantities, when, and where. Proven SLM platforms provide all in the service organization with access to the up-to-date service information they need.
Call it “servitization.” This is the preferred term of leading industry researchers and analysts for one of the major forces driving manufacturing transformation today. No matter, really, if the primary goal of aircraft uptime is to bolster the bottom line or complete a critical mission. Either way, leading A&D manufacturers are moving decisively to “servitize” their products with integrated performance-based service warranties and contracts. This is adding value at every stage of the customer experience. And it’s lifting the most service-focused manufacturers to new heights of success.
Learn more about SLM solutions for A&D and other industry sectors.
The story was originally published in Design News.