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 materiel 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 little surprise, then, that A&D manufacturers are increasingly investing in processes and technologies for service lifecycle management. 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 to 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.