MRO: The hidden opportunity in digital transformation

With all the attention being paid to digital transformation these days, one area that’s often overlooked is MRO, or Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul. In many shops, this is still an old-fashioned paper-based operation. But that’s changing as companies realize there are efficiencies—and profits—to be gained by digitalizing their servicing operations. 

Today, manufacturers like Pratt & Whitney and Lockheed Martin are using Solumina MRO to drive faster and better results. Whether you’re a service-providing organization or a manufacturer looking to service your own products, Solumina MRO is a digital solution well worth considering.  

To get an idea of how a digital solution can help an MRO shop, let’s take a real-world example and see how MRO operations are improved. Suppose an airplane engine comes in for servicing… 

Start fast and stay organized 

Right from the beginning, you have a head start. Instead of searching through paper records and computer files, the shop floor controller can quickly open a previous work package from a past visit. The work package contains all the needed operations, part numbers, work orders, and planned maintenance for that engine. It can also include documentation such as engineering models and photos. If this is the first time servicing this engine, Solumina MRO makes it easy to start a file and set up the work package and create order from a menu of standardized processes. Either way, it’s already an improvement over paper. 

Smoother process and better communication 

Next, the work package moves automatically to the shop floor (or to remote technicians), along with all the information needed by the repair team. As the technicians tear down the assembly and disposition the parts, all activities are updated in the MRO product history. Any “over and above” work can be sent electronically to supervisors, customers, or any group needed for approval. Solumina MRO makes this easy through a basic discrepancy process, so that users can quickly communicate, adjust the work scope, get the required signatures, and move on with the order.  

Tie up all the loose ends 

At appropriate times, inspectors can use the MRO system to verify parts and procedures, and check that the engine is properly repaired and tested. When everything is ready, Solumina MRO has the complete data records to release the engine for return to the customer. 

The above is just an example, but it’s typical of most maintenance and repair organizations that deal with complex items like airplane engines or major equipment. Solumina MRO simplifies these complex repair processes while helping to maintain quality, accuracy, consistency, and traceability.  

The benefits add up 

Beyond the improved MRO process itself, digitalizing MRO produces a positive impact on business operations in general. Here are some of the benefits you can expect to gain: 

  • Help ensure compliance 

MRO shops often must meet government standards of quality, maintenance, and record-keeping. Solumina MRO maintains a complete service history, helping to ensure regulatory compliance and fast, accurate reporting.  

  • Improve profitability, create new revenue 

MRO is growing in many sectors, especially in aviation. For independent service organizations, a digital MRO system is way to improve competitiveness and profitability. For manufacturers, it can be an opportunity to generate revenue long after a product has been initially sold. It can also build trust among the customer base, showing your commitment to lifecycle support. 

  • Support continuous improvement 

A digital MRO system can be an important part of a continuous improvement program. It provides a feedback loop with design and manufacturing, so products and processes can be improved based on real-world data from the field.  

  • Increase operational agility 

Repair of complex equipment and parts can be unpredictable. You never know when a job is going to go off plan. When that happens, Solumina MRO makes it easy to adjust the work scope, route it for approval with customers, and take care of all the “paperwork”, while at the same time keeping built-in document traceability and verification. 

Organizations these days are focusing on digital investments that offer clear and measurable value, and MRO fulfills that requirement. For many in the manufacturing and servicing industry, a digitalized MRO solution can make a big difference in profitability, competitiveness, and customer relations. If MRO isn’t in your digital transformation plans, you could be overlooking an important opportunity. 

Learn more about Solumina MRO in this introductory video.

Why integrating MES and PLM should be at the top of your to-do list

We tend to think of digital transformation in terms of large, sweeping reforms, but sometimes it helps to think in more concrete terms. That’s because there are often practical, specific steps that manufacturers can take now to improve operations, even apart from the advantages of larger transformation initiatives.

One such step that should be high on every manufacturer’s list is the integration of Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES). There are good reasons to integrate these systems even without further transformation plans. The fact that PLM-MES integration is a key building block on the way to digital threads and smart factories is a great bonus.

Let’s take a brief look at why this step is so important, and then we’ll see how it can lead to even bigger things.

At the center of manufacturing

Along with ERP and PLM, MES forms the digital backbone of a manufacturer’s business, executing real-time operations on the shop floor. Yet in many companies today, information between PLM and MES is still being transferred manually. There may be some connectivity, but it is typically limited to the essential integration points.

One reason that integration has been so challenging is the sheer number of connections where data should be moving. The accompanying chart illustrates the point well. If anything, it leaves out some possible connections. Note how all three enterprise systems interact repeatedly throughout the planning, execution, and accounting process.

Manual data transfer can’t possibly keep up with all of this activity, and so valuable information gets lost or wasted. Not to mention the problem of lost time and human error. Maybe most importantly, siloed data is not dynamic and never can be. Without MES integration, PLM is basically an event log—able to tell you what happened, but not able to help you in real time.

The value of connectivity

Connecting all the integration points in the graphic above—digitally implemented and automatic, with no manual data input—has a powerful impact on operations. It improves efficiency, accuracy, and timing.

With full connectivity, you can take advantage of things like automated data publishing, real-time communication between departments, improved error reporting, and full product histories. There are also operational gains, such as being able to implement and maintain your information systems with fewer people, removing data duplication, and having one version of product information for people to work with at all times.

These are all significant benefits that make the integration project worth doing in its own right. But as I mentioned above, there’s more to the story.

Thinking bigger: the Model-based Enterprise

PLM-MES integration is one of the fundamental steps on the way to smart factories, digital threads, and the Model-Based Enterprise. Once MES and PLM are tightly linked, big things can happen.

The Model-based Enterprise, or MBE, is an important subject in its own right and you can read more about it here, but I want to cover it briefly now because it’s the icing on the cake. MBE refers to an enterprise that is able to use an annotated 3D digital model of the product as the single, authoritative information source at every stage of the product’s lifecycle. It begins with the 3D model created in design engineering and is then carried through the full manufacturing process and beyond, available to all users at all times.

I want to emphasize that this 3D model is not merely a graphic effect or pretty picture. It is a complete representation of the product including components, assemblies, and histories. What’s more, it’s a dynamic model that is always in sync with the actual, physical product it represents. This has game-changing benefits, such as:

  • Reduces time to market by more accurate modeling of parts and processes
  • ​Lowers production costs through improved tool design and fabrication, fewer overall assembly hours, and less rework
  • Streamlines new product development and introduction by enabling collaboration, managing engineering change orders, and easing testing and QA process
  • Enables digital continuity across entire product life cycle

Ultimately, the Model-Based Enterprise is the foundation for digital threads and truly smart factories—in other words, full digital transformation.

Developing a Smart Factory, one step at a time

We’ve gone pretty far from the PLM-MES connectivity we started this discussion with, and that’s the point. That’s why this essential integration should be high on every manufacturer’s to-do list: because it’s easily justified in its own right and at the same time, it leads to much bigger things.

PLM-MES is at the top of our to-do list at iBase-t. The newest release of Solumina MES iSeries includes many out-of-the-box integrations with PLM, as well as standard APIs that require little or no custom coding. More integration solutions are in the works, too. Along with the ability of Solumina iSeries to be deployed over the cloud, this makes it possible for even smaller manufacturers to get the benefits of digital transformation—starting with one of the most important first steps, PLM-MES integration.