The onset of Smart Manufacturing has created an imperative for the Digital Thread in MRO. Despite its importance, Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) is one of the lesser-discussed developments being driven by the digital transformation of manufacturing. MRO is a driver of revenue, not simply a cost of doing business. As business models have changed to accommodate the digital revolution, service has become increasingly important and even more competitive. Third-party MRO providers are particularly under pressure, as OEMs are looking to servitize their products as a means of competitive differentiation.
Consider the aerospace and defense industry. In a study for the Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA), global consultant Oliver Wyman pegged the worldwide market for commercial aviation maintenance at $68 billion in 2016, an amount expected to approach $100 billion during the next decade. To compete in this market, MRO providers must modernize practices and integrate the Digital Thread into enterprise operations.
MRO and the Digital Thread
As discussed in a recent post, the Digital Thread represents the sum of all data (i.e. model data, product structure data, metadata, effectual data, and process definition data, including supporting equipment and tools) digitally linked to form a single, contiguous definition of all value-added decisions made during the definition of a product. This includes its configuration, manufacturing, and repair processes, logistics, and operational support. It provides a single reference point for design, engineering, manufacturing, and service, ensuring they all act in concert.
A recent column on Manufacturing Operations Management contrasted the differences between MROs with and without the advantages of the Digital Thread:
A typical as-is condition for many MROs without a Digital Thread:
- Design 3-D models are usually not shared between OEMs and asset owners
- Some drawings might be included with OEM maintenance manuals and delivered via PDF files
- Maintenance requirements are documented within the maintenance manuals to be parsed manually by asset owner
- Asset owner creates their own maintenance requirements based on OEM maintenance manuals and refers to specific maintenance manual sections
- MRO creates maintenance task cards based on asset owner maintenance requirements and maintenance manuals
- As-maintained records are archived by MRO and delivered to asset owner as a PDF package
- Both asset owner and MRO must maintain these records archived for auditing purposes
MROs making progress towards a full Digital Thread:
- Asset’s 3-D models shared by OEM with asset owner via 3-D technical packages and standards like 3-D PDF and STEP
- Maintenance manuals are shared using standards like S1000D for easy parsing into downstream systems
- Maintenance requirements are managed online and cross-referenced to sections of maintenance manuals
- Maintenance task instructions are developed leveraging links to maintenance manuals and 3-D models for illustrations
- An asset’s as-maintained data is delivered in a parsable data format to the owner along with the finished asset
The Evolution to the Digital Thread in MRO
“The evolution to the Digital Thread in MRO is proceeding,” notes Shawn Maguire, Director of Business Development at iBASEt. “While MRO has been slower to adapt to digitalization than design, engineering, and manufacturing, it is beginning to catch up.” Among the benefits Maguire cites as driving the adoption of the Digital Thread in MRO are improved data accuracy, accelerated and more effective management of change, and elimination of paper-based, manual processes.
“The real value of the Digital Thread in MRO is how it completes connectivity across the enterprise,” concludes Maguire. “It provides a vital link to requirements for MRO practitioners by empowering them to look back through the thread and tie service records to engineering. As organizations make the transition to Smart Manufacturing practices, this will be an imperative. Those organizations whose Digital Threads do not extend to MRO will fall behind the competition.”