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Wednesday, October 1, 2003

Vending Machines Deliver Parts, Not Food

— James Careless — Dale Smith— Dale Smith – Roy Allen – Review by Scott Chase

Vending machines are quickly becoming a vital element in MRO parts- and tool-management programs. The reason: when integrated into a bar code tracking system, vending machines can help maintenance organizations reduce inventory, improve technician productivity without sacrificing quality, and ensure that customers are charged only for what they use.

On a traditional shop floor, tools and parts are dispensed from storage areas or cribs. Sometimes the cribs are manned, which means that employees have to sign for the materials they use. Other times materials are left for employees to take as needed, a situation that can lead to waste, loss, and sometimes even theft.

A vending machine-based system is managed every step of the way. (Actually, there’s more to the system than conventional vending machines; computer-controlled lockers for tools and vertical lifts capable of storing parts as large as 2,000 pounds are also included.)� "When a person needs a part, they go to the machine and input their badge bar code using a handheld scanner," said ShelfPlus president Tom Jameson. "Once recognized as authorized, the em-ployee uses a Windows-based touchscreen to specify the part/tool they need. The system then releases it, the employee takes it, and then gets back to work."

By requiring the employee to log in every time they need material, an MRO can accurately track which parts and materials are being used for which customers. This not only ensures accurate billing, but it creates an easily-retrievable audit trail for customers who want to review their invoices.

"When Bill takes out a rivet gun from the crib, we know that he took it at 7 a.m., used it on Airplane 72, and returned it at 8:45 a.m.," said Larry Harper, president of WinWare. Moreover, automated tracking allows MROs to keep replacement tools on hand and to minimize time lost due to breakdowns.

Then there’s the human factor. "Employees will often open a box of 1,000 gloves and waste some of them due to loss or neglect," noted Mark Mayer, director of sales and marketing for WebVend. "In our system, this doesn’t happen: as a pair of gloves is needed, so it is dispensed and tracked. This also helps reduce hoarding, since employees now have to account for every part and tool they receive."

Decentralized parts vending ma-chines also increase employee productivity, because they’re located close to workstations. "We put our machines where people use them," said WebVend’s Meyer. "There’s no point having a grinding operator waste 20 minutes walking to the crib, just because he needs one part to do his job."

This brings us to inventory cost reduction: an area where automated vending solutions shine. This is because many vendors are stocking vending machines on consignment, essentially creating parts stores right on the MRO’s premises. In this scenario, "it’s up to the distributor to track onsite inventory and to pay to keep it topped up," said WebVend’s Meyer. "They then bill the MRO on a weekly or monthly basis for items consumed."

For vendors, offering consignment parts on premises ensures continual sales. Meanwhile, "by turning the vendors into crib attendants, the MROs end up with a parts-stocking system that is totally self-maintained," said ShelfPlus’s Jameson. "This radically reduces inventory procurement and management costs for the MRO."

So how much money can MROs save using vending machines? "Overall, we estimated that MROs with some form of electronic parts management system can save 20 percent by adding our system," said WinWare’s Larry Harper. "Those MROs who are still using a manual system can save up to 40 percent."

The bottom line: parts/tools vending solutions are a win-win proposition for MROs, vendors, and customers alike. Small wonder that this technology has already been adopted by Raytheon, Boeing, and the U.S. Air Force. �

Phone: 800-838-0473, 859-258-2131

Phone: 888-419-1399, 770-419-1399

Phone: 540-761-4387


Protective Packaging Simplifies Storage

As if today’s economic environment didn’t already give airline maintenance people enough to worry about, many of them are now faced with the prospects of putting large numbers of their fleets in storage. Which, on the surface, seems simple enough: fly the airplanes to an arid climate and park them until business gets better.

But, as those who have gone before quickly found out, it’s not that easy. It takes a lot of time and effort to prepare an airliner for storage. Windows, doors, inlets, outlets, drains, vents, tires, landing gear, you name it, it has to be protected or the ravages of sun, sand, and wind will turn your investment into so much scrap metal.

Sure, companies can do it the old-fashioned way and spend countless man-hours cutting poly or foil covers out of endless rolls of material only to painstakingly have to tape each one in place. Or they can do it a better way, switch to Protective Packaging’s line of pre-cut-to-fit foil covers.

"Hand-making intake covers for jet engines not only takes a lot of a technician’s time, it wastes a lot of material and money," explained Steve Hanna, president/CEO, Protective Packaging. "Our research shows that by pre-cutting the moisture barrier and UV-protected materials for all the different commercial aircraft and engines, we can save companies over 40 percent in materials costs and 55 percent in labor costs."

That’s a bold statement but one Hanna says came from his company following a customer’s technicians around for a couple of days and recording all the time it took and the materials they used to cut and apply coverings to an airplane in storage. "Once I showed them what we had found, they said it made all the sense in the world," he continued. "It’s not 007� secret-agent stuff here, it’s pretty obvious, but very effective."

How effective? Hanna pointed out that the MRO company he originally did the research for saved more than $125,000 in labor and materials less than six months after switching to Protective Packaging’s kits.

What Protective Packaging does is put together custom aircraft preservation kits that include all the materials that technicians need to preserve a specific aircraft type. Hanna said that the company makes kits for the protective covering of engine intakes and outlets, windows, and landing gear as well as the correct amount of moisture-absorbing desiccants prescribed by the engine manufacturers.

Hanna said that the preservation kits come with precut foil covers that are made of the exact material the customer specifies. All the materials meet the U.S. Military specification of Mil PRF-131 Class 1 to ensure the highest quality standards. "Contrary to popular belief," Hanna said, "an intake cover made of poly will not give the proper protection from moisture, regardless of the amount of desiccant used."

"For example, our DC-8 kit comes with four foil engine intake and exhaust covers, four bags of desiccant–pre-measured to meet the humidity-control specifications of that particular engine–and a roll of aluminum tape. "The technician takes the kit out to the aircraft, puts the desiccant bags into each engine, tapes the pre-measured intake covers over the engine, and he’s done," he said. "By pre-measuring the desiccant we save our customers more time and money. The technician just slits the bag, places it in the engine inlet, and he’s done. No measuring. No cutting. No waste."

Hanna explained that another unique feature of Protective Packaging’s engine covers is the clear window built into the foil covering that a technician can use to examine the humidity-indicator card. "Previously, the technician would have to remove the tape holding the foil cover on the engine intake to physically examine the desiccant bags," he said. "That not only lets in more moisture, it is very difficult to re-apply the cover properly. Now a technician just looks in the window. If the indicator is okay he moves on. If it’s not, he can then take the cover off and replace the desiccant."

Engines are just the beginning of the kits Protective Packaging offers. The company also has complete preservation products for cockpit windows, passenger windows, landing gear, and breath-hole covers. "On a 747 there are around 100 of these tiny breath holes," Hanna said. "They not only allow air in and out, they make wonderful places for wasps to build nests. Technicians used to have to painstakingly cut and tape individual screens over each hole. Now we have a product that all the technician does is pull-off the adhesive strip and place the screen over the hole. There’s even a 12-inch-long, dayglo orange ribbon on it so the technician can’t forget where they are when it’s time to remove them."

So how much does all this convenience cost? "Let’s say you buy a complete package for a 747 and that includes 100 of the inlet marker ribbons, four engine intake and exhaust covers, cockpit and passenger window coverings, eleven and a half pounds of desiccant for each engine, and rolls of two-inch aluminum tape," Hanna said. "That whole package sells for around $600." A fraction of what it would take in materials and labor to make your self.

"They’re so cost-effective," he continued, "that when you need to take an intake cover off for inspection or to start an engine, you just throw it away. You don’t have to try and reuse it. A single intake cover for a 747 engine is just 22 bucks. So it’s not worth saving." The company does, however, have clear canvas coverings for the engines and tires to give added protection for the foil during high winds. — By Dale Smith

Protective Packaging
Phone: 800-945-2247,� 972-446-2247


21st Century Avionics Trainers

It’s a dilemma facing both educators and industry giants: How can they effectively teach the skills technicians need to troubleshoot, diagnose, and repair today’s sophisticated aircraft electronics and avionics systems? After all, to even the most seasoned technician, electronics can best be described as a black art, known and understood only by the very few.

"The problem isn’t the technician, it’s the way the subject of electronics has been taught," explained Mitchell Nesenoff, Ph.D., president, CES Industries. "When most technicians studied electronics, they had to suffer through endless hours of lectures and reading chapters from textbooks. Then, they would apply what they learned to experiments using bread-boards for wiring and a volt-ohm meter for troubleshooting. It was trying and tedious at best.

"The problem was, with the old way, the first thing you learned with an electrical experiment was troubleshooting because nothing ever worked right," he continued. "That’s why most people drop out of an electronics or avionics program—it is not enjoyable or exciting—it’s just frustrating."

Nesenoff and his team at CES Industries have developed an interactive electronics training aid that is changing all that. "With my program, one of the major benefits is you get through all of the basic stuff a lot faster than the old way and you understand it," he said. "Our system uses a lot of hands-on learning and demonstrations. You are using all of your senses so you learn, understand, and most importantly, retain the information."

"Our program is so good it very often teaches the teachers," explained Bob Kyle, CES’s aviation education consultant. "It’s all computer-driven, which makes it totally interactive. The system actually helps the student along with the lesson."

The CES equipment and training methodology combines computer-aided tutorials with the company’s modern hands-on learning station. The complete program begins with basic electricity, moves on to advanced electronics, then to specialized avionics training. As a student completes each of the different subject chapters, the computer asks them a series of questions pertaining to what they just studied.

"If they can’t answer the questions correctly, the computer just locks them out of the next section," Kyle added, "They can’t go on until they successfully pass the quiz. It also alerts the instructor that there is a problem in that area so they can either address it individually or give the entire class more help."

Kyle also explained that a school or company can integrate the entire network of training computers together, allowing the teacher to monitor each student’s progress from one central location. "Instead of a student foundering with a problem, the teacher can see that he’s taking too long and offer individual help," he said. "It also eliminates any problems with embarrassment for the student." That can be especially beneficial in professional learning situations where experienced technicians may be reluctant to ask for help.

While the computers are definitely integral parts of the learning system, Nesenoff sees his unique training boards as the true differentiators. "Other companies offer preset boards with preset experiments but that really limits what the school can teach and the student can learn," he explained. "With my trainer, nothing is preset. All of the parts are there on the panel and you wire up everything yourself."

Nesenoff also said his system has eliminated the "frustration factor" for electronics and avionics training. "With the old bread-board trainers, more times than not, something was broken," he said. "So even if you did it right, the experiment wouldn’t work, so students and teachers would get very frustrated and turn that frustration into a dislike for electronics and avionics.

"The way our training station is designed, all of the components are mounted so that if you do the wiring correctly, you are guaranteed it will work," Nesenoff continued. "And an even bigger benefit is that if you do something wrong, you won’t hurt the board or yourself.

"With our system you can have up to 500 different experiments covering all the various aspects of electronics training," he added. "No two schools or companies want to teach the exact same thing. They tell us what they want to accomplish and we custom tailor a program to meet their exact training needs. And if those needs change, it is quick and easy to change the curriculum."

Nesenoff and Kyle both stressed that students using the CES training system not only learn faster, they retain much more of what they learn. "My belief is that one reason why today’s technicians are not as good with avionics and electronics as they could be is because they didn’t have time to really get to learn all they need to know," Nesenoff said. "Twenty years ago, you just didn’t have as much to learn so they spent more time on more things. Today, teachers don’t often have time to really teach. They just tell students to read a chapter and move on to something else. That’s why so many companies have initiated their own in-house training programs.

"I’d say our system cuts training time by at least one-third," he continued. "That’s one-third more time students can spend learning what is important to help them prepare for what they’ll face at work."

Or, as in one example Kyle gave, they could use that extra time to compress a long, drawn-out program into a manageable and cost-effective educational experience. "Using our program and equipment, UPS [United Parcel Service] has created a 40-hour avionics training program for their technicians," he said. "It’s impossible to teach this much electronics and avionics information in one week using the old way. It would have taken a month or more and technicians would have come out not knowing as much as they do with our system."�����������

CES Industries
Phone: 800-237-5227, 631-293-1420


Tapping in to Undis-covered Opportunity

As director of maintenance for a variety of corporate flight departments and Part 135 operations, Aaron Taylor had seen the same scenario play itself out time and time again: when it came time to for major maintenance, he ended up at the same shops every time.

Now and again, Taylor and his employers kept asking themselves the same questions: Were they paying too much for the work? Were they waiting too long to get the jobs done? Was there another maintenance facility that would do a better job of meeting their needs? Taylor knew that the answer was probably yes to all of them. But he also knew that it would take hours for him or another operator to research other shops that were experienced and capable of doing the work they needed.

Finally, out of the necessity to find alternative maintenance providers, Taylor developed a company called Aircraft Service Quotes.

"I knew there are a lot of highly qualified maintenance shops in our area that didn’t get an opportunity to bid on work because we just didn’t know they were there," Taylor said. "Aircraft Service Quotes gives vendors the chance to learn about and submit quotes on real jobs. By getting the lesser-known shops exposed to all the operators out there, we’re providing a service that’s good for everyone," he continued. "What I’m trying to do with the company is to provide more options for the operators and more opportunities for the service providers."

Taylor explained that once a vendor is approved to be on Aircraft Service Quotes’s list, they will be notified of any business opportunities that the service receives. "‘Approved’ is probably a large term for a simple process," he added. "Basically what the vendor does is contact me, and we have a short discussion about their qualifications and how the service works." Taylor said that new members always have questions so he figures it’s easier to have the personal conversation right up� front to save time.

Taylor also requires the vendors to supply him with a current copy of their operations specifications or 145 repair station certificate to keep on file. "That’s another advantage we offer our operator customers," he continued, "Any vendor that supplies a quote through us is qualified and certified to do the work. I personally visit as many of the shops as I can to check them out for myself." Taylor said he wants to make sure no uncertificated shops get work from Aircraft Service Quotes.

As part of the initial sign up, the vendor company supplies all the usual contact information along with an approved credit card number. The credit card not only covers the initial sign up fee, but also is charged $50 for each of the requests for quotes that the vendor buys from Taylor’s company. "Right now I’m negotiating the sign-on fees on an individual basis," he said. "But, beginning next year, it will be a flat $750. It’s really a very small price to pay when you look at the opportunities for new business that we offer. A shop should make many times that in profits from the first job." Taylor said there is no cost for an aircraft owner/operator to use the service.

After a vendor is signed on, they just have to wait for the notification of a request for quote to arrive from Aircraft Service Quotes via either fax or e-mail. "The initial notification contains the aircraft type, location, and scope of work," Taylor explained. "Once they receive it, they can either choose to supply a quote or pass. If they do want to submit a quote, they are sent all of the details needed to contact the owner/operator. After that is done, I have nothing more to do with the project. It’s all between the vendor and the aircraft owner."

With regards to what types of jobs Taylor sees his service benefiting, he said they are usually the more specialized areas of maintenance. "It works for any type: NDT, overhauls, paint, interiors, avionics, you name it," he said. "Right now, I’d say avionics are prime. With TCAS, RVSM, EPGWS requirements coming along, there are a lot of big projects out there, and the bigger, well-known shops, are running out of room."

Taylor said that the operators that will benefit most by his services are the smaller, one- to three-aircraft operations that don’t have the manpower to do much of their own maintenance. "A lot of these operations don’t have a mechanic on staff so the chief pilot is responsible for finding qualified shops to do the work," he said. "Those are the operations that will really benefit from our service. We take all the work out of finding the right shop to do the work at the right price."

And being an approved Aircraft Service Quotes vendor opens doors for the maintenance providers, too. "Even if a shop has its own full-time sales people, we can help them optimize every opportunity," he added. "Their people are free to chase down their own leads while our service works in the background and alerts them of business opportunities that they may not have known about. I have had a couple of sales representatives for larger shops sign up for the service on their own. We send the notifications directly to them, and they can handle it on their own. It’s a win-win for everyone."

Aircraft Service Quotes also can open the door to opportunities outside the aviation industry. Taylor said that he recently had a request for quote come in from a company that did maintenance on oil pipelines and oil rigs. "They were looking for someone to do NDT (non-destructive testing) on some pipelines," he explained. "I know it was bid on by a couple of NDT suppliers and I hope that one of them got the work." ����

Aircraft Service Quotes
Phone: 760-918-0531


AJ Walter Expands Overseas

AJ Walter Aviation, the Sussex, U.K.-based parts supply, repair, and distribution company, has expanded its global operations in the Indian, South Korean, New Zealand, and German markets.

With offices in 46 countries, the emphasis on the international market makes good sense, according to Christopher Whiteside, managing director. "The U.K. market represents only 5 percent of our total market and we’re strengthening the overseas business all the time," he said. In 2002 the company was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for this business achievement. Company turnover is currently running at $70 million annually.

AJ Walter has three offices in India and has appointed an Indian native, Vijay Anthony, to work with customers in India. He holds an aerospace degree from the Russian University of Aviation Technology and speaks Russian as well as several Indian languages.

The company opened a new office in Seoul, South Korea, in a business partnership with TPA Strategic Holdings to market AJW’s airline support program for the Airbus A330 and Boeing 767. AJW recently bought older A310, A320, and A330 airplanes for dismantling, and this has given the company a dominant position in the provision of spares in the region. AJW added a Boeing 767-200ER purchased from Air New Zealand for dismantling and cannibalization. Parts from this airplane will be added to the company’s substantial inventory of Boeing spares, all of which have established provenance and come with FAA 8130-3 and JAA Form 1 release certificates.

Adding further to AJW’s continuing efforts to expand global operations, the company has been accepted as a vendor to supply services and materials to Air New Zealand Engineering Services (ANZES). Air New Zealand operates a fleet of B737, B747, and 767 airplanes and is scheduled to acquire 15 Airbus A320s. With a large spares inventory of Airbus models, Christopher Whiteside sees this as contributing towards reinforcing a long-term business relationship with ANZES.

Founded in 1932, AJ Walter began life as sole distributor for Piper aircraft in England, importing the first Piper Cub that year. Shortly after, the firm gained sole agency for Continental Motors, and the company’s expansion began. AJ Walter Aviation today specializes in the supply and repair of a wide range of aircraft components, and its business includes ground support, tools, and test equipment for customers all over the world. The company operates a 24-hour AOG service and guarantees full traceability of all parts. ���


AutoTime Tracks Time/Labor Costs

Time is money, especially in the aviation industry. For maintenance operations, a big challenge is tracking how time is spent on the shop floor: are the hours being logged the same as the hours being worked, whether in total and on a customer-by-customer basis?

Improving time tracking was a priority for Dassault Falcon Jet as it doubled the size of its Falcon Jet completion center in Little Rock, Arkansas. Falcon Jet – Little Rock is where Dassault sends green Falcon jets from the France factory for installation of optional avionics, custom interiors, and exterior paint.

To solve the problem, Dassault Falcon Jet bought AutoTime cost accounting and payroll workload software. Made by Kaba Benzing, AutoTime collects real-time data on workers’ activities. The process is simple: the employee just swipes his or her badge through a Kaba Benzing terminal to access their first workorder of the day. When they clock to a new work order, the previous one automatically stops. Then, at day’s end, the employee just swipes their badge once more and they’re clocked off the system.

With this data, AutoTime can deliver a lot of information. For instance, the software can track employee times on different projects and by department. It can also be configured to work in line with any required union and work payroll rules and even creates an audit trail for the Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA). Moreover, AutoTime is compatible with enterprise management software such as SAP, PeopleSoft, and Oracle. This means that the data collected by AutoTime goes directly into the company’s central database, where it can be accessed by other departments.

Before AutoTime was deployed at Falcon Jet – Little Rock, "we had an in-house system that collected the data and passed it on to our accounting system," said Barbara Barron, Dassault Falcon Jet’s finance manager. "It wasn’t a real-time system, though, and it didn’t offer as much flexibility in gathering and reporting data as AutoTime does."

So why did Dassault Falcon Jet chose AutoTime over the competition? "They had experience with other aeronautics companies," Barron said. "They understood our operating situation. Moreover, they sent their product manager to Little Rock. He stayed here for the entire implementation, to make sure everything worked."

The result? "Today, we get a lot more immediate data from our production area than we did before," Barron said. "AutoTime even validates workorder numbers; it is so much more real-time and much more relevant to how we conduct our business. I can tell you that it has really cut down on paperwork and labor-intensive cost accounting. We now focus on the output rather than on gathering the data."

AutoTime has also been chosen by other MROs such as Goodrich Aerostructures and Aircraft Breaking Systems Company. Its maker, Kaba Benzing, is a subsidiary of the $690-million German firm Kaba Holding. — By James Careless

Kaba Benzing
Phone: 305-819-4000


Book Review: Wings of Madness: Alberto Santos-Dumont and the Invention of Flight (Paul Hoffman, 2003, Hyperion)

The life of Alberto Santos-Dumont, as portrayed sympathetically and with great readability by biographer Paul Hoffman, could be a metaphor for Andy Warhol’s promise of "15 minutes of fame." Santos-Dumont streaked like a meteor across Parisian and world stages for a few glorious years, but the Brazilian aeronaut’s contributions to early powered lighter- and heavier-than-air experiments at the turn and in the first decade of the last century are known today only to a handful of truly devoted aviation buffs and historians.

In a nutshell, Santos-Dumont was one of those rare visionaries who saw clear solutions to issues that had bedeviled previous controlled lighter-than-air operations and had the nerve to implement and then personally test his innovations. His sequence of semi-rigid blimps, most merely numbered but some affectionately named, incorporated the results of occasional perfect flights as well as the gleanings of multiple ditchings, gasbag mishaps, tree and rooftop snags, engine failures, and other dangerous snafus. �

Santos-Dumont had little patience with ground testing, and his ego sometimes lead him into the air when cooler heads would have remained earthbound. He really did not have aerial heroes, but his fearlessness as he tooled around Paris in his various machines created legions of fans and admirers—as well as the inevitable host of enemies and detractors—who logged his every minute in flight. His desire to leave a lasting aeronautic legacy resulted as well in some nasty exchanges with the organizers of major expositions and prizes, so popular at the time, which author Hoffman presents most tastefully.

Having exhausted his patience with balloons and dirigibles, Santos-Dumont turned his attention to the problems of heavier-than-air flight. His short hops in No. 14-bis in 1906 established him as Europe’s first observed flier at a time when the exploits of the Wright brothers were largely unknown. An artifact of Santos-Dumont’s later descent into madness was his attempt to identify himself as the world’s first flier. By 1909, Santos-Dumont had built and flown his famous diminutive Demoiselle, his realization of a personal flying machine that was replicated around the world.

The Great War, and the evolving role of airplanes as weapons of mass destruction, left Santos-Dumont despondent and ashamed. He had hoped that the destructive power of aerial bombing would somehow shock nations of the world into renouncing war as an instrument of policy. Santos-Dumont ended his participation in the disarmament dialog with his suicide in 1932.

During this centennial of flight, it’s been fashionable for some writers to attempt to downplay the role of the Wright brothers, or to attribute various advances to the spadework of others. Sadly, the "wings of madness" upon which Santos-Dumont descended into a personal hell did much to damage the reputation of a man who was considered a "has been" by the start of World War I, if indeed he was considered at all.

Paul Hoffman does a masterful job of bringing to life one of the true eccentrics of early flying and builds a story of success after success, tempered with occasional bouts of foul humor. Unhappily, for Santos-Dumont, success without adulation really wasn’t enough. In the end, he was an unhappy man who for a bright shining season overcame his own, mostly self-imposed, limitations to reach for the heavens.

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