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14-04-2020

The Role of Supply Chain Robotics and Voice Technology in Airline MRO

Advances in supply chain technology can help keep planes in the air and ensure that passengers arrive at their intended destinations on time.

Robotics and Voice Inspection in Airline MRO

When a plane is delayed due to maintenance issues, a collective groan can be heard from anxious passengers ready to reach their destinations. But what happens next? If significant work is required, the aircraft is sent to the warehouse for maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO).

Passenger planes, cargo carriers, and even military aircrafts all require periodic maintenance. But despite the airline industry’s focus on pre-flight efficiency — think online check-in, facial recognition kiosks, etc. — we have yet to see this level of productivity enter the MRO market.

The MRO market is rapidly expanding along with the growth of commercial aviation. In fact, experts anticipate total aviation MRO spend will hit $116 billion by 2029, up from $81.9 billion in 2019.[1] As the MRO market rises to meet demand, efficient warehouse management systems and labor management platforms are becoming more important than ever before.

Inventory Management Challenges in the MRO Market

Managing levels of inventory for must-have, high-value parts and supplies is complicated. If an airline has too much of one particular part on hand, valuable storage space is wasted. That’s the best-case scenario. In the worst case, the parts expire as new models emerge, putting a dent in an airline’s bottom line.

Alternatively, companies that fail to have enough inventory wind up setting flight schedules back even further as they wait for the necessary parts to arrive. Some will turn to expedited shipping in these scenarios. While this can be costly, a plane that’s out of commission is even more expensive. As John Selden, General Manager of Atlanta International Airport (the busiest airport in the world), puts it: “An airplane only makes money when it's in the air."[2]

Upfront costs aside, an inefficient supply chain also damages an airline’s reputation among customers. On-time service is a critical component of airline success — it’s what differentiates the mediocre companies from the all-stars. Customers made to wait due to maintenance delays will quickly take their business elsewhere.

Rising to the Challenge with Voice Solutions, Autonomous Mobile Robots, and More

Fortunately, MRO facility managers don’t have to look very far for solutions designed to help expedite the repair process. Innovative supply chain technology has evolved to optimize operations and streamline systems, resulting in fewer delays and speedier execution.

Voice picking solutions are just one example of this technology in action. Voice technology eliminates allow employees to move through the warehouse with their hands free, increasing productivity, accuracy, and safety, and decreasing training time and damages. As employees find the replacement parts they need — quickly and efficiently — voice technology speeds up the entire repair process.

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) also have a part to play in optimizing MRO operations. AMRs are designed to autonomously map a facility, navigating around obstacles and human workers through a combination of lasers, scanners, 3D cameras, and audio-visual warning indicators. Rather than sending employees across the warehouse and back every time a new part or tool is needed, maintenance teams can leverage AMRs to locate and deliver the appropriate part at any given point in time. This maximizes employees’ efforts and increases overall productivity.

In addition to voice solutions and supply chain robotics, cloud-based warehouse management systems have the potential to take MRO operations to the next level. Most airlines currently rely on on-premise warehouse management systems to oversee their inventory. Yet cloud inventory management systems are well-equipped to quickly scale as demand rises — a key consideration in light of impending growth within the MRO market.

Reaching New Heights in the MRO Aviation Market

Comprehensive warehouse management systems that incorporate voice solutions, supply chain robotics, and supply chain cloud systems have the power to elevate aviation MRO. Several commercial airlines have begun to dip their toes into this ocean of opportunity, eager to reduce delays and keep their planes off the ground and in the air.

Thanks to these innovative, technology-driven solutions and an agile supply chain, forward-thinking airlines are able to keep maintenance costs down and customers happy.

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