When people outside of the industry think of aviation inventory storerooms—chances are, they’re picturing a well-oiled machine of efficiency and organization. If you’ve worked in the industry, you know that, more often than not, the truth leaves much to be desired in the ways of efficiency and organization.
When a mechanic needs a part for an aircraft, they’re often forced to wait for half an hour (or longer) while a harried warehouse worker searches through hundreds of disorganized bins for one part that looks like countless others.
And that’s the good outcome. Sometimes, the warehouse worker can’t find the part at all—in which case mechanics can’t service the plane until the warehouse receives the necessary part and pays a premium for shipping overnight. That can lead to delayed repairs, grounded aircraft, canceled flights and logistical nightmares.
Given this laundry list of problems, running an aviation storeroom perfectly would require superhuman attention—which is why normal humans can’t be expected to do it very effectively on their own.
The solution is automation: a system that makes vending, tracking, and organization a no-brainer—literally.
Problems and solutions
Problem: Long Wait Times
When you’re running a multi-billion dollar airline, every second matters. Long wait times can mean the difference between a flight taking off or being grounded.
But even on a smaller scale, consider the befuddled warehouse worker. How many hours do they spend looking for a particular part on any given day, week, or year? It’s not just their wasted time—what about the mechanic, the air traffic controller, and the bus driver, who all work late. More paid time means more money wasted. This snowball effect unfortunately is often the rule versus the exception.
But that’s not the only delay that has to be endured. Most storerooms count their inventory only once (or twice) a year—a costly and lengthy process that diverts scarce human resources from their normal routine. A process that is often riddled with errors because it is not routinely done. Because of this, on-hand inventory levels are rarely accurate unless they are queried shortly after the annual or semi-annual cycle-count happens. As such, it’s not uncommon for an aircraft MRO operation to run out of a part without knowing it. And that is the BIG problem that airlines are often faced with in today’s inventory control environment.
Usually, they’ll only discover that they’ve run out of a part when they actively need it. Meaning the aircraft will have to be grounded until the part can be sourced. And airplanes on the ground don’t make money….
Global supply chain disruptions can further compound these problems. Being in a stock-out situation is exponentially more disastrous when a new order is placed, only to find out that the delivery timing is “TBD”.
Solution: Right Parts and Right Tools Are Always Available
Automated storage options enable daily checks that keep inventory accuracy up-to-date, mitigating the risk of any of the above nightmare scenarios from ever happening. The system can even provide alerts (regular reports, targeted e-mail or other communications) when a particular part is running low so it can be re-ordered well in advance of when it is needed. No more fire-fighting and expensive overnight rush orders of parts (assuming those parts can be located within the supply chain).
Automation can reduce other kinds of delays, as well. When using highly organized storage systems like Vertical Lift Modules for aircraft parts, there are no more mechanics waiting in line to get their parts. That’s because the desired part is immediately available. All the mechanic has to do is submit an order, and the system will present them with a gridded shelf of parts and direct them to the bin that contains the part they need.
One top of all these benefits, the utilization of valuable real estate is optimized. The same amount of inventory can often be stored on a fraction of the footprint of traditional storeroom sizes – routinely 10% of the previous footprint or less. It’s not uncommon to store up to 10,000 aircraft parts within a 150 square foot space in a maintenance hangar. And any single part can be accessed within 30 seconds of request, 24/7!.
Problem: Human Error
People just weren’t made to perpetually navigate complex warehouse operations. It’s nobody’s fault—humans just can’t reliably keep track of all the moving parts under stress, high rates of turn-over, etc. .
The consequences can be disastrous. Workers can mix things up when they’re in a rush, putting a part in the wrong bin or losing parts altogether. Worse, they could lose or even steal a part and never record the absence. And when individual parts can cost thousands of dollars, the damage is palpable.
Even when a worker has done their due diligence when taking out an airline part, they can make mistakes when they’re recording the transaction. The “fat-finger error” can occur when a person accidentally hits the wrong key when typing and inputs the incorrect code.
In an aviation warehouse, this can easily happen because most of the part numbers are 16 digits long. A worker only has to “mispress” a single digit to mess up the entire system.
Solution: Operational Precision
Automated solutions can remove human error from the equation entirely.
For one thing, “fat-finger errors” are a thing of the past with automated solutions that rely on bar code scanning, circumventing manual code input altogether.
Better yet, automation keeps track of every single part by requiring workers to electronically check each part out and (if it’s a reusable tool) check in again. That way, every part and tool is accounted for and in the right bin.
Problem: Employee Turnover
There’s already a shortage of skilled warehouse labor, and it’s unlikely to get better soon. Warehouse workers generally aren’t well-compensated and their job is often difficult and stressful enough that turnover is understandably high.
This is especially problematic for aircraft maintenance hangar positions, due to the huge number of unique aircraft parts to be managed. Each new employee must be trained on how to navigate their particular warehouse, keep inventory, and handle orders. This process can often take 6 months or more before they are ready to perform their roles independently.
High turnover results in lots of money and time wasted on workers who immediately “get going” when the going gets tough.
Solution: Happier, Loyal Employees
Automation can mitigate employee turnover. It’s interesting, fun to learn and actually does what it is designed to do (and keeps doing it without burning people out).
With automated, efficient systems, aircraft maintenance operations can employ a smaller, more incentivized workforce in their warehouses, saving them money on wages and training.
In fact, with Tier1 MRO’s technology-based solutions, all these workers really have to do is responsibly navigate the automated system’s electronic interfaces to order parts, check them in and out, and return reusable tools to their designated locations. .
Tier1 MRO provides training to each individual as needed until they are capable of operating independently. And remote support is only a phone call away after the project implementation is completed. Custom tutorial videos are developed and QR codes are placed on each piece of equipment installed for easy reference using the mechanic or attendant’s mobile phone.
Get ahead of the curve with Tier1 MRO
Better organization and efficiency create better places to work. Automation permeates all industries—inventory management and control is no different. So why not make the transition now and save yourself money, headaches and lost business down the line?
Contact Tier1 MRO today to learn more about how our automated storage solutions can work for you.