For this manufacturer, Aircraft assembly begins in a large, "moving line" factory where all major components are integrated, including the fuselage, wings and engines. Then the aircraft is moved to a large outdoor flight line and parked in a service stall, where all remaining production, test, and QA tasks are completed. Each stall contains many service and storage sheds for easy access to parts, tools, and equipment. For larger or less frequently used tools and equipment, there are dedicated, large open areas two-three acres in size. The overall outdoor work environment is over 50 acres.
Aircraft assembly includes thousands of manual processes, which require mechanics to use costly, specialized tools and equipment to complete tasks. One of the mechanic's production support teams is Tool Services (TS), responsible for the pickup, delivery, maintenance, and inventory of all tools and equipment utilized for production. Mechanics adjust their scheduled tool requests based on actual completion of prior tasks. When these adjustments occur, it is TS's responsibility to quickly react, fill these requests, and ensure production schedules are met.
For this manufacturer, delays in availability forced the TS to search for tools and equipment based upon the location of the last known user. Impatient mechanics would contact other mechanics to secure the tools they needed. Additionally, due to the many manual steps involved, inaccurate information was recorded in the tool management system (TMS). These non-documented transactions and errors compromised the system. This also created an environment where workers would hoard and pre-request tools.
In addition, management desired to reduce the time from issuing the tools services work orders to tool delivery time. Delays in tool deliveries created work delays, resulting in order slippages. Given the large outdoor geographical area of over 50 acres, finding misplaced tools generated waste in overtime labor. A TS supervisor stated, "Finding a tool in a multi-acreage flight line is like finding a needle in a haystack".
Tool and equipment inventory minimums reached an all time high, as production goals increased. Management purchased and leased tools and equipment based on inventory minimum/maximum levels and inaccurate usage reports that portrayed the majority of out of stock tools as "In Use". Lack of visibility affected productivity and resulted in excess equipment spend. It also exposed the company to Sarbanes Oxley audits and delays in achieving tool certification—a critical aspect of meeting FAA aircraft flightworthy compliance.
This motivated TS management to explore options related to increasing asset visibility and automating tool management software with an end goal of increasing operational efficiency and limiting their CapEx spend rate.