Adventures in Alpha Land

Episode 17: Tim Wright on Tablet Applications in Manufacturing

Tim Wright is an independent developer with a special focus on maintenance management applications. We talk about the pain points aircraft parts manufacturers experience in dealing with massive amounts of regulations and associated paper work, and the need they have for easily produced tablet apps.
Show Notes

00:00 Adam: Intro to episode 17.

00:30 Tim: My computing background as an independent consultant.

00:41 Tim: I've been working with an aircraft parts manufacturer for a number of years and have built a large system in MS Access.

01:07 Tim: For the last couple of years I've had requests for remote apps. They currently have to use paper for each step of a transaction and then enter it into the computer.

02:03 Tim: Tablet apps would be fantastic in this case.

02:42 Tim: We now print out work orders, put them on a clipboard, and then use data entry for the results. This causes lags at several points in the process.

03:59 Tim: The other issue is the manufacturing of parts, which requires a huge amount of record keeping.

04:35 Tim: With a tablet app the data could be collected in the field and then synched when the tablet reaches a wifi connection. Everything in aircraft maintenance is done just in time, anything that reduces lags would be a real benefit.

05:13 Adam: Detailed logging in aircraft maintenance seems like a major task. You need the complete provenance for every part.

05:45 Tim: We have to keep detailed records starting with raw materials all the way to delivery. This is a certificate of compliance kept for every single part. It's mind boggling.

06:36 Adam: Even a bolt?

06:37 Tim: Absolutely. The company I work for makes bolts. All of the measurements have to be recorded for every unit.

07:03 Adam: How is photographic data managed? Do you have to photograph the part after installation as well as during manufacturing?

07:29 Tim: Once a part is delivered, the aircraft manufacturer takes care of photos at that stage.

07:49 Tim: But in the event of a failure, every single part has to be traceable, and we have to produce all of the data, including original drawings, photographs, the mill specs for the raw material, everything.

08:38 Tim: We are using photographs taken with a digital camera and stored on a server separately from the database of form data.

08:59 Tim: They can annotate the images in the database, but it is very clumsy. They have to write notes describing what is in the photos.

09:21 Tim: To be able to take a photo on an iPad, have the photo attached to the data record, and then mark up the photo directly with a finger or stylus would be a godsend.

10:00 Adam: As someone who has worked in retail, I find the management of thousands of SKUs fascinating. It seems like the opportunity for mistakes, fraud, and tampering are tremendous when the photos are a separate database entry from the primary record.

10:57 Adam: If the date, time and geocoded location of when the photo was taken is recorded automatically, that would reduce these problems. That sounds like it would become part of the regulations.

11:19 Tim: We are very careful about protecting this photographic data. When we built this with Access we had to split the photos into multiple databases to manage the storage.

12:39 Tim: A lot of the manufactured parts come with a contract requiring us to retain these detailed records for 5 years, or even forever. We have to track every revision to the part over its lifetime.

14:07 Adam: You said there are multiple companies involved, suppliers and aircaft manufacturers.

14:22 Tim: In fact the suppliers are world-wide. Some may be in Ireland, others in Hong Kong.

14:36 Adam: So there are suppliers all over the world, and multiple aircraft manufacturers. They all have to have their data synched. How is this done? Are there APIs? Does paper pass back and forth?

15:27 Tim: When we deliver a part, we deliver a paper based certificate of compliance with the essential data. If needed, we can go back to the database to get a complete history for a part.

16:29 Tim: I would not be surprised if this data will have to be delivered electronically along with the part in the next few years.

16:47 Adam: Doing this onsite would require lots of people typing all the time. Unless the data was delivered with a tablet in the field and synced with the central computer.

17:27 Adam: This brings up the idea of traffic control. Considering the extreme cost when an aircraft is not in the air.

17:39 Tim: We get requests called AOGs for aircraft on ground. We get calls that say "We need this part, and we need it yesterday. Get it to us no matter the cost, anywhere in the world."

19:03 Tim: We have to know at any given moment where all the parts and their raw materials are.

19:10 Adam: I've been talking to lots of people about tablet apps, and the latency or lag time to get info from the field is a constant issue. Syncing from the data collection point is very valuable.

20:18 Tim: We run into this every single day.

20:28 Tim: Another issue is providing the owner of the company with complete manufacturing data on a tablet when he goes on sales calls. He wants to drill down on any part while in a meeting.

22:42 Adam: As a sales tactic showing the movement of parts in real-time would be very impressive.

23:28 Tim: Another request is that there are about half a dozen guys in the manufacturing facility walking around and also getting calls from customers. They have to go to a computer and kick someone off just to get the production status of a specific part. The biggest request is for these people to get the info on a mobile device while walking around the factory.

25:17 Adam: You use the phrase "peoplw who are walking around." They aren't sitting at a computer. They need a tablet with the answers while they are still standing up.

26:14 Tim: The owner of the company has 4 desks around the facility so he can get to a computer quickly to answer a customer call.

27:12 Adam: What about Alpha Anywhere? Are you evaluating it for use with a tablet?

27:20 Tim: Absolutely. I've found it to be very flexible and powerful. When I looked at it I said "This is the way to go." ASAP.