A Case for Maintenance Information Standards in Public Transportation

In an environment of shrinking budgets and evolving technologies that often lead to increased customer expectations, the organizations that make up the public transportation sector need to adopt standards on how maintenance documentation is managed through the life cycle of a program or product. Such standards would increase the efficiency of operators while reducing the operating costs associated with public transportation. Maintenance data has value that can benefit the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) and the maintainer. Standards, when applied properly, bring that value to the forefront.

OEMs have started to shift from a traditional paper delivery of information related to parts, documents, and diagrams to electronic delivery of this robust information. And for good reason: A set of maintenance information for a light rail passenger train or metro bus that would fill a bookcase and costs thousands of dollars to develop and ship can now be stored and transmitted on a single DVD. The savings to the OEM in printing and shipping is substantial. Pushing technical revisions can be done in seconds, compounding the savings for manufacturer and operator. Furthermore, in an electronic paradigm, the maintainer is always able to find the current and correct information, saving time and preventing or immediately correcting errors. Electronic data makes the overall logistic cost/value for maintenance data (including parts information) an integral part of any organization, both for the OEM and its suppliers as well as end-users of the data.

But for all of the advantages that electronic maintenance information offers, there remains the task for operators to integrate information from multiple suppliers in multiple formats and structures. This is where maintenance information standards would reduce the implementation efforts for operators and increase the efficiency of the technician. Standards allow for multiple parties to create technical information with a common structure. The operator would know where to find the correct information and how to navigate through the data regardless of the supplier. Standards could drive a standard format (e.g., XML) so that the industry is working in a universal format.

This is not a new concept. The commercial airline industry implemented ATA (Air Transport Association) standards to streamline maintenance information in that industry. A numbering system was adopted such that the mechanic knows that “Chapter 28” will be the fuel system, regardless of the manufacturer. The semiconductor industry implemented the SEMI E36 standard so that manufacturers and operators of very complex equipment would know how the maintenance information would be formatted and structured. In the last five years, the drug industry and FDA have adopted a standard for prescribing information called Structured Product Labeling (SPL) allowing physicians to have a standard presentation of medical information. The information can be leveraged to reduce dosing errors and improve patient safety.

The benefit to OEMs is significant. For procedural information there would be no question as to how information would be structured, formatted and managed. For parts information there would be a pre-defined configuration as to what would be included and how hierarchical information is presented. Schematics are presented in a universally accepted format that eliminates the need for proprietary browsers. These information architecture questions are resolved based on the community’s needs so there is no wasted effort in each OEM ‘reinventing the wheel’ in a vacuum. The benefit to operators is substantial. Time for research is greatly reduced when the maintenance organization works to one data standard. Data delivery tools can be easily deployed and used. There is no longer an effort to re-format and re-structure content to a one-off specification. Most operators will want a common ‘look and feel’ to the maintenance information, especially parts information. The typical Parts Catalog is composed of graphics and parts lists. The parts lists will have information associated with each part in the assembly, including:

• Part Number
• Part Name
• Part Description
• Units Per Assembly
• “Use On” Code
• Part Weight

Each operator integrates parts information with an Enterprise Requirements Planning (ERP) system that tracks quantity available, pricing and other issues associated with making sure the correct quantity of parts are in stock. Regardless of supplier, each transit system will strive to have the same basic information presented to the technician or mechanic and the same basic information to import into the ERP system. The ‘
information architecture’ associated with defining the desired layout and structure of technical information can be conservatively estimated at $25,000 per transit system and the cost of homogenizing how parts information is structured can easily exceed $15,000 per supplier. Assuming that each transit system receives maintenance information from ten suppliers and that there are 50 major transit systems in the United States, that’s almost a nine million dollar problem -- before factoring in the revisions to the information that have to be incorporated.

($25,000 x 50) + ($15,000 x 10 x 50) = $8,750,000.

With a pre-defined standard that OEMs and Operators agree to, that’s at least nine million dollars that could be used for reduced fares, higher salaries and new equipment. Implementing standards does not have to be a lengthy project. Fortunately, the work in commercial aerospace (a variation of public transportation) that the ATA has done can be leveraged and adapted to the light rail and bus community to make this project one that can be fast-tracked from start to initial release in an 18- to 24-month period, avoiding the ‘analysis paralysis’ that often stalls many a well-meaning initiative.

As we are on the cusp of electronic Technical Manuals (eTMs) and electronic Illustrated Parts Catalogs (eIPCs) in the public transit arena, the time is right to adopt standards that would truly be a Win-Win solution for OEMs and operators.

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