The Difficulty With Preserving Field Knowledge

To make matters worse, the collective experience of these (soon-to-be) retirees has not been captured or documented. When they leave, critical knowledge about diagnosing, maintaining and repairing equipment will go with them, unless companies quickly implement strategies for capturing and preserving their experience, while it is still available for capture. Without a proper strategy for collecting critical knowledge and delivering it to inexperienced technicians, service levels will plummet and costs soar.

male technician fixing airplane

This product support issue is magnified in the world of complex equipment like planes, trains and automobiles, but also in other domains (semiconductor, medical, robotics, manufacturing, etc.), where proper diagnosis and fast repairs rely heavily on a technician’s expertise/experience. While machine self-diagnosis is improving, it remains far from perfect, and is therefore not a viable alternative to experience. Making matters worse, emerging self-diagnosis capabilities in machines are largely associated with new designs and digital controls, but that’s not the profile of much of the equipment currently being supported in the field. All of this is happening at a time when the aerospace industry (and other industries) are predicting a huge demand for additional technicians based on scheduled equipment deliveries.

Judging by current press coverage, as well as conferences and papers concerning ‘grey-out’ and knowledge retention, effective retention tools appear to be scarce or simply nonexistent. In the world of complex systems, methodologies for the proper capture, validation and preservation of experience are at best convoluted and inefficient, at worst hopelessly inadequate. Knowledge management does not necessarily mean knowledge retention – a knowledge management approach with a “searchable database” is not a solution to the problem of preserving perishable knowledge. However, real solutions do exist.

How A Modern Aircraft Diagnostic System Can Help

SpotLight® interactive guided diagnostic system is a prime example of delivering an experience to those in need and capturing experience from those who possess it. The SpotLight solution replaces the Fault Isolation Manual (FIM) and/or Troubleshooting Guides (TSG) typically authored by engineers and containing anticipated failure modes, with a database that combines that guidance with failure modes derived from “real-world” experience. Adding to that a diagnostic reasoning engine, which dynamically evaluates the database for given initial symptoms, ATP’s approach provides an optimized and trustworthy troubleshooting process that rapidly identifies a root cause, minimizing the cost and time of the process itself, but also providing significant savings in parts. The use of such a database, means that an unlimited number of failure modes can be included, new symptoms and configurations can easily be added and troubleshooting sessions can be evaluated to detect emerging problems or trends. In those cases where a solution is not found, the system triggers an escalation process to engage experts – who are largely the greying-out population – thereby effectively capturing important details to modify a failure mode or generate a new one.

The dialogue and forensics that occur during and after problem escalation are the key to efficient knowledge retention. Over time, tacit or tribal knowledge is formally captured, validated and preserved in the database, available to the generations of technicians and support personnel that follow.

In addition to incorporating all known and anticipated failure modes, the fault isolation database can also incorporate information derived from maintenance reports, maintenance records and other field data. ATP provides sophisticated analysis tools that extract meaningful information from service records and field reports to expand the database with additional failure modes, observations, symptoms and root causes.

The ATP approach to guided diagnostics delivers validated troubleshooting processes derived from both engineering and field service to meet the demands of equipment OEMs and operators and complies with the requirements of regulatory bodies such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

About the Author: ATP

ATP is the leading provider of maintenance tracking, flight operations, inventory management, repetitive defect analysis, and troubleshooting software. The company’s applications help reduce operating costs, improve aircraft reliability, and supports technical knowledge sharing and collaboration within the business aviation, military/defense, commercial aviation, and OEM industries.

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