Boeing and EffectiveUI

Please tell us about your mobile solution or application, and help us understand what makes it noteworthy or exceptional.: 

The Boeing Company, in collaboration with airlines from around the world, has created a set of mobile applications that will improve the efficiency of airplane repairs by providing at-the-airplane access to the technical information and maintenance tracking records needed to quickly perform non-routine maintenance tasks. This improved efficiency helps airlines to achieve schedule reliability and avoid costly maintenance-related flight delays or cancellations, providing reduced costs and bottom line benefits for airline maintenance operations. On-time performance also enhances the overall airline passenger experience, fostering trust and loyalty from the airlines’ customers. Boeing conducted extensive research with its airline customers, and found that the maintenance process was often very time consuming. The research suggested that airplane maintenance teams would substantially benefit from a more streamlined way of finding the information and parts inventory needed to repair aircraft. In a typical line maintenance activity, the mechanic would investigate the airplane problem, and then travel back to the hangar or base office where they would then log in to multiple systems in order to find all of the parts and information needed to make the repair. The mechanic would then return back to the airplane to fix the problem. However, if they found that they needed more information or didn’t have the right parts, the entire process would start all over again, potentially resulting in costly flight delays. During the research, Boeing learned from maintenance teams that in addition to needing ways to enhance maintenance processes, they also needed a method to increase the accuracy of shared information and collaboration between repair team members. Boeing’s mobile applications improve communication and collaboration in troubleshooting maintenance issues and problems, by providing a means to document the discussions and share instructions so that everyone sees the same information. Additionally, in an industry where English is the global standard but not always the primary spoken language for people involved in the repairs, this more visual, digital method for communicating reduces the risk of misinterpretation inherent in verbal translation amongst team members. With design help from EffectiveUI, the Boeing team developed this mobile maintenance applications suite to empower the mechanic with everything they need to investigate problems, find repair information and instructions, and determine part availability, while also providing a secure and organized way to report back into the airline’s maintenance information system. The design focuses on simplicity and a straightforward flow to streamline the process as efficiently as possible. The three applications in the mobile maintenance suite are:

  • Maintenance Turn Time
  • Available for iPad, iPhone or the Web
  • Enables complete troubleshooting support at the airplane
  • Enables electronic organization and creation of rich-media artifacts (e.g. photos, audio, diagrams…) for investigating and documenting maintenance actions
  • Damage to airplane structure can be plotted using an interactive three-dimensional model to pinpoint its location
  • Enables two-way electronic collaboration with the rest of the maintenance organization from the technician’s location, at the airplane or in the hangar
  • Creates electronic maintenance cases to track the maintenance investigation process, decisions made, and maintenance completion actions Toolbox Mobile Library
  • Provides full access to the complete set of the airline’s maintenance and technical documentation needed to perform maintenance tasks
  • Available on- and offline for access to documentation
  • Purposefully designed for the best usability on a mobile device •Integrates with other Boeing mobile maintenance solutions Toolbox Mobile Parts
  • One-click integration with the complete Illustrated Parts Catalog, which lists all parts installed on the airplane
  • Provides real-time access to check availability of airplane parts in inventory while still at the airplane
  • Determines alternate part numbers (as managed by internal airline systems) •Integrates with other Boeing mobile maintenance solutions
What can others learn from how you conceived of and designed your mobile solution or application?: 

Rather than trying to build a complex app that did a lot of things for a lot of people, we focused on a specific job role at an airline: the line mechanic. Line mechanics are typically responsible for maintenance activities that take place in between flights, at the gate. In this job, there is high pressure and mechanics have to respond and make any necessary maintenance repairs quickly to maintain on-time performance on the airline’s flight schedules. We used the Lean Start-up technique of identifying the Minimum Viable Product that would enable us to get to market quickly with the most important features. We brought in airline line mechanics into a workshop and dug deeply into their daily activities and information needs to determine where their significant “pain points” were, and identified areas where efficiency and productivity could be improved. The research suggested that one of the areas where airplane maintenance teams could clearly benefit would be enabling a more streamlined way of accessing the maintenance documentation and parts information needed to repair the airplane. A substantial amount of time was wasted going back and forth from maintenance offices or hangars to the aircraft at the gate. Together we developed multiple proposals for addressing these pain points areas, and through teaming processes we crafted the best of breed solution to build for the market. By maintaining our focus on the minimum, critical needs for a specific job role at the airline, we were able to clearly define the scope of the development activity, enabling us to deploy functional software for field testing within 90 days of the project inception.

Please describe how the concept for your mobile solution or application came about, and what research, information, inspiration, etc. informed it.: 

This solution evolved from a hypothesis that mobility and mobile devices would make people who perform airplane maintenance more efficient. We conducted a workshop and field testing as described above to validate this hypothesis.

How does your mobile solution or application take advantage of the unique device capabilities, contexts of use, modes of use, and other factors to create a new and valuable experience or utility?: 

The target users of these solutions have had access to digital documentation and laptop computers for more than a decade, yet most still opted to print troubleshooting and repair instructions in the office and carry them to the airplane. These apps provide a practical solution for Mechanic to easily carry the full range of documentation to the airplane, ending the extra printing step and creating a fully “paperless” maintenance process for the first time. Information security is a constant concern for airlines. Our solutions allow real time collaboration including secure use of photo/video capabilities of the tablet. Photos taken with the device camera can be annotated with dimensions and notes within the app and securely shared by the Mechanic with specialists and Engineers in other cities. This allows for troubleshooting and maintenance planning and analysis to happen much faster, resulting in fewer flight delays.

In what ways has your mobile solution or application benefited the lives and/or work of its users in ways that weren’t previously possible?: 

Airplane maintenance is very complex and reliant on having correct information. There are many information systems available for airplane mechanics but they are typically accessible only in a central location at an airport. The information from these systems is needed at the airplane, so the current process was to rely on hard-copy printing, which resulted in lots of time wasted for mechanics in transit to and from the airplane to obtain additional information. Any unexpected conditions encountered during a maintenance activity would require the mechanic to go back to the maintenance base again to research and gather more documentation. Our mobile solution brings access to these systems directly to the point of use: the airplane. Mechanics can access the full set of information they need at any time, anywhere on the flight line or in the hangar.

If applicable, how did you adapt your solution or application to differing platforms?: 

Our solution is currently available as an iOS application only due to prevalence of Apple mobile devices in the airline community. We are seeing increasing interest in Android and Windows applications from our airline customers and are exploring possible pilot projects to deliver the application on those platforms as well.

How might your mobile solution or application serve as inspiration or a starting point for future innovations for mobile platforms?: 

There are myriad opportunities to support mobile solutions for workers in the airline industry, but there is just as much opportunity to apply what we have developed internally to airplane manufacturing processes, or possibly for other equipment manufacturing processes as well. We are actively leveraging what we have learned into both internal and external business processes.