To overhaul or not to overhaul.
That was the question facing Air France Industries KLM Engineering and Maintenance as the Engine Control Units of its Boeing 737 Next Generation fleet neared the 30,000 flight hour mark. Outsourcing the overhaul of these units would mean great expense, long turnaround times, and a loss of revenue. But AFI KLM E&M didn’t have equipment that would allow them to meet the ECU vendor’s stringent testing requirements.
Fortunately, through thorough investigation and some clever engineering, AFI KLM E&M discovered a low-cost solution which would allow them to do the overhaul themselves – a solution from the same company the ECU vendor uses to test the units during manufacture.
A World Leader in MRO
AFI KLM is responsible for all MRO of its parent airlines’, Air France and KLM, vast fleet of aircraft. They constitute the 2nd largest aircraft MRO organization in the world, with a work force of more than 14,000 employees.
AFI KLM E&M is also a business unit, with a goal to not only serve its parent airlines but also to generate work from outside the company. AFI KLM E&M’s customers are mostly other airlines, both large and small. They also do occasional work on NATO military aircraft.
A Letter from the Manufacturer
As the first of KLM’s Boeing 737 NG aircraft approached 30,000 hours of flight time, AFI KLM E&M looked into the overhaul of their engines and ECUs. What they found surprised them.
A Service Information Letter from the ECU vendor, FADEC International (a joint venture of BAE Systems and SAGEM), laid out requirements for a 30,000-hour overhaul and recertification. AFI KLM E&M found they would have to perform a complete wiring integrity check on the more than 2,000 pins of the unit’s front and back panels. Many of the tests would involve high-voltage, and thus require special protection.
The magnitude of the circuit connections and measurements involved was unlike anything AFI KLM E&M had done before. They needed some sort of automated system, but had nothing of the kind on hand.
“We really didn’t have anything capable of doing that,” said Zafar Haji, a software development engineer in KLM E&M’s Avionics Department. “You have a lot of solutions where you can switch measurements. And you have instruments that can do high voltage. But the combination was very difficult.”
A Potential Lose/Lose Scenario
The situation was difficult for Haji and AFI KLM E&M. If they were unable to find a system that could perform the required tests in a timely, safe and cost-effective manner, they would have to outsource the ECU overhaul. For AFI KLM E&M, that represented a lose/lose scenario.
The first loss would result from higher costs. Outsourcing to another vendor would be very expensive. Plus, turnaround time would be longer. This would force AFI KLM E&M to stock additional spares, adding to both material and administrative expenses.
The second loss would be one of revenue. AFI KLM E&M would not be able to offer this overhaul service to customers. With more than 6,000 Boeing 737 Next Generations delivered or on order (according to Boeing.com), they would be missing out on a significant market.