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Making the most of the mechanic’s Mentor

When flight attendants discovered that the PA system of a commercial aircraft was inoperative in flight but worked well on the ground, they reported the problem to maintenance. Technicians replaced all related parts several times, but with no success, and the aircraft was taken out of service to troubleshoot the problem.
The fault could be reproduced on the ground by pressurizing the aircraft, which did not make the cause any clearer — until someone suggested bringing in a sound analyser. This approach revealed that the door seal was emitting a high amplitude ultrasonic squeal within the frequency range of the PA system. Since the flight attendant’s microphone was near the door, the squeal saturated the amplifier, making it impossible for a voice to get through.
And so, what might at first glance have looked like an electrical problem with the PA was ultimately solved by fixing the seal on the cabin door.
Faults like these can lead technicians on a merry chase. Even experienced technicians encountering something like this for the first time are unlikely to hit on the real problem right away. And with increasingly limited resources, aging equipment and more complex repairs, the Canadian Forces has fewer technicians scrambling to do more work of this kind.
At the same time, experienced technicians are retiring, taking their irreplaceable expertise out the door with them. So, how can years of hands-on troubleshooting experience and savvy be captured? What can be done to put this store of knowledge into the hands of all technicians, so non-routine faults can be fixed quickly and with minimal waste?
CaseBank Technologies Inc., based in Brampton, Ont., produces a diagnostic knowledge management system that offers an effective response. Called SpotLight™, this powerful diagnostic tool follows the process that a mentor would use in guiding a less experienced technician, while drawing on the cumulative expertise of many.
Through a unique “question and answer” interface, users move directly to the best solutions available in the knowledge base, reducing the list of possible causes while eliminating unrelated faults. As the user works through a session, SpotLight sorts through existing cases based on the similarity of symptoms to those of the current fault, tapping into an underlying knowledge base of more than 1,000 actual maintenance and repair cases to produce a short list of possible faults.
Alternatively, if no solution is known, SpotLight captures the details of the new problem for follow-up, resolution, and future access. In combination, these elements allow SpotLight to deliver a comprehensive, ever-growing knowledge sharing solution, engineered specifically to handle complex modern equipment.
The immediate implications are obvious. By capturing existing expertise and making it accessible to all aircraft technicians, thorny problems like the PA system and the door seal could be resolved more quickly and easily. By allowing the ongoing capture of new information, the knowledge base will continue to grow, becoming more valuable over time.
In addition, the system has web-based capabilities, making current troubleshooting records readily available from one work shift to the next, in the same facility or across the globe, thereby minimizing duplication of effort in the troubleshooting process. website screenshots In this way, where resources are limited and every available asset is to be renewed, recycled and reused, SpotLight allows knowledge to be banked for future use.
The results of a recent trial deployment of SpotLight for the CC130 Hercules aircraft at three CF bases demonstrated a clear opportunity for improved first-time fix rates, better information flow, preservation of expertise, and cost savings. Feedback from surveys and interviews conducted throughout the deployment was positive and included a strong recognition of the value of SpotLight as a troubleshooting support tool and as a store of past and future expertise. A case was also made for its potential contribution to flight safety.
Of course, SpotLight developers will emphasize that its most exceptional features are not visible to the user, but are inherent in the underlying algorithms that power the software. These algorithms replicate a process called case-based reasoning (CBR), which allows the interactive question-and-answer interface to intelligently discriminate between related and unrelated faults based on symptoms provided.
Even beyond the military context, in an increasingly complex and interconnected global market, tools like this will soon become vital to getting the most out of significant investments in complex machinery. At the same time, increased competition for scarce resources will bring even greater pressure on organizations to squeeze all possible efficiency out of their maintenance and repair budgets, which will benefit from effective management of knowledge and expertise.

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