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MECH9002-Innovation And Knowledge Management

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The decision to invest in KM at ACME Aero Repairs was largely driven by the potential cost of mistakes. A study of the six most common “substantial” part changes/overhauls ordered by maintenance groups outside of regular service times found that almost half were unnecessary. Investment in KM was confined to the order-entry system, because that system is central to maintenance crews delivering making safe and trustworthy repairs. When repair crews order part testing, part repair or part change, they're translating their judgments into actions. This is the moment when outside knowledge is most valuable. Without the system, they would have no easy way to access others' knowledge in real time.

Here's how the KM system works. Let's say ACME Engineer has a customer, Air-Ryan, with a flashing pressurisation warning lamp on an aircraft door. This is one of 3 lamps used to signify an issue with the pressurisation system. No damage to the door pressurisation mechanism is obvious and he/she assumes that there is no problem with the system and so decides to replace the single lamp which is faulty. As he/she logs on to the computer to order the replacement lamp, the system automatically checks that actual plane’s records for previous problems. There has never been a problem with that particular lamp/plane combination before but another plane in the fleet, built at the same time, was found to also have had problems with the same warning lamp failing. The computer brings that problem to ACME Engineer’s attention and asks if he wants to continue with the order.

He asks the system for details of the specific problem. It could have been something relatively minor, like just a single bulb blowing, or major, like failure of the actual seal which could potentially lead to pressurisation loss which would be extremely serious. After serious analysis the other problem was found to be just blown bulbs. ACME Engineer decides to override the computer's recommendation and proceed with the bulb changing, judging that, since only a single bulb is faulty, and that there is no visible sign of damage, that there is no reason to consider a more serious incident will occur. The system lets him do that, but it requires him to give a reason for overriding its recommendation.

Of central importance to the design of the integrated order-entry/KM system at ACME Aero Repairs was the formation of centralized committees who were given the responsibility to create and maintain the knowledge repository. Only engineers at the top of their game were permitted to sit on these committees, and were given the authority to identify, refine, and update the knowledge used in each domain. One of these committees of experts was the source of the knowledge presented to ACME Engineer in the anecdote quoted above.

Despite the authoritative source of the knowledge presented to engineers at the time of order entry, ACME Aero Repairs took a position of deference with respect to the decisions made by front line, practicing engineers on the shop floor. "With high-end knowledge workers like engineers," they reasoned, "it would be a mistake to remove them from the decision-making process; they might end up resenting or rejecting the system if it changed their role – and with good reason. Because overreliance on computerized knowledge can easily lead to mistakes, ACME Aero Repairs' system presents engineers with recommendations, not commands. The hope is that they will combine their own knowledge with the system's."

As a result of the integrated order-entry/KM system at ACME Aero Repairs, several benefits in the form of reduced airplane downtime for customers were realized. "Out of the 200 orders entered on an average day by engineers, 18 are changed as a result of a computer suggestion. When recommendations, or conflict warnings, are generated a third to a half of the orders are cancelled. The company's event-detection system generates more than 3000 alerts per year; as a result of these alerts, repairs are changed 72% of the time – a sign that the hybrid human-computer system at ACME Aero Repairs is working as it should." Innovation and Knowledge Management, Supplemental 2018 (Module: MECH 9002) Also illustrative of the impact that KM had at ACME Aero Repairs were the following results: A controlled study of the system's impact on safety-critical errors and airplane downtime found that serious errors were reduced by 55% and 75% respectively. When ACME Aero Repairs’ experts established that a new bulb was particularly long-lasting, orders for that particular make of bulb increased, from 12% to 81% of the total bulbs ordered. When the system began recommending the reduced use of a particular solvent for window cleaning, the percent of orders entered for it changed from 75% to 6%. When the system began to remind engineers that planes requiring new tyres should also be checked for brake discs, the frequency of orders for brake discs doubled.

Read the case study that you have been given regarding ACME Aero Repairs and answer the following questions: 

1) Would you consider this to be a successful KM system?

2) Why?

3) What evidence is there, if any, of single and double loop learning?

4) Draw a diagram detailing how engineers in ACME Aero Repairs take decisions. Include all the steps in the process.

5) How is this KM system managing knowledge (a) for the individual technician and (b) for the organisation? How would you classify the knowledge that is being managed? (Drawing a diagram of the overall knowledge cycle described in the case will be of help in answering this; show all the actions in the cycle).

6) Make four suggestions on how ACME Aero Repairs might develop their KM System?

7) A competitor, Lingus Air Maintenance, has recently made a bid for the company and the company directors of ACME Aero Repairs appear to be happy to sell the business subject to approval of the shareholders. What kind of challenges do you think that such action might cause for the order entry/KM system currently in use? How would you propose the company deal with such challenges to minimise overall disruption on the company and its customers?

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