in Maintenance / Features

It's time for spare parts to play more of a leading role

Posted 15 May 2019 · Add Comment

The aircraft parts market is at a crossroads as demand challenges suppliers to come up with solutions that satisfy the requirements of both airworthiness and economics. Chuck Grieve reports.

Today’s civil aircraft operators are faced with a proliferation of choices as they look for the optimum route for maintaining the airworthiness and value of their fleets.
Service providers hope the well-publicised agreement reached between the International Air Transport Association (IATA) and CFM International will persuade more original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to loosen their grip on maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), giving more opportunities for parts manufacturer approval (PMA) spares suppliers.
Others see a strong market developing in used serviceable materials (USMs).
Meanwhile, on the horizon, is additive manufacturing (AM), which aviation industry specialists believe will fundamentally change the way engineers design aircraft and engines, OEMs make them, and MROs maintain them.
Older engines can present a particular challenge, explained Justin Blockley, commercial director of UK-based parts and services supplier Bii.
OEMs will be understandably reluctant to tool up for remanufacture of a limited number of parts – an expensive and time-consuming exercise.
For legacy parts, Blockley says it’s more economical to buy serviceable materials from stockists or operators who have torn down an airframe. On new generation aircraft, such as Airbus A320s, “the maths doesn’t work” for a small player to tear down the airframe and recondition parts itself.
Blockley said Bii sometimes “struggles to find the material we want” in the market where it competes with other independent suppliers and airlines. Parts that wear out the fastest – engine accessories, valves, pumps, even items in the cockpit area such as inertial reference units (IRUs) – are in greatest demand.
It was a very busy summer – better than 2017 – in the spares market, he said, with the Middle East a particular bright spot for Bii. “We’ve been busy supporting Boeing 747-400s and 767s, for both airlines and leasing companies. The RJ-146 market has tailed off this year.”
It would be a “very difficult industry in 2018” in which to set up a broad-based trading company to cover numerous platforms, he observed. “The days of one-man bands are gone. You have to be well-established and have a good supply chain in place. It comes down to relationships, service and, of course, price. It’s very competitive.”
He said more OEMs are recognising that they can’t keep up with the demand for spares and are allowing more parts to be manufactured on their behalf under PMA. “Before it was a closed shop. Opening up to third-parties is good for us and our customers.”
OEMs are also opening up to trading; many have their own trading divisions. “It’s good for us as traders and stockists,” he said.
Liebherr-Aerospace recently started offering its systems and equipment in USM condition as an alternative to new. The service is centrally managed from its Dubai service centre.
The company says it refurbishes systems and equipment sourced from aircraft destined for teardown and releases these units with appropriate airworthiness certification.
Joël Cadaux, Liebherr-Aerospace customer services director marketing & sales, said customers with legacy and mature fleets look to alternative solutions to support their operations cost-effectively.
The use of USM parts “is widely accepted by our customers and represents a legitimate option”, said Cadaux. “Our initiative is aimed at satisfying customers’ demands in terms of performance as part of our drive to innovate with solutions that meet the market’s expectations.”
USM is also a growing part of MTU Maintenance’s business. “We are experiencing double-digit growth in this area each year,” said Patrick Holzkamp, head of purchasing engines and used parts. The unit uses and sells USM materials.
Air France Industries KLM Engineering & Maintenance (AFI KLM E&M) also employs used engine parts and rotable components from mature fleets.
At Lufthansa Technik (LHT), Manuel Huensch, senior manager of corporate purchasing, said savings are “more than 50% overall, plus a quality improvement if the parts are overhauled in our shops.”
LHT says it prefers used material over new material if the part is overhauled in the MRO’s shops, or within its network. “This ensures the quality our customer expects and reduces costs,” Huensch said.
Candidates for USM sourcing are older and retiring aircraft and engines, typically 12 years old or older.
However, the days could be numbered for USM parts: their importance in the supply chain could be hit by AM, which is expected to have a major impact on part stocking, distribution, repair and asset management.
As the ability to produce replacement parts almost on demand grows, the need to periodically manufacture and stock spares in large volumes is expected to diminish.
 

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