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Local Engineer Innovates Tool Control System at CHC Aberdeen

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Working in a busy aviation engineering environment surrounded by tools and equipment, just like in everyday life, we can easily put something down only to completely forget where we left it. Like losing your glasses, it is possible to misplace items in the workplace. There then follows a period of momentary disbelief as we wander around thinking - "I’m sure I left it here a minute ago."

Like all aviation organisations, we are accountable to Civil Aviation Authorities and customers alike – both of whom place a huge emphasis on effective tool control. When faced with a Level 1 audit findings, it’s clear that in terms of lost tools, prevention is better than the cure!

Regional Director, CHC EMEA and UK Accountable Manager Mark Abbey explained: “To run a safe, efficient operation effective tool control is vital. I’ve been in aviation for more than 40 years and a big part of an effective engineering hangar is having a place for everything and everything in its place. As a business we believe in investment in safety innovation as well as leveraging the next generation of technology and software.  So, when one of our young engineers, Matt Boraman, approached me with, what I have to say was one of the best business case’s I have seen, including a detailed proposal to invest in a state of the art tool control system, I agreed to take a closer look.

“At CHC our safety culture centres on taking care. We take care of each other, our passengers and our aircraft. Everyone — from our newest member of staff, to our most experienced employee — in our hangars, in the air or in the office, plays their part to promote safe and healthy working conditions, and a positive safety culture.  Matt’s proposal required substantial investment at a time when the market is incredibly challenging but I knew this made long term business sense. We are already seeing improvements. I’m sure we’ll soon see a real return on our investments as efficiency saves time, saves money and potentially even save lives as well.”

Matt, a Licensed Aviation Engineer, based at CHC Aberdeen who came forward with the plan, said: “I’m about to complete my MSc in Aviation Safety Management and I am passionate about implementing positive changes in safety.  Foreign object damage leads to $4 billion in costs every year to the aviation industry. A majority of that comes from inadequate tool control; which at worst, could lead to a catastrophic accident. I believe that safety in the air, starts on the ground, which is why I decided to put forward the tool control project.

Over time, tool control systems can become more complex, and time consuming, which in turn may lead to an increased tendency to deviate from written procedures and, thus may compromise safety. For these reasons, I had one objective which was to provide a higher level of tool control while reducing the steps required for engineers to access the tools to maintain our fleet.  

The system is a major change in how the maintenance team works and though consultation and employee driven ideas, we have developed a system that has had a positive impact on both safety and efficiency. It takes both upper management and frontline employees to own safety and to drive change across an operation, which is why I am thankful to Mark Abbey for the opportunity. 

The bespoke system has been designed by ToolClarity and supported by Cribmaster, which helped to ensure that every one of our needs were met and provided us with a comprehensive system.  Today we have a tool control system that is 66% more efficient than the previous manual tool tag system, allowing our engineers to focus on the task at hand. The system not only ensures improved safety but also increases time efficiency and enables the traceability down to the smallest tools. I am very proud of the fact this project reflects all of our core values that CHC strives to implement, which are simplicity, agility, collaboration, innovation and ownership.

“Careless tool control can contribute to broken or misplaced tools and to foreign object debris (FOD) in the aircraft. Good tool control is a key factor in ensuring all work performed is being completed with the correct tools with the correct traceability. Good tool control aids in ensuring all tools that are being used are correctly serviced and calibrated and no tools that are being used are left in areas they should not be.

“The system we have introduced uses Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) which allows remote identification of a tool by means of the electronic chip integrated within or attached to the object. The integrated chip uses energy emitted from the radio transmitter signal at a short distance, therefore no battery is required. RFID chips guarantee optimum operation for many years and are secured internally inside the tool or bonded using two methods to ensure compliance with stringent FOD Standards.  When triggered by an electromagnetic interrogation pulse from a nearby RFID reader device, the tag transmits digital data, using an identifying inventory number, back to the reader. This number can be used to correctly manage tools.

The system is being introduced in phases in order to ensure an effective management of change and so far has proved successful. The aim is ultimately to role the project/system out across our region initially and then share the benefits with our global team.” 

Scott Walker, UK Engineering Manager and Part 145 post holder added “The wider benefits realised by the system are helping to create further efficiencies outside of the engineering department where the benefits can be passed on to our customers. CHC are the first rotary craft operator in our sector to introduce the system and hope to continue to lead the way with innovative solutions for Continuous Improvement.”

 “The system has been introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic. Matt has been instrumental in ensuring the project has come to fruition in a timely manner given the current restrictions that have been placed on all parties with respect to Coronavirus. The challenges posed by Coronavirus have certainly seen attention focussed elsewhere and without Matt’s dedication and commitment I fear we would not be where we are today. I’m proud that CHC agreed to make this investment; an investment in safety.