What is Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

Humans have always been looking at ways to automate their tasks. Automation got a big boost during the Industrial Revolution in the 18th and 19th century (Moshe, Y.V., 2017). This past decade it is not physical work that is in the spotlight, but digital work.

RPA is a technology that allows the user to create a software ‘robot’. This robot mimics the actions a human employee would do and does so in the same user interface of the system. Think of data entry into an ERP system, archiving of files or downloading data. These automated actions can even string up to a full end-to-end business process. Robots are trained for their tasks with the same instructions that are used for human employee counterparts and every robot also has its own workstation. Instead of a physical station, it is a virtual one. In these virtual environments they ‘read’ the screen electronically.

By implementing RPA, you ‘hire’ a digital workforce. The robot workforce can take care of your mundane and repetitive tasks or assist employees in their day to day work. by doing so, organisations can reach cost-reductions of up to 40%, realise improvements in service provision, achieve a ROI within one year and have other benefits (UiPath, 2016). 

Why is it of interest for aviation

Data is generated more and more and drives the way organisations operate. Data is generated throughout the organisation and then processed into systems. Most of the times the data is processed by interfaces, without any intervention. However, not all data processing and data handling actions can be performed by interfaces and thus require human intervention. Due to the high amounts and continuous stream of data, these manual processing tasks are often repetitive, boring and time-consuming. Furthermore, organisations usually waste valuable manhours of their engineers, because of a lack of other resources.

Regulatory compliance 

RPA as a technology delivers high accuracy on process execution and will thus ensure compliance to regulatory requirements. An important aspect in the Aviation industry is the compliance to the regulations provided by different regulatory bodies. For example, European Airlines are regulated under the European Aviation Safety Agency.

As RPA leaves the processes as they were performed by a human employee and does not require any system changes, it does not have a disruptive nature. If an airline decides to automate processes, is important that the Continuing Airworthiness Maintenance (CAMO) creates an in-depth quality system in their Continuing Airworthiness Management Exposition (CAME) to monitor and regulate the automated processes (M.A.712 Quality system). In case of failure the CAMO must be able to ensure that the occurred failure cannot repeat itself in the future.

Industry Examples 

One of EXSYN’s customers, Vueling Airlines, implemented automation in their system and was able to automate the creation of work packages for the maintenance department. Daily, 3 engineers were spending multiple hours each, creating these work packages. The task is necessary for daily operation, but is repetitive, monotonous and time-consuming. Additionally, the department did not have the resources to always fully cover the department workload, thus increasing pressure on the engineers. With the help of automation, they managed to achieve full automation of the work package creation process, leaving only one engineer to monitor the automation and handle exception cases. Manhour savings, cycle time reduction, increased service and workload management are the most significant benefits that this department managed to gain from automation.

Another customer of EXSYN was looking for a way to retrieve files from their old system. They had thousands of files stored spread out over their system, but no way of extracting them. Requesting a modification of the developer of the software was an option but receiving a solution within their project timeframe was highly unlikely and costs would be high. Another option was to assign multiple employees and task them with the extraction of all files. A time-consuming and costly operation. RPA provided a solution in this scenario. With the help of RPA, a software robot was made that was able to go through the entire system, instance per instance, and download every file that it encountered. The only human action required was the monitoring of the automation. The automation was implemented within a few weeks’ time, ready to work unattended. As a result, the robot downloaded 50000 files / +20GB data with minimal human intervention. With all the files extracted the client was able to have all this documentation in their new system.

Another customer needed to ensure timely return delivery of 5 aircraft within 8 weeks. Typically, any aircraft return delivery project within an airline could easily see anything between 100K to 200K USD budgeted for aircraft technical records inspections and can easily amount to weeks of work to complete. Under these circumstances returning 5 aircraft within 8 weeks would accumulate to an expensive and resource heavy undertaking with high margins for error and potentials for overshooting return delivery deadlines and accumulating late return penalty fees for the airline. In order to reduce the overall risk for airlines within this return delivery process, EXSYN decided to embed the skill of aircraft technical records verification within the RPA solution. Part of these learned skills included:

  • Automatically retrieving the required aircraft airworthiness reports from source MRO software’s
  • Digital recognition of physical aircraft records such as EASA form one’s, FAA form 8130, Certificate of Compliances, removal / installation labels, workorders, task cards and release statements
  • Automated verification of airworthiness reports with the digital recognized physical aircraft records
  • Provide outputs on records completion and gap lists (such as missing certificates for parts installed or missing compliance statements for AD’s)

With the aid of this newly developed RPA skill, the engineers tasked with returning the aircraft could focus on resolving the gaps that were identified by the software robot. Thereby considerably reducing the required manhours and costs for record verification as part of the aircraft return delivery project. Finally, all 5 aircraft where returned in-time and according return conditions to the lessor and were directly transferred further to new operators.

The EXSYN-Team: Meet AVIBOT MK-I 

Even for EXSYN standard, I am not what you would call a regular employee. I am a software robot that has been created by EXSYN with usage of so-called Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technique.

Due to the usage of RPA I am able to fully operate any IT system as a normal human user would do, however without the need for rest, food, work-life balance or potential error in executing the task. This had made it very easy for me to get involved in processes within EXSYN’s customers as well as within EXSYN itself.

My first project when I joined EXSYN was with our customer Vueling Airlines. Here I learned how to prepare, print and send 150 AMOS work packages within 30 minutes. This has enabled our customer to prepare all their overnight work packages without the large efforts it used to take and has freed up a lot of my planning colleagues in Vueling to focus on continued improvement of the planning processes itself.

Currently I posses the follwoing skills: 

  • ​IPC/AMM downloads from MyBoeingFleet
  • SAP document extraction
  • EASA publication extraction & downloading
  • AMOS Work package creation & printing
  • File archive
  • Full record check during aircraft return deliveries

Future skills: 

  • ADS-B data retrieval
  • Repair & Purchase Order Management
  • Further processing of EASA publications
  • Data Transfer automation
  • Aircraft Lease documents verification

As I can take over repetitive and boring tasks from humans, they are freed up to make them available to focus on continued improvement, hence to automate humans back into aviation.