February 16, 2009
Advanced Solutions: Meeting Daily Challenges of Transit Agencies
By KEITH SHEARDOWN
While Bombardier is recognized as a leader in passenger rail equipment with advanced vehicle designs, the company also has developed many innovative technologies to enhance the use of transit equipment, inventories, and the most important asset: people.
To improve the efficiency of operating and maintaining rail transit equipment, we launched a business unit whose only mission is to help transit professionals run a better system.
Bombardier created this business, Technology Solutions, to identify challenges transit systems face daily and rapidly solve these problems by improving vehicle reliability, increasing vehicle availability, and reducing the cost to deliver transit service. We firmly believe that every single technology investment must actually improve the performance of the business, and do it quickly.
Two areas where the company has had good success are in materials management and training and development.
Every transit system faces the challenge of having the right part at the right time. Carrying too little inventory means running the risk of holding equipment out of service and not being able to meet passenger demand. Too much inventory means tying up limited cash resources and finding enough space in your storeroom to house all of the material. As trains (and buses) use thousands upon thousands of spare parts, the task of having the right quantity on hand is a daunting one.
When we examined the issue, we looked outside of transit and found a software company that had built solutions for oil rigs, ships, and remote mines. At first glance, there are very few similarities between transit and a marine vessel. However, the two have one important thing in common: parts availability is just as critical on board a ship as it is at any transit system.
This software essentially looks at two key drivers to recommend inventory levels: the consumption rate and how soon suppliers typically deliver material after receiving an order. When we know this information, we are in a better position to identify the right time to place an order (the “order point”) and how many to buy (the “order quantity”).
The challenge is how to monitor consumption rates and supplier performance on 50,000 parts or more—every month! In many transit systems, this is done on an ad hoc basis or not at all. The software solution looks at the data monthly and revises order points and order quantities to meet the performance criteria (fill rates) specified by the organization placing the order.
As it appeared that the software service was very easy to support, we tested the software for both functionality and ease of implementation at two sites, one in New Jersey and one in Adelaide, Australia. Bombardier selected Australia for a beta site as we wanted to test the implementation without actually meeting with the people at the site; we did it all with six e-mails and one conference call.
In less than one year, Bombardier reduced inventory investment by more than 10 percent while also cutting “stock-outs” by 44 percent. In essence, we freed up cash to be used elsewhere in the business and yet were able to provide better parts availability to our maintenance organizations, resulting in improved vehicle availability and less downtime. In times of diminishing budgets, this sort of solution can be an alternative to reducing service or cutting employment levels.
Training and Development
Bombardier recently launched a new service whereby we provide a turnkey eLearning solution. The service includes the Learning Management Software, course design and development, and an external server to host the associated data.
Some organizations consider training an expense rather than an investment, but we have seen a tremendous return on investment when we develop eLearning courses that meet the needs of the business and are tied into strategic objectives. We have experienced 60 percent reductions in the time required to train vehicle technicians through the use of eLearning.
For example, we maintain and operate the GO Transit commuter rail fleet at a site in Toronto, which has numerous contractors who visit. These people require orientation training to ensure that they know our safety policies and procedures as well as what to do in the event of an emergency.
For many years, our health and safety advisor provided this training in person through a three-hour course, which tied up a valuable resource.
Nothing is more important than safety, and contractors are exposed to many potential hazards for the first time. But we believed that we could deliver an improved course and better value to both contractors and our health and safety advisor. In working collaboratively with that advisor, our instructional designer, and our course developers, Bombardier developed an eLearning course that contractors can take in advance of their visit to our site, with the added benefit of reducing the amount of time required by the health and safety advisor to one hour for a site walkthrough and other critical elements of the course.
Next up on eLearning is a direct linkage between the most common reliability faults and improved course content. Our goal is to reduce work where technicians do not find the defect (known as “No Defect Found” or “NDF” work orders) and to reduce how often equipment must come into the facility to find the defect (what we call “repeater” work orders). We are convinced that improved course content that speaks directly to where the organization and technicians need more knowledge will reduce the numbers of these work orders. The potential savings may total more than 10 percent of the maintenance labor budget.