From downtime to real time Featured

12:25pm EDT February 26, 2002
If we've learned anything about the airline industry in the last year, it's that downtime is devastating. Airlines make money when flights are in the air and lose it when they're not.

Barring a national disaster or weather conditions, one of the major factors in airline efficiency is airplane maintenance. Every part on every aircraft is integral, as Argo-Tech, a manufacturer of fuel pumps for the aerospace industry, well knows.

Although a fuel pump is just one part of the aircraft, a problem with that small part can mean a plane is grounded and losing money. As Donald Sebian, manager of information systems at Argo-Tech explains, "Not knowing the status of the fuel pumps (the airline) sent to Argo-Tech for repair affects (the customer's) ability to schedule an engine through their repair line."

Argo-Tech manufactures and repairs parts for the aerospace industry; its customers include both the airlines and after-market shops. That means Argo-Tech's customer service representatives could be dealing with a global billion-dollar company like Boeing or a mom-and-pop repair shop in the next state.

In light of that, the first thing the company had to do was assess the needs of its diverse customer base.

"We talked to our customers, the airlines, and asked for feedback," says Sebian.

It has become apparent that Argo-Tech's customers wanted the company to be more accessible for both product information and repair status.

"Our customers wanted us to make information available on the Web," he says. "We used to send out lots of paper catalogs."

The time and costs associated with keeping customers aware of new and changing products has been cut substantially. Argo-Tech's site has full descriptions of its products, online technical manuals and ever-changing FAA specs.

Also, because the site is integrated into Argo-Tech's mainframe, "Different customers receive different information; it is all based on a customer, company profile," explains Paul Harty, Argo-Tech's customer and technical services manager.

This streamlines the process and eliminates a lot of redundant and unnecessary mailings.

"Now when we publish revisions," says Sebian, "we just send out an e-mail notification."

Argo-Tech also deals with customers in every time zone and that means some strange hours for customer service calls. The problem was finding a way to provide information to its international clients on a timely basis.

"Normal repair station operations could not provide coverage to support all of the different required time zones around the world," says Harty. "Sometimes, there could be a time lag of up to 24 to 48 hours between the initial phone or fax message and a subsequent response."

Now Argo-Tech's is able to report on every aspect of the repair process from receipt of the pump to shipping the product back to the customer.

"Our site is fairly unique," Sebian says. "The updates are in real time. There are updates about every five minutes."

Although the company has relationships with some of the largest names in the aerospace industry, smaller companies were often unaware of Argo-Tech.

"These smaller mom and pop repair shops are now finding us through Internet searches," say Sebian. And as far as ordering online, "ironically, the smaller businesses are more apt to use our Web site." How to reach: Argo-Tech Corp., www.argo-tech.com