In the past decade we have witnessed the events involving the B-737 Max, A-320 NEO PW1100 engines and the B-787 battery fires. There have been numerous other minor incidents in the industry too.
Every industry faces the challenges of change management. It can be due to introducing a new product or enhancing an existing product. Critical thinking skills and attention will continue to remain the cornerstones of safety. The paradox of technology.
The two Boeing products had one common factor, time. Airbus had launched its new product to the customers in the form of the A-320 NEO. NEO is the new engine option which is far more fuel efficient than the existing ones. Boeing couldn’t be left behind in the race to sell aircrafts and they quickly hustled up a B-737 with new engine called the MAX. The B-787 Dreamliner on the other hand was a completely new product off the blocks but was running way behind schedule. Delays translate to payment of compensations to customers and loss of reputation.
The same technology that simplifies life by providing more functions in each device also complicates life by making the device harder to learn, harder to use. This is the paradox of technology.
— Donald Norman, The Design of Everyday Things (1988)
New technology may be more efficient economically. New technology will solve a lot of issues that the users face with the current one but it also comes up with new types of problems. From the pilot and engineer perspective, the new technology would mean an information overload. There will be a sea of new features. The biggest challenge will be to move on and stop comparing with the current technology and its procedures/processes.
When viewed in isolation, the A320 NEO PW engine was a completely new technology but the aircraft wasn’t. Airbus decided to rebuild the wing structure to house the bigger engines. The new technology used lesser moving parts as compared to the existing engines which was a great new development. However, when anything is compressed and is expected to produce similar power, the resultant factor would be the heat generated. The new combustion chamber lining saw hot spots and reduced life. The more serious problem would be the high pressure seal of standard knife edge type. The seals start breaking and loose pieces would enter the compressor, combustor and turbines. This problem became the Achilles heel for the PW1100G engines leading to delays and cancellation of orders.
The B-737 Max issues have been widely discussed and debated. The B-787 Dreamliner APU battery fire issues due to the new battery type also drew the worlds attention. A new technology was introduced through a third party but without adequate checks and balances. The NTSB report squarely blames the OEM and the regulator for the poor handling of the situation.
Time is a concern for every manager and management. It directly relates to cost. Time spent in training or keeping the work force unproductive translates to losses.
By focusing on building readiness instead of managing resistance, and emphasizing the needs of the change-recipients, you can actually make better use of your time and resources. You can also get a greater return on your investment. Dr. Dawn-Marie Turner
The traditional approach moves quickly from design to implementation. It tries to minimize the amount of time spent in the early period; the majority of the effort is at the back end of the change. This approach gives the appearance of saving time, but it top loads issues so that they emerge right around the time of implementation– when time and resources are at a premium.
More time, resources and effort are deployed at the end thereby wiping out the savings that were seen at the beginning.
Humans tend to believe that new technology will solve all the problems of the past and make life easier than before. No doubt that productivity increases but it’s due to increased integration, processing and flexibility in the systems. Critical thinking skills and attention will continue to remain the cornerstones of safety. This comes at a cost endured by the users by handling the change management process efficiently, spending resources at the beginning of training.