MRO Magazine

Maintaining the Cargo Flow

For Air Canada Cargo, aircraft maintenance takes a high priority, but it's not the only area where MRO operations play a key role in keeping the airline flying high. Maintenance of ancillary equipment...

February 1, 2003 | By Carroll McCormick

For Air Canada Cargo, aircraft maintenance takes a high priority, but it’s not the only area where MRO operations play a key role in keeping the airline flying high. Maintenance of ancillary equipment also requires a high level of attention.

At its huge new cargo handling facility in Mississauga, Ont., Air Canada Cargo has delegated the responsibility for keeping the cranes, conveyors, lifts, storage equipment and software systems functioning and serviced to Katlyn Technical Services Inc. (KTS), part of the Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont., based Katlyn International Inc. (KII).

In January 2002, Air Canada began processing cargo through the huge automated cargo handling facility in the Pearson International Airport infield cargo village. At the facility, most maintenance is done by Katlyn from prepared schedules, with final adjustments made on a weekly and a daily basis as dictated by the facility operations.

Redundant machinery also helps the maintenance team when longer jobs need to be scheduled, but, says KII president Mike Katsirdakis, “There are downtime maintenance opportunities, which vary with the time of the year and business cycles. Usually 2:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m. is a slow time, and Saturday mornings we have a little more time. The maintenance team must always be ready to take advantage of a window of opportunity without interfering with operations.”


The cargo facility, which measures 272 m by 130 m and is 25 m high, has a 300,000-tonne per year throughput capacity (expandable to 500,000 tonnes). It handles cargo in the following manner (specialized and oversize cargo such as racing cars and live cargo excepted):

Cargo comes in the front doors and is entered into the inventory control system (ICS) system by waybill and destination. Each waybill’s worth of cargo is temporarily stored in one of 1,900 roll boxes that are 1.88 sq m in area. Next, the boxes are pushed into one of 10 centrally located vertical conveyors — like freight elevators — and are automatically stored by four stacker cranes in a staggeringly huge second-storey-to-roof, 1,900-position storage area, called the automated storage and retrieval system (AS/RS).

When it is time to assemble all of the stored cargo for a particular airplane and destination, an operator instructs the automated system to retrieve all the roll carts for the flight from the AS/RS for packing in unit loading devices (ULDs) — special containers that fit into aircraft cargo holds.

Assembled ULDs are stored in a 650-position ULD/pallet storage area in the rear of the facility until they can be retrieved and driven out the back of the facility to waiting aircraft. Three computer-controlled elevated transfer vehicles (ETV) store and retrieve the ULDs.

Cargo ULDs unloaded from aircraft are stored by the ETVs in the ULD/pallet storage area until they can be retrieved and broken down into individual customers’ shipments. They are stored in the AS/RS until the customers come to pick them up.

Add to this scenario the conveyor system that makes up the small package handling system, buildup/breakdown pits which lift and lower the ULDs as they are being packed and unpacked, a couple of other transfer vehicles, and a large cooler/freezer, and you have enough finely-tuned hardware to justify having a specialized maintenance team on site around the clock.

KII supplied the project management and the information technology (IT) solutions to the facility. The company has worked on other large facilities; e.g., the Japan Airlines facility at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport. Because of this background, “We knew we would get premier support from them,” says Air Canada’s facility project manager, Mike Roy.

The on-site Katlyn crew consists of four technologists, six millwrights, six electricians, a supervisor and an administrator — 18 in all. Air Canada provides overall supervision and occasional involvement in maintenance operations, according to maintenance manager Peter Fairweather of KTS .

“Our tradesmen and engineers are able to troubleshoot and repair most of the equipment. If the proper tools, knowledge base or specialization is missing for a particular piece of equipment — for example, compressor valve assemblies — they are able to quickly contact those in the know for the proper information or send the part back for repair/replacement.

“Off-site, we have highly trained system specialists, engineers — electrical, mechanical and system — automation specialists and mechanical/electrical contractors available on a 24/7 basis for unforeseen emergencies. OEMs are easy for us to reach as we know them on a personal level.”

KTS uses a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) called ePAC, an off-the-shelf product made by EPAC Software Technologies Inc. of Warwick, RI. KTS already had previous exposure to ePAC.

The ePAC CMMS manages about 950 unique spare part numbers at the Air Canada facility. “The quantity of each depends on a number of factors, such as how many are used in the system, and part failure histories. The parts inventory will be adjusted over time as more historical information is accumulated,” Fairweather explains. The CMMS also is used to prepare preventive maintenance schedules, work orders and reports.

There are 2,396 pieces of equipment on the preventive maintenance program. “For each piece of equipment we have a recommended preventive maintenance schedule supplied by the manufacturer,” says Fairweather. “Some equipment, like machine calibrations, require quarterly maintenance, others, like resistance checks, are done yearly.

“Some items, like the nearly 1,000 dust-sensitive photo eyes that the automated system uses to locate and position ULD pallets, are more sensitive than others and need to be cleaned often. These are covered in the weekly maintenance routine, where inspections, measurements and cleaning are taken care of.”

Challenges that the KTS team faces include repairing occasional forklift damage, locating OEM parts that are sometimes unavailable locally, and the ubiquitous challenge known to all maintenance teams — scheduling maintenance downtime.

The automated cargo handling system is an extensive and complex blend of hardware and software, yet, says Will Tyler, Katlyn’s vice-president of engineering, “The system is quite robust and fault tolerant. It is meant to be put to heavy use. For example, a ULD or pallet can be as heavy as 14,000 kilograms without causing the ETV platforms or other equipment to deflect out of tolerance. With proper maintenance, wear and tear are minimal and, in practice do not disrupt system operation.”

It started when he was a kid

Fascinated with how machinery worked since he was a child, Katlyn maintenance manager Peter Fairweather did a five-year stint in the Canadian Navy as a marine engine mechanic. Upon completion of service in 1990, he obtained his millwright’s ticket, and then worked with a multi-national environmental firm for five years as a master technician, installing and repairing remediation systems across North America.

“I had always tinkered around with things since I was a kid,” he says.

Fairweather spent a further five years in the chemical industry as a member of a team of millwrights and electricians servicing a hazardous environment facility, before joining Katlyn in 2001.

“I feel my strong point is leadership. And to be a leader you have to lead from the front. I have an amazing and varied crew of people to fulfill our obligation to our customer,” he says.

“I think the biggest challenge to this whole job at present is to make sure the customer is comfortable and not threatened by the technology. My advice to anyone that is not using a computer-based maintenance management system is to get out of the Stone Age and step into the light. The ability of these programs to manage all aspects of a large scale maintenance operation is astounding and should be welcomed with open arms.

“Paper tracking of machinery and sifting through endless boxes of work orders are a thing of the past. Now it’s all at your fingertips.”


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