Deployment and upgrades have their own set of logistical constraints. However, once the site is operational, they are still important. Generally, an On-Air site is associated with a source of revenue. They are the result of the equipment installed by the subscribers of the operator. Therefore, a service breakdown leads to both the end of the revenues of this site and also a potential risk of customers leaving for the competition. In other words, a direct financial impact with an immediate effect, and an indirect one in the medium term, encouraging customer handovers. Continuity of service with the preservation of a targeted level of quality is, therefore, a major challenge for the operational teams.
Florian Gayraud, Projects Director and Supply Chain specialist at ITD, identifies the logistics challenges in the service phase.

The impact of the equipment pool

How does the equipment pool impact the logistics of operations and their maintenance? There are several factors to consider. They are common to different industries where equipment is directly involved in value creation. These factors affect the main indicator of fleet management: diversity. 

Fleet diversity

Diversity characterizes both the functional scope and the multiplicity of equipment that delivers services. In the case of the telecommunications industry, the functional scope is globally limited by 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G technologies, as well as their technical solutions for radio and transmission. However, there are many references for equipment that can provide these services. The more generations of equipment, manufacturers, or systems there are, the more references need to be maintained. 

Heterogeneity of equipment

The aging of equipment and its growing heterogeneity brings its own set of additional constraints. This requires an increase in stocks to ensure the availability of products for all models. New systems that can manage several technologies at the same time are an interesting way to harmonize the fleet. As a result, this reduces both the amount of installed equipment and the number of spare parts references to be kept.

The choice of spare parts, should we stock everything? 

Introduce an analysis phase in the purchasing cycle

An initial analysis is necessary before the deployment of new equipment. The objective is to identify the operational strategy for the maintenance and storage of the corresponding spare parts. Supplier feedback can play an important role in this decision and it must be based on tangible facts. It should be noted that, at first glance, both supplier and customer have everything to gain by identifying such a balance. A joint analysis highlights the weaknesses of equipment on one side and the volume of spare parts orders on the other.

This analysis must be renewed and adapted to each new version of the equipment. 

Evaluate failures and availability

First, it must be able to answer a failure risk analysis correlating probability and criticality (see diagram below):

  • What is the probability of occurrence?
  • What is the impact on the service in case of failure of the part?
  • Does a degraded mode exist?

It must also take into account an analysis of the availability of the identified equipment, namely the ease of part supply in case of failure (see diagram below):

  • Is it a custom part?
  • Are there several potential suppliers? 
  • Is the part available from the supplier?
  • Is an express shipment possible?
  • Globally, what is the lead time of the supply cycle?

Finally, financial analysis is also essential. The accounting impact of a failure, in general, must be related to the storage cost (acquisition cost, stock location cost, obsolescence cost, etc.) of the replacement material.

Manage the state of the service

Knowing the state of the service is the essential information to be able to organize a proportionate and effective reaction. 

Service degradation alert

Identifying problems as they occur and the inherent qualification process has an immediate impact on the ability to quickly restore service.

The OSS (Operations Support System) software is used to manage the operator’s network alerts in case of an incident on active equipment. For passive equipment, monitoring is more complex to implement. There are IoT or sensor systems that share the status in real-time. However, these systems are expensive and may require a specific infrastructure.

Centralize information and decide quickly

Regardless of the alert and identification solutions implemented, the management of this identification, qualification, and treatment process plays a key role. The faster the decision chain allows a technician to intervene, the faster the service is restored. Information management is the speed lever to facilitate the corrective maintenance action for the:

  • Site concerned
  • Access conditions
  • Organization of the site including its particularities
  • Equipment affected
  • Source of the failure
  • Criticality

How to reduce shutdown time?

Reducing service downtime is an operational and business priority. 

Organize the operational chain

The organization of corrective maintenance, the control of the associated process, and more globally, the management of information flows are determining factors. The organization of the zones and the distribution by subcontractors or internal teams must be effective. The process must allow for interaction between the team in charge (Operations and Maintenance) and the subcontractors or technicians out on the field. The information flows constitute the common reference guaranteeing the quality of the exchange between the actors. 

Use the same reference system

The shared database must be reliable and reflect the reality of the field. For this purpose, the monitoring of fixed equipment (CAPEX) – a specific article is devoted to asset management – provides the necessary information, including: 

  • the sites on which they are installed
  • their product reference and supplier characteristics
  • repairs already carried out
  • current warranties

To prepare for the intervention, the technician uses the breakdown qualification (from the OSS or a previous intervention) and the product reference to immediately target the corrective actions to be taken. Consequently, he can determine the defective parts to be changed or repaired. Then, he comes to the site with the right product and restores the service.

Central or local storage?

Beyond the decision to store a spare part or not, as previously mentioned, the stock location also has a direct impact on the service time delay. The analysis of the frequency of incidents leads to the stock location strategy. The higher the frequency, the more relevant it is to decentralize the stock, or even to let the local subcontractor manage it. However, this scheme reduces the visibility of the overall inventory, while increasing the level and associated costs.

Routine breakdowns of small parts should be handled directly without prior qualification. The spare parts inventory then accompanies the service technician in his vehicle.

Restoring service is good, avoiding downtime is better

The risks of failure are high, there are numerous incidents, and the actions to be organized for the service return are very diverse depending on the failure. Corrective maintenance is outdated by the stakes of maintaining the quality of service. However, these efforts are not in vain, as it allows the collection of real data, useful for organizing preventive or even predictive maintenance. The application of lean methodologies, risk analysis, and continuous improvement processes enable a new approach to situations. They maximize the quality of service and simplify the management of operations, bringing more serenity.