Speed of issue: Eurocopter moves to XML-based service bulletins

The production of maintenance service bulletins, once outsourced, is back in house at Marignane, France-based Eurocopter, a subsidiary of aerospace giant EADS. Using the XML structured authoring tool XMetaL from JustSystems, the benefits roster now includes cost savings, productivity improvements, and technical publications of a higher quality


Formerly outsourced to subcontractors, the production of maintenance service bulletins at Marignane, France-headquartered Eurocopter —a subsidiary of aerospace giant EADS —has been taken back in-house. Using the XML structured authoring tool XMetaL from JustSystems , the project is delivering cost savings, productivity improvements, and technical publications of a higher quality, says Yves Roques, Eurocopter's manager of business service bulletins.
Frustrated by the impact of personnel changes at the subcontractor, Roques explains, Eurocopter began looking in 2005 for some way of capitalizing on the engineering and maintenance knowledge of its in-house technical experts, by giving them a tool that would automate as much as possible of the writing process—thereby improving the quality of the published bulletins, as well as reducing the cost of publication. “Those were the goals, and we think we’ve achieved them,” he says.
Today, with some 9,300 aircraft deployed in 138 countries, belonging to 2,400 customers, Eurocopter can quickly and efficiently deliver service bulletins in four languages—each compliant with industry standards, and containing a blend of text, tables, images, drawings, and photographs detailing procedural changes and aircraft modifications that must be made to helicopters in service.
Yet the project’s starting point owed not a little to chance. In November 2005, personnel from the Montreuil, France, offices of Franco-British systems integrator and enterprise content management specialist Sollan were delivering a briefing on another topic to Eurocopter, and happened to mention their experience with distributing and supporting XMetaL.
“It turns out that Eurocopter had been looking at XML-based structured authoring tools—and XMetaL in particular—for some time, but hadn’t realized that a French-based firm they already dealt with possessed experience of working with it,” says Paul Terray, Sollan project manager. Prompted by the discovery, Eurocopter issued a formal request for proposals in April 2006, and awarded the project to Sollan in August 2006.

Paul Terray

Paul Terray, a project manager with enterprise content management specialist Sollan, says traditional binary text-based authoring tools are giving way to XML-based tools capable of producing structured content with a richer context.

The attraction of XML-based structured authoring tools to a company in Eurocopter’s position isn’t hard to see, notes Jake Sorofman, JustSystems’ senior VP of marketing and business development.
“As companies come to realize that the quality of their customer relationships are key to their competitive strength, and that they publish a huge amount of content that is read by—and intended for—those customers, then maximizing the quality and value of that published content becomes a strategic priority,” he explains. Accordingly, adds Sorofman, traditional binary text-based authoring tools are giving way to XML-based tools capable of producing structured content with a richer context. “Monolithic documents are giving way to structured XML components that can be reused,” he says. “Look at Microsoft Word, for instance: In Word’s 2007 version, Word documents also are now XML-based.”
And reusability was important, stresses Sollan’s Terray. Not only did component reuse map neatly onto the requirement for using engineering and maintenance specialists—rather than technical writers—to produce service bulletins, but component reuse also delivered improvements in the speed of document production.
“Service bulletins can have legal and airworthiness implications, and need to be issued in a timely manner,” he says. “But while some can be just four to five pages long, others can reach 50 pages in length. Speed is a requirement, but it’s not one that it has always been easy to meet.”
No longer. Phase 1 of the XMetaL project is now complete, says Emily Poisson, aircraft maintenance publication manager, citing the anticipated cost, quality and speed improvements. “With Phase 1, we covered Eurocopter’s range of commercial helicopters,” she says. “Phase 2, which is in progress, will cover our military aircraft, and should go live early next year.”

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