Centre of Applied Research Technology

Maintain your competitive edge

'Onderhoud je marktpositie'


"Onderhoud je marktpositie" or "Maintaining your competitive edge" is a project executed by the Amsterdam University of Applied Science focused on finding custom-made process improvement methods for performance enhancement.

The leading research question in this project is: What are the possibilities for smaller and medium size maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) organisations to improve and consolidate their performance, given their typically unscheduled and incidental maintenance characteristics. This two-year project began in February 2013 and will end in February 2015.

Small- and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) that operate in the MRO-sector are characterized by small, often changing, production volumes and large product variety. This makes their processes less predictable. These companies have specific characteristics that make existing improvement methods, such as LEAN or 6 Sigma, less- or not suitable. Those methods are mostly focused on large-scale enterprises. This research seeks for suitable tools that can optimize the processes of a SME MRO company.

Over the course of four research phases we will develop an optimal set of improvement methods. The research phase duration is half a year for each, this results in the following four phases:

During the first phase of the project “maintaining your competitive edge” research was done in the area of performance management and process optimization within the participating companies. The purpose of this was to give insight on the performance level of each participating company. In which performance level means; to what extend does a company deal with process optimization and performance management methods. In order to visualize this the company performance is compared to an ideal organization that results from a literature study. The literature used was specifically focused on process optimization and performance management in Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and the Maintenance Repair and Overhaul (MROs). When we reflect the measured performance of the participation companies on this ideal organization it is able to display a their performance level. The result is illustrated in figure 1.

The idealistic organization from literature for both performance management and process optimization is described by the use of hypotheses. Each company is reviewed on how it scores on these hypotheses. The score runs in five steps, from zero to four and is visually displayed by using “Harvey Balls” (figure 2).

Nine hypotheses are formulated for performance management and are divided into three main categories: (1) “The mission, vision and strategy are in line with the objectives and measured KPIs”, (2) “The KPIs are balanced, measureable and are maintained in a clear manner” and (3) “The company is aware of possible improvement potential”. Six main hypotheses are formed for process optimization from the six steps from the improvement process. A distinction is made in the structural and systematic execution of the named steps.

The average score of the participating companies is 1,79 on a scale of 0 to 4. The various companies have diverse scores: [high, low, modal]. Illustrated is that most companies are not far in the field of performance management and at this point much improvement can be made. This also applies for process optimization, with an average score of 2,0.

A reason why the participating companies have a lower score in comparison to the score of the benchmarks is because the mission, vision and strategy are not in line with the objectives and KPIs. According to literature, for an ideal organization, this must be in line. Another reason is that most of the participants usually only have defined objectives on the business level (top level). Within the benchmarks goals/objectives are found in all departments and therefor defined for employees individually (or group of employees).

Usually the KPIs are not balanced or even maintained at all. Smaller companies usually measure turnaround time and worked hours, as the worked hours must be justified to the client. Many companies do measure a number of performances, but not in a KPI format. The performances are mostly used to review the current state of the affairs. Performances that are tracked are: turnaround time, worked hours, productivity, absenteeism, on-time delivery and quality. One company measures many KPIs which are defined with the use of the BSC. However, it lacks of control and direction.

In general, the participating companies are currently working to improve their processes, but only in the department of quality and safety. The purpose of the improvement is to preserve the EASA part 145 or ISO 9001 certificates. The optimization is not aimed to structurally improve process performance or customer based performances. According to interviews the middle management is leading the daily operations, and do not control the long-term objectives. Due to the above mentioned, the staff in the workplace is hardly involved in the guidance, and lacks the link between the execution of tasks and the feedback of it on performance and objectives.

Process optimization is active in the participating companies on higher management level and reaches the workplace verbally, which will eventually deal with the problem reactively, instead of dealing with the problem on a proactive level. This causes a miscommunication between middle management and the workplace.

Two typical characteristics for a SME MRO organization are: (1) the products must go through external organizations for maintenance and (2) the organization is mostly dependent on one client. Clearly, the organizations that do not depend on both of these characteristics score better. Other links between characteristics and performances were not found. After comparing the characteristics of the organizations with the NWAA* table, it is clear that the SME MROs are located at the learner/developer side. This method of classification validates the room for improvement.

At the end, the companies are aware of the improvement potential. However, the initiative is difficult to achieve. If the initiative is set up, it will eventually be neglected during the improvement process. We would like to guide the participants through the Roadmap, which is founded on the theory of performance management and process optimization. Read more about this in the next newsletter.

*North West Aerospace Alliance. (2009). Retrieved July 2013, from www.aerospace.co.uk

download the brochure

download the kick-off presentation

download the poster

During this phase literature study has lead us to four process optimisation methods that where frequently used in an MRO SME environment. The elements within these four process optimisation methods are compared which is the foundation of the first design of the Roadmap. The comparisons of the elements are presented in table 2.

download the roadmap


Together with the management team the focus and the relevant KPI’s for the company are defined. Also specific activities, customers, customer values and other goals of the company are well discussed during the define.

Based on this, we jointly decide which process(es) will be in scope for the next steps in the roadmap.

Map the current situation (MCS)

To understand the current process and to SEE the bottlenecks, make problems visible causing non-quality or negatively affect KPI’s. Make visible where you need improvement the most. Map the current situation is a combination of follow the ‘order’ and Metrics Based Process Mapping.

Determine what is impeding flow, TAT, Quality and what parts of the processes are actually the bottleneck in a representative process.

After this session you will have visible, inefficiencies, waste, non-value added activities, processes affected by variation

Find the root cause (FRC)

First, relate the issue(s) raised in MCS to the focus/KPI’s identified as important in Define. Then the real problem is understood to target the underlying issues instead of removing only symptoms.

Depending on results of MCS, using 5xWhy, Ishikawa, Pareto, High Impact/Low Effort analysis, more detailed Value Stream Analysis.

Set your Target

Set your future target and sketch the new situation to higher performance. Also define specific objectives necessary to move to the desired state and to eliminate causes identified in FRC.

Implement improvement

Implementation of new initiatives involves careful planning, monitoring the plan on a continuous basis, engaging employees.

Secure succes

Make sure that the performance an processes do not ‘fall back’ in to old habits.

The main intention of this phase is implementing the six steps of our “Roadmap. We started implementing the first steps in the second phase and learned that we would need manpower to be able to execute every step carefully and persistent. Therefore we have worked with six interns to perform all the “Roadmap” steps at the first eight participants.

Together with the companies we focus on: measuring chosen processes to understand what happens, determine the bottlenecks and set a target. Preliminary results are that the project helps participants to get an improved insight in chosen processes and different companies already started implementing improvement solutions. We started to use a camera with certain companies to keep track of movements. These videos give insight in waste during the maintenance process.

We aim to complete all steps at current participants and start with new companies in the fourth phase. We will keep close contact with all participants and will continue collaboration. Due to this close contact we managed to visit Braathens Technical, a participant from Sweden. We performed a Quickscan.

download the phase 3 presentation

The research project “Maintain your competitive edge” has entered its fourth phase. It is in this phase that the project will conclude its research and will deliver the final process improvement methodology, integrated in a practical toolbox for participating companies to use.

Working together with 12 Aircraft MRO companies during the past half year, we learned that the first 4 steps of the improvement method delivers valuable ideas and improvement targets. The 5th en 6th step are all about implementing and securing the success. In the reality of daily work pressure it turns out that these steps are much more difficult to realise. This is the point where companies (should) discover the real meaning of commitment, the value of employee training, communication with the working force and particularly the ways to involve employees in improvement activities.

It is for this reason that our project team has performed research in the area of human- and organisation factors, that play an important role in change and improvement processes. During the holiday period the research results and lessons learned have been implemented in the improvement roadmap. Specifically a new set of activities has been added to the existing improvement steps. These activities focus on better understanding of lean opportunities, awareness and development of management and organisational skills and defining, monitoring and controlling the company’s goals. Essentially they support building an improvement structure and from there move into an improvement culture.

Working towards the end of the project the team will test all building blocks of the improvement roadmap at a steadily growing number of companies cooperating intensively with the project team. For this opportunity we thank management and employees of these companies.

After project closure, the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences intends to continue its contribution to improve processes for the Aircraft MRO branch. In the next days and weeks we will make an appeal to involved and otherwise interested companies to join us at participant session(s) to share information and experiences and to discuss and define a blue print of continuous cooperation. We hope that more companies want to get involved in making the Aircraft MRO business stronger, more competitive and thus secure future growth.

download the table

download the phase 4 presentation

download poster

A consortium, consisting of among others TNO, TU Delft and the Netherlands Aerospace Group (NAG), give direction to the research. A number of experts on various research areas support the research team with their expertise.

Actively participating companies:

FlyVLM, Tec4Jets, NAYAK, NedAero Components, SAMCO, Fokker Services, JetSupport, Shell, VBR, Braathens TEchnical, Dynamic Aviation

Consortium companies:

Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, TNO, NAG, TU Delft, JetSupport, Hogeschool van Amsterdam

Companis providing experts:

ProjectsOne, Koninklijke Luchtmacht, KLM Engineering & Maintenance, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, JetSupport, TNO, NAG, TU Delft

The research team consists of one lector and project manager, three research lecturers, three research trainees and a varying number of graduate researchers and interns:

  • Robert-Jan de Boer, Lector
  • Arjan Stander, Researcher
  • Eric van de Ven, Researcher
  • Ellen Budde, Project Manager
  • Mathijs Marttin, Research trainee
  • Enos Postma, Research trainee


  • Tim Leferink
  • Robin Bandurski
  • Roel Bleeker
  • Joey de Groot
  • Steven Jongerden
  • Damy Snel


  • Mohammed Almamdouh
  • Anis Omar Ali
  • Mark van der Kolk
  • Chiara Kuijs
  • Robin Piet
  • Daniel Wijma
  • Max Witteman

This research area is financed by means of a RAAK-MKB subsidy, granted by the "Foundation Innovation Alliance". For more information or questions please contact: Robert J de Boer via rj.de.boer@hva.nl.

The end result of the project is published in a booklet: "Maintaining your competitive edge" - Planesense: process improvement in aviation maintenance

Download the Maintain your competitive edge booklet

16 February 2017

Project Info

Start date 01 Jan 2013
End date 31 Dec 2014


Arjan Stander
Eric van der Ven
Mathijs Marttin
Ellen Budde
Enos Postma
Robert Jan de Boer