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If Equipment Standardization Works for Southwest Airlines; It Will Work For You

Posted by Andrew Greess on

Have you noticed Southwest Airlines makes money year after? It makes money regardless of how the economy is. It makes money even when its competitors lose money. So how does Southwest Airlines do it? There are a number of reasons for their success, including great management and culture and the use of a point-to-point system of flight scheduling (rather than the more complex hub-and-spoke system used by most major airlines). Another reason it always excels is standardized equipment. The airline flies only one type of aircraft – the Boeing 737, which creates considerable efficiencies. For example:

Training. All staff needs to be trained on only one aircraft. This applies to pilots, cabin staff, ground staff, baggage handlers, mechanics, accountants, marketing managers, telephone service and maintenance staff.

Scheduling. All staff can work on any aircraft. For example, if a pilot is sick, any other pilot do the job without additional training or instruction. This reduces the odds of having to cancel a flight when the appropriate staff isn’t available. Additionally, any Southwest plane can taxi up to any airport, terminal or gate to which Southwest flies.

Efficiency. Every employee knows exactly where everything is and how to do their job, no matter which plane or flight they’re working, supporting or servicing.

Maintenance. Mechanics only need to be trained to service one plane. The capital (cash) tied up in parts inventories and tools is much lower because there are so many fewer required parts. This also significantly improves the odds a needed part will be available to solve a problem, which, in turn, reduces the downtime the planes are on the ground not producing revenue. In the extreme, the number of backup aircraft Southwest must keep available is lower than its competitors that fly multiple types of aircraft.

These concepts also apply to companies using spray equipment. Standardizing spray equipment will result in many of the same efficiencies for the company. Here are ideas to get started.

  1. If your equipment is standardized, congratulations. You’re in the minority. Take the next step and standardize storage locations for the vehicles. For example, marker flags are always stored in location X. Even companies with large fleets and standardized equipment have significant variations among trucks because techs keep their tools and materials in different places.
  2. It doesn’t make sense to replace all equipment with new, standardized equipment. So start small with key components that can have a big impact. Suggestions are: Line strainer/filter. Filters are the source of many problems. Start here. Standardize filters so all techs know how to check and change them and it’s easy and cheap to inventory the screens and gaskets that cause so many problems. Quick disconnects. Standardize quick disconnects and spray tools across trucks so spray guns are interchangeable and a leaking gun doesn’t disrupt schedules.
  3. Develop equipment standards. Create clear standards for hand sprayers, backpack sprayers, tool boxes, power sprayers, etc., so, as obsolete equipment is replaced, the fleet becomes standardized.
  4. Common sense required. You might not be able to standardize everything. On special purpose vehicles, standardize where you can. For example, on a larger vehicle for commercial work, while most of the fleet does residential work, you still can work with your equipment vendor to standardize filtration (location, access, design) and maintenance (engine positioned so oil changes are easy).

Start today by examining equipment to find opportunities. Even a little standardization can go a long way toward i mproved service and profitability.