Pratt & Whitney’s geared turbofan (GTF) development strategy has propelled the company back into the mainline and regional airliner business more quickly than perhaps even the engine-maker itself could have hoped.
Yet while winning applications and ramping up production are pivotal elements of this strategy, the long-term prosperity of the plan rests squarely on how the engines will be maintained and supported. Preparing for the aftermarket care of the new engine family, and expanding that capability through the use of “big data” and other leading-edge tools to embrace a new wave of airlines, equipment suppliers and airframe manufacturers that were not previously in Pratt’s traditional fold, has been just as vital an undertaking as the development of the PW1000G itself.
“A big part of our focus is three-fold,” says Eva Azoulay, vice president of engine services for Pratt & Whitney. “First, how do we work across the organization to better understand repairs, cost reductions and maintenance practices to optimize the cost? Second, how do we work with the customer to understand whether we have the right maintenance strategy based on their lease strategy and how long they want to keep the fleet? Third, to help it get the answers, Pratt is focusing on predicting the future. “How long is it going to stay on wing? How do we prevent unscheduled engine removals [UER]?” she says.
“We have invested in each of these buckets,” she continues. “We have built a strong team that’s focused on cost reduction and optimization, maintenance practices and what we call ‘surgical strikes,’ which is how to do more on-wing versus going into a shop. In addition, we are spending more time on our digital strategy and letting what we developed on the V2500 flow into the GTF. We have access to a wide base of data from the engines and . . . the maintenance shops that today resides in multiple systems. So we have taken the initiative to bring that data into the hands of the people who manage the contracts and products and are taking it one step further.”
Working with IBM, Pratt has developed an algorithm to better predict unscheduled removals on the V2500 fleet. “Eighteen months ago, we took all the V2500 unscheduled removal data and worked with IBM to develop this algorithm to see if we could have predicted that UER,” says Azoulay. The company is now testing them in production, and when an unscheduled engine event happens Pratt is checking the model to see if it would have been predictable. “It is in its early phases. Part of the capability is managing false positives because you don’t want to remove an engine for no reason,” she adds. To date, 25-30% of UERs would have been predicted by the model. “So it’s not perfect yet, but it’s not bad either. We continue to evolve this with the V2500, and we will take that and apply it to the GTF.”
Another ongoing initiative is called eFAST, which is an on-board, near-real-time data acquisition and transmission unit that automatically downloads, processes and stores data, then uploads it to a customer portal. The eFAST system, already adopted by Bombardier for the PW1500G-powered C Series airliner, captures large amounts of critical aircraft system data for use in optimizing airline flight operations and maintenance cost.
“We may not use all its capacity today, but having access to that will give us a better level of capability,” says Azoulay. “We are looking to do a supplemental type certificate on the V2500 to develop the capability. We aim by end of year to have a pilot program with a customer with between two and 10 aircraft to test it operationally then spread it out across other customers. We will look to do it on the A320neo as well.”
Additional sensors on the GTF provide a wealth of data compared to earlier generations, says Azoulay. “On the V2500, the full flight data is in the thousands, but with GTF, the number of data points we will have available to us is in the millions. We have 40% more sensors on GTF than we do on the V2500. Today we can capture 50 parameters on the V2500 and 255 on GTF. We take a snapshot twice a flight on the V2500 and on the GTF that will go to 16,200 records in one flight.”
Pratt acknowledges that the new GTF technology and the unfamiliarity of some operators working with the engine maker for the first time has led to an additional focus on maintenance support. “That’s why we have seen such high enrollment,” Azoulay notes. “We mitigate some of the concerns, and they know we are going to be there to hold their hands. A level of 80% enrollment is not surprising for a first cycle.” Azoulay’s team grew by 40 in 2015, to more than 160 people, and will more than double again over the next two years.
This article was first published on June 16, 2016 in the June issue of Inside MRO