When GE Aviation uncovered higher-than-normal distress on some GE90 turbine fan shrouds in the Boeing 777 fleet, it turned to its expanding digital toolbox for insight.
Engineers and data scientists collaborated and determined that aircraft flying regularly in hot, salty and/or sandy environments were picking up shroud damage at a much faster rate than planned for in GE’s maintenance programs.
By linking the damage to certain flight profiles, GE was able to isolate the engines that needed special repair procedures. The result: An entire fleet is not forced to adopt new procedures that apply to only part of it, and engines that need attention get it without having to be pulled from service.
“What we’ve been able to do with analytics is look at those engines flying in nominal environments and [develop] a very different maintenance action,” says Kevin McAllister, GE Aviation’s vice president for services. “We have eliminated on-wing inspection for this condition out in the fleet. If you know how distress is accumulating by engine [and] by part, you can workscope these engines on-wing. You can begin to design what you want to do when that engine comes off.”
AFTERMARKET’S ANALYTICS EVOLUTION PAYS OFF FOR AIRLINES AND ENGINE OEMS
GE’s major leap has come via its Predix software
Engine MRO to generate 36% of aftermarket revenue in the next decade
Pratt’s initial focus is projecting how long an engine will stay on wing
The GE90 shroud example underscores that while the aftermarket’s analytics evolution may be in its infancy, it is already paying dividends for operators and engine manufacturers.
“Digital is transforming virtually every corner of our business,” says Rudy Bryce, general manager of GE’s TrueChoice Transitions program. “We’re connecting more data streams, harnessing the information to develop deeper insights faster.”
There is no question that advances in data collection and analytics will transform the way aircraft maintenance is planned, executed and—ideally—prevented. The big question is: How quickly will this happen?
An Oliver Wyman survey earlier this year suggests the so-called big-data leap is not imminent. One of the major roadblocks: Those who stand to benefit most from possible cost savings—operators—also have the most to do to upgrade IT infrastructure, the report says. “Meanwhile, OEMs are investing aggressively in these solutions, and current adoption hurdles could mean near-term development efforts outpace operator readiness, thereby slowing the critical user-feedback cycle needed to upgrade capabilities that will unlock the maximum level of return from these developing technologies,” it continues.
Airlines, recognizing the need to squeeze costs out of every part of their operations, are not expected to be laggards for long, Oliver Wyman projects.
“We expect carriers to become more purposeful and outcome-oriented in their big data programs, engage a cross-section of stakeholders to understand and prioritize available data, and develop more robust business cases supporting greater adoption,” the report states. “They will make investments in new forms of human capital, driving demand for data scientists who can derive insights and operations analysts who can optimize and operationalize those insights. Long-term, these efforts will lead airlines from static, backward-looking reliability and maintenance programs to preventive, probability-based approaches.”
While OEMs and MRO providers eye analytics to gain an edge everywhere in the aftermarket, the engine support landscape is undergoing the biggest changes. This is largely due to shares engine OEMs have in their products’ aftermarket work, which motivates them to develop offerings that support their long-term-agreement customers. Yet even as per-flight-hour maintenance agreements grow in popularity, operators are increasingly looking at the latter part of an engine’s life for creative ways to keep aircraft in service at minimal cost. That means shaving costs from traditional time-and-materials overhauls.
“One of the big influences for us was challenging ourselves to be more competitive in the time-and-materials overhauls space,” notes GE’s Bryce. “Winning shop visits in that space means we have to engage the customers and create a unique solution that fits their needs, offering the best OEM technical offer at a competitive price. We’re in the early part of the journey, but we are beginning to see impacts that are relevant to workscoping for time-and-materials customers.”
GE’s major leap has come via its internally developed Predix software platform, which GE Aviation has migrated to during the last two years.
Regardless of the engine types involved, such outcomes often align with an engine’s vintage.
“Operators of current-generation engines will usually be interested in longer on-wing times as a way of reducing costs,” says Gert Wagner, MTU’s director of engine programs. “This can be aided by services such as engine trend monitoring, which collects a number of engine parameters that are assessed by our engineers. The goal [is] to catch and rectify issues early, before they interfere with smooth flight operations or cause costly repairs or even shop visits.”
As engines move further into their useful lives, workscopes tend to become more detailed and expensive, largely due to the need to replace life-limited parts, Wagner says. “At this point, we see customers focusing increasingly on achieving their operating horizons in the most cost-effective way, though this also depends on the contract type.”
Such demand is part of what motivated GE to launch the Transitions offering under its TrueChoice umbrella. Transitions combines custom workscopes with green-time leases, exchanges, material buy-back and used serviceable material (USM) utlization to optimize transitions between owners. GE projects that 16% of the global fleet changes hands each year, including through lease expirations or traditional sales. The figures translate to 50,000 projected aircraft transactions over the next 10 years.
“A customer with leased engines often is most interested in matching investment with maintenance reserves and in meeting lease-return conditions,” GE’s Bryce says. “Some customers want to maximize time on wing and increase the engine’s efficiency and are candidates for upgrades. Others may have a relatively short operating horizon and want to minimize their investment in the overhaul via USM content and/or module exchanges so they can maximize the economic utility of the engine. And some may have unique needs due to harsh operating environments.”
No matter the customer’s or MRO’s goals, engine trend monitoring is playing an increasingly important role in planning shop visits.
“Engine condition data are of great importance to enable customized workscoping, since they provide information on which modules of an engine require maintenance and/or repairs and which ones don’t,” explains Claus Bauer, vice president for engine services at Lufthansa Technik (LHT).
The Hamburg-based MRO has been developing capabilities to leverage engine data to gain insight on not just specific engines, but modules within them.
“This understanding is then applied to workscoping decisions, providing the optimum degree of maintenance for each engine while at the same time avoiding unnecessary cost,” Bauer continues. “This approach can be applied to legacy engine types as well as to new engine types.”
Pratt & Whitney’s digital ramp-up underscores the benefits available to both legacy and new platforms. Pratt executives touted more than a dozen digital analytics projects completed in 2015, including a predictive model to monitor engine event performance. The project’s first platform was the PW4000, and it has been expanded to the International Aero Engines V2500, which has emerged as the OEM’s de-facto digital analytics testbed for the foreseeable future, according to Lynn Fraga, analytics manager at Pratt & Whitney Engine Services.
Pratt’s initial focus is projecting how long an engine will stay on wing. The process revolves around “how can we automate and aggregate data sources into a faster, more responsive system that moves from the fleet average intervals to customer-specific intervals to engine-specific intervals, to module-specific intervals,” Fraga says. “We’re investing in a lot of the framework now, automating key processes.”
The company expects to have some offerings ready for the market in 2017.
Pratt also is broadening its eFast (electronic flight data acquisition storage and transmission) system’s availability. Selected as the data-transmission component of the Bombardier C Series aircraft health-monitoring system, eFast is being offered on the Airbus A320ceo. Pratt has identified a tentative launch customer that will help with testing needed to obtain an FAA supplemental type certificate and then expects to have as many as 10 aircraft equipped by year-end.
“There’s a lot of talk about full-flight data and expanded sensors, but we really have enough data to start today,” Fraga says. “We’re not waiting.”
The focus on optimizing engine MRO spending is easy to understand. Engine maintenance is expected to generate 36% of all airline aftermarket revenue in the next decade, according to Aviation Week’s Commercial Aviation Fleet & MRO Forecast. The $282.1 billion in engine work is not only the largest share among major MRO categories, but it will also be the fastest-growing, at a 5.3% compound annual growth rate through 2025. With material costs accounting for up to 80% of an engine overhaul, both airlines and OEMs—which assume the cost burden under the ever-more-popular long-term, fixed-price contracts—see opportunity to tailor savings into workscopes.
“This trend toward cost-reduction measures only increases as the engines become mature,” notes MTU’s Wagner. “As a result, we see many customized builds that are defined by the amount of time or cycles an engine is to be operated. After all, if the engine will be flown for another 4,000 cycles, for example, then it is not very economical to build it for 12,000 cycles.”
While analytics can help optimize workscoping opportunities, the holy grail is to catch problems before they happen. “What you really want to create is that no-surprise environment,” says Pratt’s Fraga.
As part of its efforts, the Connecticut-based OEM is blending its analytics capabilities with its expanding global mobile—or “surgical strike”—engine services. Earlier this year, Pratt tapped LHT as principal provider of surgical-strike services for the V2500 and PW1000 families. The services go far beyond addressing on-demand calls. By using data to identify both problems and opportunities and then to translate the information into mobile-ready workscopes, Pratt aims to help operators avoid in-service headaches and cut turn times of future shop visits.
“As we expand in this space, we’re seeing opportunities and starting to demonstrate benefits with early-adopter customers,” Fraga adds. “We’re starting with some lighter-type maintenance first, but we’re progressing into what would be traditionally classified as heavy maintenance.”