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Augmented Reality’s MRO Future is Mobile

The technology is tipped as a useful training tool for maintenance technicians, but innovators believe this could be done in a more mobile way.

FRANKFURT--Interest in augmented reality (AR) from the aviation MRO segment has been growing in recent years, with the likes of AFI KLM E&M exploring the technology as a means of technician training while OEMs such as Boeing, Airbus and Honeywell have also invested in forms of AR-driven applications.

The technology has been tipped for further adoption in the aftermarket in both the classroom and as a tool on the MRO shop floor by Kai-Christoph Pfingsten, corporate innovation management and product development at Lufthansa Techik, which has previously utilized AR for other functions including innovation projects related to installation support when equipping VIP aircraft cabins.

“AR can have a major role to play in the training of the new workforce,” he said at Aviation Week Network’s ap&m summit on June 4. However, he doesn’t believe this will be done using AR goggles as a means of displaying relevant images and information to the technician. Instead, he believes the future of AR for maintenance will be use of mobile devices.

“Technicians don’t want to use AR goggles--they are cumbersome and they don’t want to have this on their head for an hour or two,” he says. Using a tablet, an increasingly common sight in aircraft hangars, will be a more practical way to take the technology forward, he believes. “This can be used for training and troubleshooting and is only a short step away from situations such as remote maintenance, where an expert could be located somewhere else in the world at that time," he says.

A similar view is held by Luís Pimentel de Oliveira, innovation specialist at airline TAP Portugal, who also feels the technology would be better used through tablet devices when fusing 3-D physical objects with data. “AR goggles are not practical if it is raining,” he says, while also stating that exposure to hot temperatures experienced by the carrier in locations such as Lisbon may lead to overheating.

However, on the topic of blockchain, another technology tipped to have a transformative effect on MRO in the next five to 10 years, specficially in areas such as component trading, LHT's Pfingsten is more sceptical. "Blockchain is a great thing for currencies but we are still looking for a way to integrate it in our industry," he says. Vivek Tom Raj, aviation solution advisory manager-Europe at software provider Ramco Systems, adds that despite the technology being hyped, it still has a relatively small footprint in aviation. "The only use-case we've seen in aviation is being able to use blockchain to validate the motion of an auto-pilot before an aircraft takes off," he says.

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