Despite new inspection technologies and repair techniques, aircraft maintenance remains human endeavor, almost as reliant on touch labor as it ever was.
On several fronts, though, technology is threatening to disrupt the paradigm. This is not to say that robots will replace mechanics en masse any time soon; instead, new hardware and software developments have unlocked the door to automation, while also promising to reduce overall MRO costs for aircraft operators and lessors.
Some of the most eye-catching developments will be in robotics and artificial intelligence – and the combination of the two.
One example of is Rolls-Royce’s ambition to develop tiny robots that can navigate, inspect and repair the most difficult to access parts of the engine.
“In short, we would like to miniaturize the overhaul facility and deploy it on the end of a snake robot,” James Kell, on-wing technology specialist at Rolls-Royce, tells Inside MRO.
As exciting as this sounds, such a breakthrough is many years away.
In contrast, several new technologies that could make change maintenance practices this decade are already in operation or being trialled.
These include autonomous drones for aircraft inspection, 3D printing for rapid tooling and spare parts; and augmented reality glasses to help engineers with their tasks.
GE Aviation, for example, has trialled smart glasses and wrenches that work together via the internet of things to inform technicians about the correct amount of torque to apply to engine bolts.
Automation is also making strides with Lufthansa Technik’s development of a robot that can inspect and repair combustor cracks.
TO find out more about emerging MRO technologies pick up the next issue of Inside MRO.