In order to manage something well, you must measure it. The same is often true about maintenance: good maintenance requires precise measurement.
Hexagon’s manufacturing intelligence division, which specializes in collection, analysis and use of measurement data, is innovating in ways that can be very helpful to MROs.
Start with aircraft interior modifications, soon to be a $2-billion-a-year segment of the MRO business. Whether a new updated interior is being installed in a passenger aircraft or the passenger interior is being converted into cargo configuration, very careful measurements must be made of the interior to understand the exact dimensions of the space and the obstructions that must be dealt with.
The traditional way of making these measurements is manually with scales and plumb bobs, explains Steve Starner, director of business development in Hexagon’s North American aerospace structures division. This is a very tedious practice and can take days for a single aircraft interior. It also provides only limited data on a limited number of measuring points.
Now Hexagon has come up with tools that yield a complete 3D rendering of an aircraft interior in just a couple hours. A mechanic simply scans the interior with a two lb. handheld laser scanner, moving it like a spray gun over interior surfaces. The scanner works in combination with a 30 lb. stationary laser tracker. Starner estimates about 10% of the potential interior modification market has adopted the new technology, and he thinks there are many more MROs that could benefit from it.
Another Hexagon innovation relevant to MRO starts in the aerospace factories where the company works extensively on measuring the parts produced. Traditionally, these measurements have supported only the accept-or-reject decision for parts. But Digital Twinning is the latest buzzword in both production and maintenance of parts, and—though much more data must be later added on operation and performance—digital twins start out with a digital 3D model of the produced part.
Usually, this 3D model will be based on digital design data for the part, but Starner says there can be slight differences between the as-designed part and the part as actually produced. For example, just a few thousandths of an inch difference in where holes are drilled may not be enough to reject a part, but it does make a slight difference in the part as produced.
Hexagon’s measuring equipment in aerospace factories detects these slight differences in as-produced parts. Now the company has developed software that ties these measurements into the digital thread that OEMs produce and pass on to aircraft operators and MROs to assist in maintenance. Better, more precisely accurate digital twins of aircraft parts should be the result. Starner says this software tool is new and now being used in less than 10% of its potential aerospace market.