The move toward exploitation of Big Data from new aircraft for predictive maintenance often looks like a duel only among the biggest aerospace companies, with airframe and engine OEMs vying with global full-service MROs for data and business. But smaller firms continue to play an important role in this arena.
For example, UK-headquartered Spectro Jet-Care provides two kinds of critical services. The company’s laboratories in Europe and the U.S. continue to analyze oil, debris, hydraulic liquids and fuel to help avoid maintenance surprises. And Spectro also conducts its own independent trend analysis of data generated by sensors in the gas path of engines on regional aircraft.
Sensors on the latest engines like GE’s LEAP family can tell an airline or OEM that debris is accumulating in engine oil, but cannot say where it is from. But remove the debris and send it to a lab, and technologies like plasma spectrometers and electron microscopes can tell a lot more about what sort of debris it is and where it is likely to come from. Sometimes that kind of knowledge can point to imminent engine failure, while at other times it can guide the workscope of an overhaul.
Spectro can turn around one of these ‘wet chemistry’ analyses of engine debris in a matter of hours, when needed. The technique has been used on all commonly flown engines, including the latest new-generation LEAPs and geared turbofans.
“The practical benefit may be the ability to keep an engine on wing longer,” explains Sales & Marketing Manager Alan Baker. “Or an MRO might send us a sample of engine oil on induction of the engine to help work-scope the overhaul.”
The second service Spectro offers is more like traditional engine condition trend monitoring, using data from aircraft and engine sensors to spot possible problems and recommend maintenance actions before expensive surprises. Here, the company currently supports 15 engine product types, generally the smaller engines on general aviation, business jets, turboprop and smaller regional aircraft, up to 20,000 pounds of thrust. The larger engines fly on aircraft such as the Bae-146, CRJ 700 and EMB-145.
The company is starting to pursue operators of these regional aircraft with its independent health monitoring solution. The attractions are that Spectro can monitor engines made by several OEMs, unlike a support service provided by a single OEM. And some carriers like to avoid handing over all their data under a service contract with an OEM, and only learn what the OEM chooses to tell them.
“There are two major aims of this service, explains Jet-Care Operations Manager Jim Lawrie. “We can tell them when something is going wrong and how the operator can plan a recovery or unscheduled repair with minimal operational disruption and cost. Often, we can find problems that can be fixed on wing cheaply if the customer takes rectifying action at an early stage.”