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How HUMS Could Help eVTOL Leverage Predictive Maintenance

Condition monitoring provider GPMS is breaking into the eVTOL market, which it says requires special considerations for weight savings and autonomous operation.

GPMS’s health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) has been providing condition monitoring to rotorcraft since 2013, but now it is breaking into the growing eVTOL market. The company’s Foresight MX platform has been selected for a demonstration pilot on Beta Technologies’ Alia eVTOL prototype, which GPMS hopes will open the door to HUMS usage within the segment.

“eVTOLs share with traditional helicopters the need to understand and continuously evaluate the health and condition of key mechanical systems,” explains Eric Bechhoefer, CEO and chief engineer, GPMS. “Beyond that, eVTOL OEMs will define their maintenance requirements. By factoring in systems like ours into the design, it will allow the OEMs to leverage the information that these systems provide to inform maintenance decisions in the manual and drive down operations and maintenance costs more.”

Within traditional rotorcraft, Foresight MX provides mechanical diagnostics and prognostics, such as engine performance monitoring, condition monitoring of rotating equipment, rotor balance and flight data monitoring. GPMS says that although eVTOLs differ from helicopters by being battery powered, HUMS systems will generally monitor the same elements aside from new analysis for electric motors and mechanization for asynchronous rotors.

GPMS Foresight MX systemThe biggest difference, says GPMS, is the requirements for weight savings, since eVTOLs are more sensitive to the system cost of adding weight. Foresight MX—which consists of software and hardware components such as smart sensors to monitor key equipment—weighs less than 10 lb. on traditionally-powered single engine helicopters. For eVTOL, GPMS says it has reduced that weight even further.

GPMS says exact locations of where sensors will be placed within the Alia eVTOL are confidential, but installation on all eVTOL will cover the main drivetrain components—including multiple rotor gearboxes—and enough of the airframe to gather vibration data, which is required for rotor balance. Typically, installation of these sensors entails mounting them to a stud or bolt on the engine. The company says OEMs have the ability to design GPMS’ hardware into their aircraft on the type certificate, so installation will be part of the original manufacturing process.

Eventual autonomous operation is another factor that GPMS says makes its system ideal for eVTOL. “Because many of these eVTOL aircraft have plans to operate autonomously, we see HUMS as even more critical than in traditional aircraft,” says Bechhoefer. “On a typical helicopter, the pilot is the first HUMS sensor, and without a pilot, equipment and maintenance faults will go unnoticed until it’s too late.”

GPMS Foresight MXForesight MX provides automatic alerting through email and SMS, and the user interface is accessible through a standard web browser on computers and mobile devices. GPMS says Beta’s engineers will be able to remotely monitor the Alia eVTOL by accessing data and analytics for advanced diagnostics and predictive maintenance.

GPMS says benefits of Foresight MX for eVTOL include improved reliability and reduced operational costs and downtime.

Beta did not respond to a request for details about the demonstration pilot.

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