A provider in aircraft inspection, maintenance and data solutions is enhancing its product functionality thanks to an award from the U.S. Air Force. NLign Analytics will use the award to augment its NLign software to better support the Air Force’s Aircraft Structural Integrity Program (ASIP). The company says the added capability will be integrated into the commercially-available product, which is used in the MRO industry as well as supply chains and manufacturing for Airbus and Boeing.
The software platform, which performs advanced root cause analysis for maintenance and design issues, uses a 3D environment where engineers can collect a variety of data that is automatically aligned to a 3D model of a part or aircraft. Within the 3D tool damage can be diagnosed and addressed, both on a one-off basis or in terms of analyzing aggregate data across a fleet to see where damage is occurring.
“We sometimes think of ourselves as the Google Maps for aircraft manufacturing and maintenance data,” says Tom Sharp, NLign Analytics CEO. Sharp says that similar to the way Google Maps lays roads, weather, restaurants and other types of data over a 3D model of the earth, NLign provides a robust 3D environment to search and plan using aircraft. “Instead of a 3D model of the earth, we put in a 3D model of the part, or whole aircraft, that you’re manufacturing or maintaining.”
One way in which this 3D environment is used within aircraft maintenance is through photographic damage mapping functionality. “With our technology, [MRO staff] are able to take a standard, off-the-shelf digital camera, take a picture of the damage that includes other sorts of ‘landmarks’ in the background and email that picture back to the engineers,” says Sharp. Engineers are able to look at the photo, identify landmarks—such as the leading edge of a wing—and use them to map the photo and damage onto a 3D model. Sharp says this functionality is utilized by the U.S. Navy, which has been using NLign for approximately eight years. The Air Force has also been using the software for the same time frame and has previously given NLign similar awards in the past.
“They continue to show their belief in our platform by continuing to invest in it,” says Sharp. “[The award] will allow us to accelerate the development of several key aspects of our strategic effort to connect NLign into additional elements of the Department’s structural maintenance ecosystem. Moreover, this extended capability has far reaching ramifications toward further military and commercial aerospace applications.”
NLign says the latest award will assist in realizing ASIP goals through a number of improvements, such as developing automated interfaces between data sources and existing analysis tools. Other planned improvements include more accurate understanding of the structural state of an aircraft in advance of service through collection and management of aircraft configuration, maintenance data and recorded usage or damage. Additionally, NLign says it will improve the identification of fleet-wide structural and mechanical problems by aggregating and visualizing data on a structural model paired with complimentary data plots and charts.
The company says this will help the Air Force maximize aircraft availability through more efficient maintenance planning as well as reduce time and costs associated with engineering hours and exchanging data between analysis tools. Sharp says NLign’s customers generally see between a 30-70% reduction in labor hours, and therefore turnaround time, associated with an aircraft on the ground.
NLign did not share the dollar value of the award, but Sharp says the functionality being created for the Air Force will be integrated into the software for all customers. “We’re going to have extended capability to collect additional data, and also the ability to interface with different types of analysis tools,” he says. “All of that capability will go into our standard product.”