What are some of the aims of the new laboratory?
TW: We’ve been developing technology around three key areas: data acquisition, data transmission related to connectivity both on and off an aircraft and using data analytics to extract value. This has been done across several laboratory locations across the world. Last year we realized we needed to develop intelligent systems in a single lab, so the decision was made to identify a lab where we could pull those three key functions together and demonstrate our intelligent systems as a product to develop more fully our equipment to be more reliable and better connected. The lab in Rockford was already in existence with a number of our LRUs, on-board connectivity solutions and electrical power systems and was chosen to instrument with our intelligent products such as sensors, wireless communication capabilities, connection to the cloud and analytics. There’s two key objectives: one is to develop our intelligent systems in an integrated way in a single location, and the second is to ultimately provide a site where potential customers can come to the lab and work with us on integrated solutions and see with their own eyes how our systems can complement their approaches to analytics and fleet management.
What will be some of its key digital focuses?
MA: One of the areas UTAS has been very focused on is known internally digital thread. How do we connect design information to manufacturing information, and how equipment is upgraded to an aircraft’s repair history? It’s about closing that loop with better design practices, information and knowledge of how to implement products. The new lab has key elements of that chain and gives us the ability to have the design information on the products, being able to simulate several different upgrade conditions in the lab including simulated faults.
Was the project launched with new-generation, data heavy aircraft in-mind or does it also incorporate more mature models?
TW: It’s for all aircraft types. Our supplemental sensing solutions, for example, are geared towards older aircraft that don’t produce as much data as newer components do. But certainly, our solutions from a connectivity stand point are designed for newer aircraft.
The lab is connected to the existing capabilities already in Rockford. Has its addition led to the creation of new jobs?
MA: We are leveraging capability across the business. UTC runs a corporate research center, which has locations across the world from East Hertford, Connecticut to Cork, Ireland. We’ve drawn on the knowledge of our data scientists across the network to complement our capabilities in Rockford. Our recently established digital accelerator in Brooklyn also gave us access to data scientists along with people possessing good user interface expertise which helped us develop some of our applications. Internally, we have established a new group focused on data analysis on products which we didn’t have in the past. An element of that group is available to any of the UTAS businesses to use. Units like mine have migrated our skillset towards more systems-level and data analysis capabilities when we hire new staff.
Some of the lab’s focuses center on health monitoring solutions for generators, air compressors, fans and motor controllers. Will this be expanded to other components over time?
TW: We absolutely plan to expand over time. We manufacture a number of different systems and components on the aircraft, so our strategy is to take this capability and replicate it across multiple development labs to enable a similar approach to develop analytics and getting data into the cloud. There are opportunities to combine data from multiple UTAS systems to provide some unique insights into our product systems, so we will continue to expand the products that we apply the intelligent components to so we can offer more intelligent products with better connectivity.