With digital technology playing an increasingly important role in engine and other aircraft maintenance, several organizations are trying to join the dots between different parts of the value chain.
One is the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), which has developed a strategy for through-life engineering services, which integrates manufacturing, engineering and technology with new service-based business models.
“Advanced servitised business models require connected and data-centric capabilities,” says Balaji Srimoolanathan, strategy manager at ATI.
“With the ascent of Industry 4.0, big data and artificial intelligence, engine OEMs are increasingly using these technologies to drive their business propositions forward for maintenance – but also connecting upstream design and manufacturing activities to the operational and in-service element.”
New technologies required to maximize the potential of data analysis include new types of highly accurate, temperature-resistant sensors that can be placed near the core of an engine; robotics featuring sensitive inspection and repair techniques; augmented reality (which can be used to both train technicians and provide a visual guide to making a repair from a remote location); and data aggregation technologies, which allow OEMs to aggregate and analyse customer data from in-service engines.
Allied to this is the concept of a ‘digital twin’ for the aero engine – a digital replica of the physical asset.
Issues that arise in service should ultimately be fed back into the design process for the aero engine, so they can be addressed before new engines enter service, a virtuous circle that integrates information flow between design, manufacturing and in-service support.
As one example, airlines might be able to reduce fuel usage and improve route planning thanks to data from the engines, in addition to servicing engines more efficiently and maintaining the highest levels of availability.
To find out more about new technologies for engine maintenance, see the forthcoming Engine Yearbook 2019.