As engine operation and maintenance becomes increasingly data-driven, so grows the number and capability of sensors used to record different parameters.
Engine sensors typically cover five main functions: power indication; gas path monitoring; fuel indication; oil system monitoring; and vibration measurement.
Today’s engine sensors are designed to meet stringent functional and operational requirements, including high accuracy and functionality in harsh environments. As a result, it’s difficult to design a sensor that is reliable and lightweight, while still offering it at a competitive cost.
While specific sensor technologies have advanced and evolved, the demands of the harsh engine environment continue to challenge the ability of designers to properly package and protect the sensors for their full lifespan. As a result, the size of many sensors is determined by that of the protective packaging required to help them survive.
Thus, combination packaging of multiple sensor technologies into a single housing can be a benefit to installation. One example is an oil level sensor that can also monitor oil viscosity and conductivity within the engine oil tank. This data can then be used to determine overall oil health and the schedule required to conduct maintenance on demand.
As new jet engine technologies emerge and aircraft avionics become ‘smarter’, there is a need for continuous improvements in sensor technologies. In the very near term, incremental improvements are needed to provide more reliable, accurate and cost-effective sensors, both in terms of initial and total lifecycle cost.
For an in-depth look at current sensor technology and the advances we can expect to see (and not see) in the near future, see the forthcoming Engine Yearbook 2019.