Aircraft manufacturers haven’t ignored the Internet of Things. Market Research Engine predicted the connected aircraft market could exceed $6 billion in value by 2020, largely due to passenger demand for in-flight internet.
Connected aircraft will bring some interesting, somewhat overlooked changes to service supply chains, one of which will be the convergence of engineering teams and MRO departments. This repercussion is the result of three effects associated with connected aircraft:
Most forecasting algorithms rely on data from bills of materials, MRO software, and other systems. However, none of that data can indicate when a part will fail, or why, much less the aircraft on which that part will reside.
The IoT changes that. Aviation Week noted that Pratt & Whitney’s GTF engine is fitted with about 5,000 sensors that generate “up to 10 [gigabytes] of data per second.” Imagine processing all of that data to measure the health of each and every part within that engine. Applying predictive analytics to all of that sensor data will show parts planners:
This knowledge will enable parts planners to make smarter stocking decisions, which leads me to my next point.
As parts planners will have a more reliable idea as to how many parts they’ll need and where, they won’t have to carry as much safety stock for those “just-in-case” scenarios.
In fact, PTC Fellow Vinod Arekar found that applying predictive analytics to IoT enables parts planners to centralize more stock, and by proxy, reduce their overall inventory. He conducted a proof-of-concept which showed that a company could decrease its stock by 20%.
Once the aircraft in the previous example arrives at the aforementioned maintenance depot, a technician is assigned to replace the SRU. But what if that technician has never performed such a procedure, or is unfamiliar with the engine configuration?
Using a tablet (or, in the not-too-distant future, a headset), the technician watches a 3D, animated simulation of the steps needed to replace the fan. He can adjust the animation with his fingers to view different angles of the graphical engine, see which tools he’ll need to complete the job, and other details.
When considering each of these repercussions, the overarching picture is that the service supply chain no longer only consists of MRO and spare parts. Engineering enters the aircraft lifecycle, connecting all those involved with designing, manufacturing, and servicing such assets throughout the digital chord.