4 Ways IoT-Connected Aircraft will Impact Service Supply Chains

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 inflight internet.

Connected aircraft will bring some interesting, somewhat overlooked changes the 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: 

1. Service bills of materials will store sensor data 

Service bills of materials (sBOMs) will not only detail which line-replaceable units (LRUs) were serviced and where, but also contain data detailing how LRUs and their sub-replaceable units (SRU) perform under specific conditions, whether they be environmental or operational.

This added context benefits both MRO personnel and engineers. While the former may reference it to inform repair-or-replace decisions, the latter may use such data to determine how their designs perform under real-world conditions, which brings us to the next benefit of connected aircraft:

2. sBOMs will inform product engineering

Some CAD software allow engineers to utilize IoT data when simulating product performance. As such, this functionality could help aircraft engineers better understand a persistent problem: shaft failures.

Dr. Luis Gallar , a former project engineer at Rolls-Royce, noted engineers often struggle to model what causes engine shafts to fail because of a general lack of condition data. The IoT could supply such information, detailing how compressor characteristics in reverse flow, turbine features at high negative incidences, and other phenomena incite shaft failures.

3.  Spare parts management will adopt a ‘predict, then plan’ approach

The more data spare parts management (SPM) tools receive, the more accurate demand forecasts they produce (assuming the data itself is accurate).

Once an aircraft is docked, an MRO team could enter sensor data into the plane’s sBOM, which sends that data to an SPM solution. The SPM software may notice that the fan will need to be replaced after 430 hours of additional flight time, determine where the aircraft will be at the time of service, and (assuming the replacement part isn’t in stock) trigger the execution systems to send the needed part to that location.

4. Aircraft technicians will use augmented reality to find and fix problems

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.

What capabilities do MRO organizations need to support that digital chord? Download the white paper below to learn what those capabilities are and how they could fit into your operations:

Service Parts Management for Commercial Airlines