How IoT Enhances Aerospace Predictive Maintenance

Michael Edelen

The whine above your head is a familiar one. It starts as a distant high pitch and increases in strength when the gray spot in the sky draws closer. You observe the airplane making its graceful descent through the air as it heads toward its destination airport to get its passengers there on time.

Unfortunately, this scenario is not always the case. Airplanes become grounded for a range of emergency maintenance issues. These issues delay flights and create angry customers.

Yet operators and pilots are always on point to ensure planes are fully functional to prevent devastating accidents. Maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) is the daily task in managing the upkeep and safety of large aircraft. Data gathering and analysis are used to check systems’ operation and how they interconnect.

Technicians, OEM parts manufacturers, and carriers have always taken a more reactive approach to maintenance. Problems are addressed as they occur. Unfortunately, this tactic leads to downtime, delayed flights, and aircraft on ground (AOG) issues during busy airport hours. Predictive maintenance – making repairs at the right time to avoid problems before they occur – is key to preventing these problems.

IoT offers a leg up in predictive maintenance

One main obstacle in predictive maintenance is analyzing the data that is available. Maintenance technicians must understand the known issues that have occurred with equipment. They need to see trends that indicate equipment is ready to fail and predict its remaining lifecycle. This enables repairs to be made before major issues arise.

Operators and technicians have been turning to the Internet of Things (IoT) to collect the data patterns that indicate first-stage equipment failure. Here are several ways that IoT is being used to improve predictive maintenance for MRO tasks.

IoT health sensors for equipment

Technicians, airline operators, and OEM parts companies are looking at aircraft as they would the human body’s functions. They are adopting the same diagnostic and prognostic strategies doctors use to identify symptoms that warn of possible future illnesses in patients and applying this methodology to airplanes.

By placing sensors on important equipment and machinery, such as the engines, wing flaps, bleed values, and landing gear, airplane maintenance workers can effectively gather data to analyze for symptoms of aircraft failure. They can take note of possible failures, create predictive maintenance schedules to order parts, and schedule capable workers to fix equipment in a timely manner.

Enhance analysis of gathered data

Another obstacle that technicians and operators can overcome with technology is gathering meaningful, useful data. Aircraft sensors can send back huge amounts of data, and spending too much effort trying to analyze it all not only consumes technicians’ time, but can also push back their work schedule. This can increase labor and work costs.

Blockchains can be used to organize and group relevant data in a sequence that is easier for maintenance technicians to evaluate. These blockchains take advantage of IoT connectivity to create a digital ledger of events or transactions that are more accessible for users. In the aerospace industry, a blockchain can record how and when each part was manufactured, shipped, installed, used, and repaired. This IoT technology allows for greater transparency in a part’s lifecycle, enabling a technician to review the data recorded in the blockchain and consider the part’s installation, usage, and repair history to make more value-based decisions about MRO solutions.

Reduce false alerts with system connectivity

While analyzing data, maintenance technicians must avoid false alerts. A false alert may occur when a sensor indicates a possible problem in a part that is working fine on later review. When false alerts in a piece of equipment happen frequently, maintenance technicians may begin to ignore it – even when there is a real problem in the aircraft equipment.

IoT can tackle this issue by introducing comprehensive system connectivity between different airplane components, as well as collecting more data from technicians, airplane pilots, carriers, and OEM parts companies. Reducing the disconnect between different departments can enable evaluations from different data sources. By looking at all the data, maintenance technicians can search for correlations from other angles that help reduce false alerts and better predict equipment distress signals.

Implement predictive maintenance with IoT

Moving from a reactive maintenance schedule to predictive maintenance solutions will improve MRO for the long term. It will allow for more cost-effective strategies and increase productivity for maintenance technicians. When applied in the aerospace industry, the advantages can be seen instantly.

The Internet of Things and the way we collect and analyze data will allow aircraft to be built better and stronger. In addition, these airplanes will be designed to increase satisfaction of every customer who takes to the skies, whether for work or pleasure.

Learn how to bring new technologies and services together to power digital transformation by downloading The IoT Imperative for Discrete Manufacturers: Automotive, Aerospace and Defense, High Tech, and Industrial Machinery. Explore how to bring Industry 4.0 insights into your business today by reading Industry 4.0: What’s Next?

Michael Edelen

About Michael Edelen

Michael Edelen is a solution specialist for SAP Aerospace and Defense Industry Business Unit at SAP with focus on manufacturing. As a member of the A&D IBU he is privileged to be participating in SAP's new vision for manufacturing with focus on industry 4.0 leveraging the benefits of IoT, machine learning, predictive analytics, plant connectivity, and the extended supply chain.