The buzz words of Industry 4.0, Big Data, digitisation and connectivity fill the columns of industrial magazines around the globe, and the aerospace industry is no different. One sector that has been making big inroads in adopting this technology is the maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) segment.
“Many industrial corporations are facing the challenge of a new, fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0) – the digitisation of production,” says Dr Helge Sachs, head of corporate innovation management and product development at Lufthansa Technik (www.lufthansa-technik.com). “In the course of this development they have to increase their automation level, examine the use of human-machine support systems and ensure their value chain and especially physical production processes are linked into the opportunities offered by the digital world. The objective is to further increase productivity to remain competitive in the long term.
“This trend is also valid for the MRO industry. This will be even more successful if old ways of thinking are thrown overboard, and more individual isolated solutions are developed and processes and interfaces standardised. Lufthansa Technik has identified the opportunities and potential and has started looking fundamentally at introducing Industry 4.0 technologies in its work areas.
“Automation and data exchange will not only make maintenance and repair processes more effective and cost saving. It will enable us to regard the airplane as a cyber-physical system and predict its need for maintenance. By combining maintenance with logistics and operational data we will be able to offer new services that increase safety and availability of the aircraft.”
Lufthansa Technik is digitising its processes and harnessing its vast data pools with teams of highly experienced engineers and data scientists.
“For this we partner with other companies,” Dr Sachs continues. “For instance, FLYdocs is our strategic partner for records management software. Here we are developing new digital services that will be of high value for operators and lessors globally. Another service we are preparing to roll out is Condition Analytics. This new and highly intelligent platform allows airlines to predict precisely when components should be replaced and recommends measures to be taken to avoid failures before they happen. In the future, we plan to expand this platform for performance and fleet management services.”
Reliable aircraft maintenance is always invariably linked with copious amounts of paperwork, so reducing this workload and saving the tons of paper documentation every year is a high priority.
“All aircraft maintenance documentation is to be created electronically in the ‘Maintenance Log’ application, which acts as the basis for the planned paperless maintenance,” adds Dr Sachs. “This application is used for recording and outputting the data for the aircraft mechanics and allows the use of a variety of different mobile terminal types. The electronic Ground Log (eGL) will be the first documentation type to be used within the Maintenance Log and at the same time replaces the formerly paper-based Ground Log Book (GLB). Additional documentation types, such as the electronic job card (eJobcard) or the electronic technical log book (eTLB), should follow gradually.”
Paperless maintenance therefore not only helps to save paper, environmental resources, time and money, but also expedites the provision and transmission of all information and increases the quality of data input. Documenting data electronically means that some work processes can even be eliminated completely or become more streamlined, clearer and less susceptible to errors.
“The resulting high level of transparency benefits MRO operation and can be passed on almost completely to customers and operators using appropriate B2B interfaces,” Dr Sachs says. “Because many customers are increasingly working with electronic systems, which can be synchronised in the future with our systems, paperless maintenance will create more trust.”
Good to talk
Another solution for reducing the amount of paperwork is the Vocollect solution from Honeywell (www.vocollectvoice.com). Using voice in a hands-free, eyes-free manner enhances the documentation of standard operating procedures. It also provides the continuity you need for better consistency across your locations.
One company that is making use of the technology is Lufthansa Technik. Prominent among its services is maintenance and inspection of Auxiliary Power Units (APUs). The APU maintenance process consists of a rigorous, checklist-driven sequence of steps: assess the external condition of transport containers; visually check the outside of the APU; carry out disassembly and inspection of each part of the unit. At each step information including unit condition and part numbers is recorded.
“To ensure we met the necessary standards of accuracy, the previous procedure generally required two technicians who shared the process of checking, diagnosis and inputting data into our system,” explains Ole Gosau, head of Lufthansa Technik APU Services.
Developed by Honeywell, Vocollect voice technology applies many of the principles operated in warehouses to APU maintenance and inspection. Instead of staff being directed by voice through a checklist of items to be picked, replenished or sent for dispatch, technicians would be directed by voice through a checklist of steps for maintenance and inspection.
The first application for Vocollect was maintenance and inspection for the Pratt & Whitney APS 3200. Based on the existing APU checklist, more than 1,000 test points were defined and implemented as a voice system. From the start, the team of technicians who would be using the technology were also involved, which helped bring about swift acceptance of the system.
A core part of the programme was to make interaction between the technician and system as simple and intuitive as possible. Information is now sent over the wireless network to an A730 mobile computer, converted into speech, and communicated as a voice instruction to a single technician wearing a Bluetooth-enabled wireless headset. A typical dialogue consists of a question relating, for example, to the condition of a part of the APU. The technician then chooses between several statuses and speaks the appropriate one. This is captured by the headset, and then repeated by the system to validate his response and ensure no man-machine misunderstandings arise. The technician’s responses are all relayed from the headset to the A730 device, converted from speech to data, and stored in the system.
The process for recording part numbers during disassembly has likewise been simplified. The technician reads the last three digits of the part numbers. As the numbers tally with those stored in the database, the system verifies it and proceeds to the next step in the process.
The next step involves integrating Vocollect with the company’s SAP system. Gosau then sees scope for applying the system to additional APU maintenance processes, and then, potentially, to servicing large turbines. Looking further forward, with Lufthansa Technik poised to take on exclusive maintenance worldwide of all Airbus A350 APUs, his team is well set.