If there is one industry has never shunned technology, it’s the aerospace industry. Advances after advances, specifically with the ecological inclusion of better fuel efficiency, recyclability concerns and much more. From manufacturers right through to suppliers, all involved must become early adopters of useful technology if they want to succeed within the industry.
Regardless of the aviation industry’s heavy regulatory standards, the technological advances in the way parts are transported, built, and maintained continue to develop at a rapid pace. This blog looks at some of the biggest technologies used today, along with those emerging within the aerospace industry.
The internet of things has changed everything
From the beginning, the aviation industry welcomed the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT, enables electronic devices to communicate with one another without the need for a host computer. Before acknowledging the information or knowing what to do with it, airlines had already been gathering large volumes of data through various sensors placed throughout the interior and exterior of planes. Currently, maintenance, repair and overhaul professionals (MROs) can communicate with plane sensors using tablets. Therefore, MROs can scan aircraft systems easily and identify components in need of replacement or repair. These sensors also provide notifications for tracking within the supply chain. So, before MROs find themselves lacking, the system identifies, then notifies suppliers when parts are nearing the end of their life so that shipments can be prepared. Moreover, all the data gathered has even further benefits for increased efficiency.
Drones are for more than just deliveries
Several aviation professionals have already started to use drone technology in their daily goings-on. With the inclusion of IoT and the associated sensors within most aspects of aircraft monitoring, MROs can now effortlessly locate faulty components or systems immediately.
With drone technology, MROs can visually identify areas in need of service without a physical inspection. During 2016’s Farnborough Air show, Airbus demonstrated the use of its inspection drones on the A330. EasyJet then began limited use of this technology on the inspection process of its Airbus A320’s, and has now taken to using the technology to check for lightning damage to incoming planes.
The emergence of prescriptive maintenance
Nowadays, MROs usually use a form of predicative analytics to identify possible outcomes of a given situation, helping them to determine the best course of action. Take replacement parts for example, instead of replacing a part every four months, MROs can better determine when that part will reach its lifespan, and if a repair or replacement is best. Though, with the large volume of data now being collected through IoT, these methods may be taken a step further into prescriptive maintenance.
An analytical method that not only determines all possible avenues, prescriptive maintenance also chooses the best course of action based on the desired outcome. Essentially, these models can “think” for themselves. Take self-driving cars for example, vehicles stopped at a red light use prescriptive analytics to determine when, how and if they should go based on their surroundings and the desired end point. For the aviation industry, this method removes guesswork, saving time in an industry reliant on speed. This is already in use by airlines for the analysis of ticket sale pricing and by trip advisory sites, like Kayak and FLYR, for optimal ticket purchasing. It is likely that this method could soon find its way into the everyday care of aircrafts.
Going beyond entertainment with augmented reality
Augmented reality is the use of technology to relay virtual elements in the real world. Some of the best examples include wearables like Google Glass and smartphone modifications for experiences like Pokémon Go.
Over the years, the aviation industry has faced a shortage of training personnel for MRO activities. This shortage is due to many factors, including the rapid growth of airlines in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific, a lack of training structures, limited spots for necessary training necessary to achieve full certification quickly due to necessary hours and the limits of a highly controlled industry. The utilisation of augmented reality means that MROs would be able to train anywhere in the world without the need to wait for open training spots. Therefore, speeding up the process of gaining the required hours and, ultimately, becoming a certified industry professional. Although not being used on a mass scale, companies like TAE, are making use of the remote guidance available though augmented reality to help fill the training void.
E-Commerce brings improvements to the supply chain
Although not a new technology, e-commerce has been adopted at a much slower rate within B2B transactions. E-commerce offers the aerospace supply chain an array of advantages, specifically improvements to inventory management and ease of customer ordering. In addition, e-commerce enables suppliers to track part usage and identify customers in need of reordering.
Most aircraft part distributors use advanced e-commerce solutions through an online ordering portal to provide real-time inventory levels, price breaks, warehouse stocking locations for faster delivery and even important downloads, like part certifications and more.
Is 3D printing entering manufacturing?
Additive manufacturing, otherwise known as 3D printing, is making its way into the extensive manufacturing process. In 2016, Boeing teamed up with Oak Ridge National Laboratory to 3D print the largest single piece ever made using this technology, a 777x wing trim tool. This specific tool was printed in just 30 hours, something that usually takes three months with traditional manufacturing methods. In addition, Airbus and Rolls Royce have also started to integrate 3D printing as part of their manufacturing process.
3D printing has incredible benefits for the aviation industry, including massive efficiency increases, reductions in the amount of manufacturing waste and major changes to aircraft manufacturing and the supply chain.
Efficiency through lean principles
The principles of lean manufacturing have played a huge role in revolutionising efficiency in all areas of the aviation industry. In 2002, Boeing began implementing lean principles at its 737 Wichita, Kan. manufacturing plants, with big payoffs. The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) ultimately converted its manufacturing line to a moving one and saw an immediate 9% reduction in costs. During the 2008 recession, FedEx Express implemented simple changes thanks to lean principles at its aircraft maintenance facility that reduced trips spent on parts retrieval by employees from over 100 a day to only 25. That roughly halved the time taken for those retrievals from nearly 2 hours a day per employee to under an hour.
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