Though the area of aircraft maintenance moves at a slow rate, recently, the speed of technological developments is creating great strides in the MRO sector. New technology is improving the ability to detect damaged parts and has optimized repairs processes. That being said, there are seven future MRO technologies that are being explored today that may generate a paradigm shift in the industry.
The MRO industry is still almost entirely dependent on human labor, though new MRO technologies show promise of shifting from human touch to human-led operations. To clarify, this means that new hardware and software devices have opened the door to automation. Though we may not see human operators being replaced by robots any time soon, they may likely aid them in carrying out MRO tasks.
At MRO Europe, many experts gather annually to discuss the disruptive technologies that can reshape MRO and the challenges that such innovations may bring. With this in mind, we will cover how these technologies aim to transform the MRO industry.
Many organizations are pursuing robotics, making it one of the fastest growing MRO technologies. When it comes to robotics, one may first think of robots taking over the world and making humans obsolete. At this time, this is not true. In fact, robots aid laborers with routine or precision-oriented tasks, and they can even be used in operations that may pose a risk to humans. As such, MRO robotics are being applied to everything from single part repairs and carbon fiber machining to complex inspection tasks through miniaturization, allowing for the examination of hard-to-reach spaces. Rolls-Royce’s “swarm” robots are a great example of how robotics will change the MRO industry. These 1-cm-long robots are designed to reach through engines, capturing images and delivering them to technicians for diagnostics.
Often in conversation with robotics, drones are widely implemented in a variety of applications, such as remote plane inspection. For example, EasyJet and Thomas Cook Airlines utilize a RAPID (Remote Automated Plane Inspection and Dissemination) system which is an autonomous drone used for the inspection of aircraft exteriors. Though they are a handy tool, they face overwhelming skepticism and a slow adoption process. On top of this, drones have received bad press in the past and are often being subjected to legislative crackdowns.
Additive Manufacturing (AM)
Additive manufacturing (AM) refers to the use of computer-aided-design (CAD) software or 3D object scanners to generate 3D printed goods. In terms of MRO technology, AM can be used to print replacement parts that are strong, durable, lightweight, and cost-effective. In addition to this, they can dramatically reduce inventory costs for maintenance providers. As AM involves adding material in layers by carving the final object, this process produces less scrap or waste in the process.
AR For MRO Training
The Commercial Development Manager of KLM, Wanda Manoth-Niemoller, spoke about how the Royal Netherlands Aerospace Center (NLR) and KLM have begun an MRO training course. This course consists of multiple Microsoft HoloLens AR goggles to facilitate collaboration and instruction while trainees walk around a scaled 3D model of an aircraft. With the development of more intricate, digitized models of engines and aircraft parts, AR is taking over traditional forms of MRO training. The ability to remove and expand areas of an engine or a part allows technicians to discuss collaboratively, increasing efficiency and productivity.
Blockchain in MRO
From serving as a misfit cryptography system to aiding in secure system management, Blockchain holds its position as a leading technology. During a conference with Hadi Mohamed Shakir, Chief Technology Officer at GI Aerospace, he outlined how Blockchain can be used to improve record-keeping, digital twinning, and faster lease turnover while keeping a high standard of data privacy. By creating a secure “signature” and blockchain ledgers, Blockchain allows businesses to create lists of individuals that can have access to a blockchain signature. Meanwhile, anyone outside of the ledger would not have access to the data.
Analytics, AI, & Machine Learning
As previously mentioned, robotics have problems dealing with variable tasks. This is something that can be remedied through advances in machine learning, allowing operators to interpret and recognize patterns. Though major increases in the availability of data are being achieved, what is needed is a way to put this information into play. By analyzing and making predictions with such data, we can effectively take the variability out of processes. This is particularly important for predictive maintenance, aiding airlines and maintenance providers in anticipating component failure and reducing unscheduled maintenance.
What happens when you combine the above-mentioned technologies? You get intelligent machines. For instance, a Wi-Fi connected torque wrench in conjunction with GE tested smart glasses can inform mechanics of the proper amount of torque to apply to a given application.
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