Aircraft Maintenance 4.0 — Are You Ready?

Aircraft maintenance safety has evolved through the second and third industrial revolution. Now, there’s a fourth revolution for aircraft maintenance. It’s called “Aircraft Maintenance 4.0,” or the transformation of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) to digital. This is where scale, automation and productivity are realized through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), big data and artificial intelligence.

Beginning in the second industrial revolution, the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Board was concerned about the delivery of safe maintenance to aircraft and in 1941, created the Aircraft Mechanics Creed. This pledge enlisted the mechanic with a sacred trust and best practice to never undertake work or approve work that goes beyond the limits of the mechanics judgment, and would subject others to a safety risk.

In the third industrial revolution, the bar was raised. Before performing a single task on an aircraft, technicians and mechanics were asked to apply this creed to best practices and also include relevant: knowledge, technical data, experience, tools, training, mental preparation, physical preparation, safety precautions, certifications, resources and compliance.

Paradigm Shift: Aircraft Maintenance 4.0

The MRO market will grow to $109 billion globally by 2027 from $75 billion in 2017. Driving this growth is the scale, automation and productivity realized by IIoT big data and artificial intelligence that are part of the new fleet of aircraft. Sensors in the new fleet of aircraft gather data and make the relevant data available where it’s needed. Simply put, for the MRO provider, the paradigm is changing. More data must be realized, connected and gathered so that analytics can be applied to create the actions needed for safe and compliant maintenance, repair and overhaul.

Regulatory Concerns: Are Changes Coming?

The transformation of maintenance to digital has not gone unnoticed by the regulatory agencies. These agencies see Digital Transformation as a way to help improve safety and compliance in the delivery of maintenance, repair and overhaul to the aircraft. As a result, changes in oversight by regulatory agencies are forthcoming.

For example, the FAA has already transitioned to a risk-based, data-supported system for the surveillance of certificate holders regulated under 14 C.F.R. parts 121 (U.S. commercial airlines), 135 (commuter or on-demand air operations), and 145 (repair stations). The FAA also changed its enforcement policy to emphasize compliance over enforcement, with additional compliance guidance for the MRO provider to “examine their decisions around operations.” FAA Advisory Circular AC 120-16G summarizes some of these forthcoming changes with additional MRO guidance to create a process that can be used to set priorities, make choices, plan audits, analyze data and implement corrective actions.

This recent regulatory shift has also introduced the need to realize risk-based data from both the asset, and from the delivery of service to the asset for better decisions, improved safety and compliancy.

The Path Through Transformation?

Transforming your operation and business for digital, begins with the right questions. Your questions should be rooted in the right vision for your business with a matched digital blueprint. Next, you’ll need a functional roadmap to help improve clarity, ensure consistency and define “value.” The plan that follows should validate what you have learned. Then, you can verify your governance with a workshop for a confident execution and reduced risk.

What’s Next?

GE Digital has an end-to-end software platform, called Predix, that provides the Industrial IoT infrastructure to connect the devices, gather the data, and use asset performance management (APM) to apply the predictive analytics. There is also a M&E system-agnostic “bolt-on” MRO platform, called ServiceMax, that follows the regulatory guidance (FAA AC 120-16G) to deliver the actions and enable the MRO provider to:

  • Set priorities for reactive repair
  • Make choices, plan audits, analyze data, implement corrective actions for preventive and condition-based repair
  • Forecast failures for predictive repair

GE’s history in aviation spans more than 90 years of innovation, safety and regulatory compliance.

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