DIG­I­TAL TWINS IN AVIATION

Na­dine Etong, direc­tor, MRO Prod­uct Line at the Aerospace and De­fence Busi­ness Unit, IFS, ze­roes in on the ben­e­fits of dig­i­tal twins tech­nol­ogy in MRO

Aviation Business - - CONTENTS -

Na­dine Etong delves into the ben­e­fits of dig­i­tal twins tech­nol­ogy in MRO

The global dig­i­tal twin mar­ket size is ex­pected to reach $26.07bn by 2025 — reg­is­ter­ing a strong CAGR of 38.2% over the fore­cast years — and we are now start­ing to see the first suc­cess­ful use cases of dig­i­tal twins in ac­tion in com­mer­cial aviation. GE has al­ready built dig­i­tal twin com­po­nents for its GE60 En­gine fam­ily and also helped de­velop the world’s first dig­i­tal twin for an air­craft’s land­ing gear. In this last sce­nario, sen­sors placed on typ­i­cal land­ing gear fail­ure points, such as hy­draulic pres­sure and brake tem­per­a­ture, pro­vide real-time data to help pre­dict early mal­func­tions or di­ag­nose the re­main­ing life­cy­cle of the land­ing gear.

Four tech­nol­ogy driv­ers

These ma­jor ad­vances in dig­i­tal twin ca­pa­bil­i­ties have been driven by four key tech­nolo­gies:

• IoT & Big Data – The pro­lif­er­a­tion of sen­sors on as­sets or com­po­nents com­bined with con­nected sys­tems al­lows or­gan­i­sa­tions to gain de­tailed in­sights into live per­for­mance

• Ad­vanced an­a­lyt­ics – Through ma­chine learn­ing we can use this data to pre­dict and sim­u­late the fu­ture con­di­tion or de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of the as­set in ques­tion

• Com­put­ing power – Cloud-based tech­nol­ogy vastly im­proves the af­ford­abil­ity and avail­abil­ity of the com­put­ing power re­quired to run large-scale dig­i­tal twin mod­els

• Ac­ces­si­bil­ity – Where pre­vi­ously a dig­i­tal twin may have been locked into the con­trol room of a fac­tory or or­gan­i­sa­tion, this data can now be ac­cessed from any­where via mo­bile de­vices

Dig­i­tal twin in name only – dis­pelling the ‘phys­i­cal’ myth

But how do you de­fine a dig­i­tal twin? An ac­cepted def­i­ni­tion would be a replica of any­thing which gives you real-time in­sight into the sta­tus of a real-world as­set to en­able or­gan­i­sa­tions to bet­ter man­age equip­ment and in­form busi­ness de­ci­sions. In fact, dig­i­tal twins have been around — at least in part — for a while, but they’ve taken names such as ‘mir­rored sys­tems’ and ‘con­nected fac­to­ries.’

How­ever, these de­ploy­ments have been fo­cused on phys­i­cal as­sets, un­like dig­i­tal twins which are not lim­ited to a 3D model of a sin­gle piece of equip­ment. Run­ning a dig­i­tal twin for a sin­gle as­set is only the first step and, thanks to those four en­abling tech­nolo­gies, this can now be ex­trap­o­lated to cre­ate a dig­i­tal twin of a whole fleet of as­sets. Take this a step fur­ther and a dig­i­tal twin of the whole fleet can be­come part of a dig­i­tal twin of an en­tire busi­ness or or­gan­i­sa­tion, with pro­cess flows vi­su­alised and bot­tle­necks flagged in real-time — much more valu­able than one fancy 3D model.

No twins are iden­ti­cal!

Dig­i­tal twins work in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions, ap­pli­ca­tions and pro­cesses de­pend­ing on the con­text of the or­gan­i­sa­tion in the sup­ply chain. Com­po­nent man­u­fac­tur­ers, for ex­am­ple, are pri­mar­ily fo­cused on in­di­vid­ual com­po­nents, while en­gine OEMs care mainly about the en­gine as an en­tire as­set. Heavy/base main­te­nance in­spec­tors and reg­u­la­tors are more fo­cused on over­all main­te­nance busi­ness pro­cesses and stan­dards, and this con­tin­ues right up to line main­te­nance providers who look pri­mar­ily at MRO data and the air­line/ op­er­a­tor which wants to piece to­gether a dig­i­tal twin of the en­tire air­craft.

It’s all about the data – busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tions act as key en­ablers

These dif­fer­ing pri­or­i­ties have a con­se­quence on what a busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tion needs to do to man­age dig­i­tal twin data. A lot of the data re­quired for dig­i­tal twin tech­nol­ogy sits within sup­port­ing busi­ness ap­pli­ca­tions: as­sets are mapped within en­ter­prise soft­ware, in­clud­ing his­tor­i­cal main­te­nance data, work or­ders and orig­i­nal en­gi­neer­ing and de­sign data.

From this we can see that en­ter­prise ap­pli­ca­tions are hugely ben­e­fi­cial in con­struct­ing dif­fer­ent kinds of dig­i­tal twins. In some cases, the sup­port­ing en­ter­prise ap­pli­ca­tion acts as a dig­i­tal twin of cer­tain pro­cesses—whether that is the en­tire busi­ness or run­ning a 3D model by tak­ing

in data from sev­eral third-party sys­tems. In oth­ers, the en­ter­prise soft­ware could be the source of the dig­i­tal twin, be­com­ing part of a larger data ecosys­tem which builds up a dig­i­tal twin some­where else. How­ever, this re­quires flex­i­ble and ag­ile en­ter­prise soft­ware that has been de­signed to sup­port dig­i­tal twin ini­tia­tives and is suit­able to ful­fil a va­ri­ety of roles — fail­ure to track and de­liver data in the right place at the right time could lead to weak link in the chain and un­der­mine an en­tire dig­i­tal twin oper­a­tion.

Four ben­e­fits for in­de­pen­dent MROs

In­de­pen­dent MROs who are reg­u­larly cap­tur­ing key data streams in their en­ter­prise soft­ware can start to quickly take ad­van­tage of dig­i­tal twin­ning to dif­fer­en­ti­ate their ser­vice of­fer­ings against other in­de­pen­dent MRO com­peti­tors, and also against large in­flex­i­ble OEMs that have a num­ber of dis­parate sys­tems in place.

There are a num­ber of ways in­de­pen­dent MROs can lever­age dig­i­tal twins to ben­e­fit them­selves and their cus­tomers:

1) In­crease air­craft safety

Us­ing se­ri­alised as­set dig­i­tal twins in con­junc­tion with real-time/near real-time mon­i­tor­ing and pre­dic­tive an­a­lyt­ics can help de­tect a de­fect ear­lier, through prior in­sight into the com­po­nent’s con­di­tion. The net re­sult is that part safety is in­creased, mak­ing air­craft and airlines safer. One strong ex­am­ple is Dutch car­rier KLM— it re­duced its min­i­mum equip­ment list de­fects and de­lays and can­cel­la­tions by 50% since in­tro­duc­ing AI to man­age pre­dic­tive main­te­nance.

2) Evolve from re­pair shop to power-by-the-hour ser­vice provider

Dig­i­tal twins can trans­form the main­te­nance mod­els of­fered by in­de­pen­dent MROs to­ward of­fer­ing life­cy­cle sup­port con­tracts that re­duce main­te­nance vis­its and costs through in­di­vid­ual se­ri­alised in­spec­tion and ser­vice sched­ules. By tak­ing the pres­sure of as­set main­te­nance man­age­ment, MROs al­low airlines to fo­cus on their core busi­ness of fly­ing pas­sen­gers, not spend­ing cy­cles manag­ing wrench turn­ing. MROs can also re­de­fine ser­vice con­tract terms for the spe­cific as­sets be­ing main­tained, based on their dig­i­tal twin his­tory and pro­jected fu­ture per­for­mance.

3) Ex­tend as­set life

Dig­i­tal twins also en­able MROs to build a broader un­der­stand­ing of sup­ported as­sets while in ser­vice. They can use pre­dic­tive main­te­nance tech­niques to max­imise their avail­abil­ity and time on­wing or over­lay health mon­i­tor­ing data with a dig­i­tal as­set twin to trend per­for­mance and reli­a­bil­ity on a se­rial num­ber ba­sis. This gives them un­par­al­leled in­sight into the as­sets they sup­port over time. As more as­set in­for­ma­tion is built into the dig­i­tal twin, MROs can learn from this to ce­ment their rep­u­ta­tion as as­set or com­po­nent ex­perts.

4) Im­prove the busi­ness sup­ply chain

The ben­e­fits of a dig­i­tal twin spread more widely than just the sin­gle com­po­nent in ques­tion. By know­ing in ad­vance which com­po­nent will fail, sup­ply chain man­agers can plan and have parts and ma­te­rial ready and avail­able when needed — ei­ther to re­place the failed com­po­nent or for use as part of the re­pair pro­cess. The net re­sult is that sup­ply chain man­agers have bet­ter con­trol of their stocks.

Case in point: TEST-FUCHS

One IFS cus­tomer that has de­signed a ded­i­cated dig­i­tal twin pro­gramme is TEST-FUCHS, a lead­ing man­u­fac­turer of test sys­tems and com­po­nents for aerospace and de­fence or­gan­i­sa­tions. TEST-FUCHS has a ded­i­cated dig­i­tal twin ap­proach for ground sup­port as­sets and test equip­ment.

As the man­u­fac­turer of the as­sets, TEST-FUCHS looks at the en­gi­neer­ing & de­sign and pro­cure­ment data of the as­set it is sell­ing, and also has full con­trol of the IoT-en­abled test fa­cil­ity to pro­vide main­te­nance data in real-time, then ex­e­cute that main­te­nance in its re­pair shop. This gives the com­pany a deep view of the data which builds up in an as­set’s life­cy­cle and pro­vides vis­i­bil­ity across the en­tire dig­i­tal twin land­scape around ev­ery as­set. IFS Ap­pli­ca­tions plays a prom­i­nent role in this en­vi­ron­ment — en­abling TEST-FUCHS to build up an en­ter­prise-wide pic­ture of their busi­ness pro­cesses to put the dig­i­tal twin strat­egy into ac­tion.

Un­lock MRO po­ten­tial

MROs are ideally placed to har­ness the ROI and ben­e­fits of dig­i­tal twin tech­nol­ogy to im­prove and op­ti­mise their ser­vice of­fer­ings and busi­ness per­for­mance. But in all these ex­am­ples I have shown, to ef­fec­tively put a dig­i­tal twin strat­egy in place re­quires the sup­port of ag­ile and flex­i­ble en­ter­prise soft­ware geared to­wards datadriven de­ci­sion-mak­ing. With a strat­egy that is both solid and vi­sion­ary, and the right soft­ware sup­port, in­de­pen­dent MROs can take a slice of the $26.07bn op­por­tu­nity the grow­ing dig­i­tal twin mar­ket rep­re­sents, and bet­ter serve their in­creas­ingly de­mand­ing air­line cus­tomers.

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