Aviation Business


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


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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