Throughout the past few years, there have been several advances in smart manufacturing, smart cities, and automotive all becoming more connected as we move further into the digital age. Aerospace can now be added to that list with airlines investing in connected hardware and services.

According to the Honeywell Connected Aircraft Report, the aviation industry will be investing heavily in connected technology during the next few years to reap the cost and efficiency benefits from sensing, collecting, and analyzing real-time data collected by numerous sensors.

The report also found that the main challenge faced by the industry was maintenance, where problems frequently cause costly delays and downtime. By embracing connected technologies, the aviation industry will benefit from predictive maintenance, enabling it to use real-time data to improve passenger experience and increase cost efficiency.

Pre-failure repairs

Predictive maintenance uses historical and real-time data to analyze and predict when failure might happen, rather than wait until something goes wrong. It is proactive rather than reactive, so repairs can be made before problems arise. To access the data, smart sensors need to be strategically placed on equipment and machinery – the engine, wings, and landing gear for example. The data are analyzed to check the systems are working correctly and highlight any potential failures and maintenance issues.

Used correctly, this data will enable airlines to carry out predictive maintenance by repairing any potential issues before they happen, schedule service, and highlight any trends that may cause future issues. Performing repairs and maintenance at the right time will save the aviation industry billions of dollars and also improve customer satisfaction levels by reducing delays and downtime.

However, for all the opportunities, aviation has its own challenges when taking on connected technologies, and these need to be overcome to gain the full benefits.

Data reliability

Airlines can only use the data provided by the smart sensors if the sensors are working effectively. They must be powered efficiently and cost effectively without causing problems for the aircraft. The dramatic increase in sensors cannot result in a dramatic increase in cabling linked to the power source. Additional sensors add too much weight to the aircraft, and some will be in places that are difficult to access with cabling.

As a result, there is a move toward battery power to remove the need for heavy cabling while keeping the sensors powered to do their job effectively. If the devices that predict failure go down, there is no benefit in having them. A smart, connected industry soon becomes unsmart when data-collecting sensors fail as batteries run dry.

Traditionally, battery technology included polymer or liquid electrolytes that could not work under the high temperatures and vibrations common in aircraft or aero engines, resulting in potentially dangerous leakages. Batteries capable of operating at higher temperatures were often too large and cumbersome to be used in small, hard-to-reach locations, a problem worsened by the fact that they weren’t rechargeable. In addition to labor costs and safety issues in changing the batteries, there was also a negative environmental impact from constantly disposing of batteries once their power had been depleted.

Solid-state batteries

Advances have been made in battery technology to address the power needs of emergent technologies, with solid-state batteries. Lacking traditional polymer or liquid electrolytes, solid-state batteries instead use solid components with greater tolerance to temperatures as high as 150°C and as low as -40°C. The ability to support these temperatures, in conjunction with the lack of liquid and polymer electrolytes, make solid-state batteries leakage-free, improving safety.

In addition, solid-state batteries:

  • Are as thin as 1mm
  • Have up to 10 years battery life
  • Don’t need heavy, expensive cabling
  • Can be integrated with other electronic components, enabling miniaturization
  • Contain non-flammable components, lowering fire risk
  • Can store environmentally harvested energy

With solid-state batteries, airlines can install them onto equipment and machinery knowing they can safely tolerate the high temperatures found in aviation. The long battery life offers large cost savings as thousands of sensors can be powered in a fit-and-forget model. The need to frequently replace or recharge the batteries is removed, resulting in savings in labor costs and lower safety issues when changing them in hostile locations.

Once the aviation industry has implemented a connected technologies strategy using solid-state batteries to power Internet of Things (IoT) devices, it can fully embrace a predictive maintenance program. Moving from a reactive to a proactive maintenance plan using IoT reduces downtime, cuts costs, and eliminates expensive delays, benefitting the aviation industry and improving customer satisfaction.

Ilika plc
www.ilika.com

About the author: Denis Pasero joined Ilika Technologies in 2008, as a scientist specializing in battery technology, to manage commercial lithium ion projects. He became part of the Ilika team to apply his strong academic knowledge to commercial applications and saw the potential to be part of the development and success story of an enterprising smaller company with exciting technology and novel product ideas. Today, as Product Commercialization Manager, Pasero interfaces between customers and technical teams. For further information phone: 0044+2380.111.400 or email denis.pasero@ilika.com.