Unsplash.com

COVID-19’s drastic declines to global air travel caused many major manufacturers to announce cost-cutting. While the sector has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to smart operations and connectivity, the post-COVID landscape poses a significant opportunity for greater efficiencies with help from technology. Asset intelligence – location and environmental data gathered by sensors on tools, parts, and assets within businesses and through the supply chain – is giving access to unprecedented insight in the race to improve productivity and efficiency, reducing time and resource waste to create leaner operations.

Maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) operations move large numbers of parts, tools, and machinery throughout a facility every day. While Industry 4.0 technologies drive efficiencies in building aircraft from scratch, they can also maximize MRO efforts to keep aircraft working as long as possible, with minimal service delays. As such, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)-connected devices help MROs save significant time and resources in several areas.

Maintaining critical pathways

Asset wait time is a significant barrier to efficient servicing. Many MRO businesses experience bottlenecks when trying to get the right parts to the right place at the right time, with workers regularly waiting for key assets and materials to arrive before they continue the process. Downtime can have significant implications for MRO businesses and clients – a productivity stall may delay an aircraft’s release to service, leading to flight cancellations and lost airline revenue. Delay pressures can lead to engineers rushing safety critical tasks, impacting quality and, in the most unfortunate cases, leading to issues with airworthiness.

In a recent survey of 100 employees at one of the world’s leading engineering firms, Pathfindr found that 99% believe the loss of assets, even if only temporary, regularly affects their operations. When asked how long it has taken them to find an asset, responses ranged from 10 minutes to a few hours, a few days and, in some cases, they never found it.

Placing IIoT-enabled sensors on key assets allows engineers to map and understand each stage of the process – quickly and accurately observing where efficiency gains can be made. This process intelligence can identify areas such as wasted journeys and bottlenecks, providing vital insight to support lean manufacturing techniques.

Unsplash.com

Limiting loss between sites

From ground support equipment across an MRO facility to parts and tools regularly used or sent offsite for calibration, huge numbers of assets move around large sites, and, the more there are, the more difficult it is to determine their location.

Dynamic use of these types of assets, coupled with their high value, has given rise to a sharing economy within large facilities, or by multiple sites within a single company – equipment such as nitrogen rigs and access equipment gets passed between teams on a regular basis. The changeable nature of third-party maintenance means that although some assets may not be required for long periods, it’s crucial that they can be easily located and in working order. This is one area where asset intelligence and process connectivity adds valuable insights to enable smooth and productive manufacturing or MRO operations.

Ensuring assets remain in prime condition

Besides location data, asset intelligence can obtain accurate, minute-by- minute information about businesses’ assets and facility environment, including temperature, humidity, and air quality. The ability to remotely gage environmental conditions impacts aerospace where quality control of high-value materials is essential for compliance.

A prime example is composite material, which starts to degrade when removed from freezer storage. To ensure a clear timeline of when assets may be rendered unusable, engineers can place sensors on material to detect when it has been removed from the freezer. As small errors can have major cost and time implications, IIoT devices have a major role to play in reducing operational risk and enabling organizations to monitor key assets.

Maximizing worker value

Asset wait time directly affects the speed of MRO operations and prevents engineers from being used to their full value. Wasting valuable engineer time and effort looking for items means less time spent working on the aircraft. By identifying wasted time, or journeys made by staff, IIoT devices can provide process intelligence enabling MRO businesses to increase capacity and unlock the full value of staff.

Aircraft safety

Completing MRO jobs in one operation addresses health and safety concerns associated with non-completion. This is especially important for those working shift patterns, for example, who may be unable to finish a job within their working hours and need to rely on leaving clear instructions for whomever is taking their place on the facility floor.

While a lack of continuity could severely impact airworthiness, immediate access to the right tools and equipment – thanks to real-time, accurate location data – means engineers are less likely to risk the safety of aircraft and potentially passengers.

Cutting unnecessary tasks

Asset and process intelligence gives employees the tools to eliminate unnecessary jobs. While servicing is often carried out as part of a strictly controlled schedule, inspections often present findings that can result in an unexpected maintenance requirement, creating a huge variation in day-to-day operations.

Data provided by IIoT devices can bring efficiencies to the maintenance process. This includes using asset intelligence to see which tools and parts were required for past jobs, allowing them to predict future requirements. They can also use this data to carry out predictive maintenance on the machines – particularly important given the time and cost inefficiencies incurred from major faults, breakdowns, or malfunctions, ensuring that engineers don’t waste time on unnecessary jobs.

MROs today face an increasing number of challenges, including labor shortages, industry consolidation, and the need to keep up with the growing number of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). While IIoT is already offering resolutions, including major efficiency and productivity gains for businesses, this is likely to grow as more and more companies recognize the benefits that smart technologies can have on their operations.

Pathfindr

About the author: Anna Hemp is aerospace sector lead at Pathfindr.