7 aspects to accelerate Condition Based Maintenance in aircraft industry

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Blog by Roberto Hirschmann – Services & Support Embraer Commercial Aviation and member of the ReMAP Advisory Board

Hopefully aircraft builders will be able to design aircraft that will tell us exactly what is happening, so airlines don’t have many surprises during normal operations due to unexpected failures, and also, there are chances to reduce unnecessary maintenance inspections. But my personal opinion is that there is still a lot to do in order to see Condition Based Maintenance (CBM) incorporated extensively into the design of aircraft. But the industry has to go there. There is no way back. CBM will happen in the future sooner or later. A project with such a big framework like ReMAP is a unique opportunity for aircraft builders and we are very excited to participate because, as partners, we receive potentially good values from it and we will be able to exercise what is called the end-to-end process. It requires time to exercise CBM. I share with you my vision about where the industry stands now on the next 7 aspects and how aircraft builders, airlines and suppliers can all together make things happen as fast as possible.

1: Experience to support cost-benefit analysis

Today aircraft design is primarily driven by certification requirements and market requirements. Concerning market requirements, besides the passenger experience, aircraft builders look at two more technical aspects: performance and operating costs. In order to have CBM support incorporated in the aircraft design, it is necessary to associate it to a reduction in operating costs. Aircraft designers use very robust cost-benefit analysis and multi-disciplinary optimization tools. The benefits of having new sensors, extra weight, new software etc must be greater than the costs of having these elements on board. The problem is that nobody in the industry is able yet to perform such a robust economic analysis to substantiate decisions and trade-offs at design stage, simply because there is no sufficient and extensive CBM experience and data to support such analysis. That’s why ReMAP is an excellent initiative and opportunity to exercise CBM addressing all aspect of its implementation and adoption.

2: Acceptance of predictive maintenance in certification

Concerning the certification requirements I think general acceptance of the predictive maintenance approach has to be incorporated more. That means some relaxation in preventive maintenance requirements may be considered, with, of course, absolutely no adverse effect on safety margins. In practice this means to monitor a certain system or structure and detect any potential failure which will be indicated in an adequate time. This assures that corrective actions can be performed before a failure occurs. The aircraft industry, the aircraft builders, the airlines, regulation authorities and with many others Embraer discusses CBM and how we should implement and deal with certification requirements on CBM. There is a lot of work to be done in this aspect which is very interesting in participating as an aircraft builder.

3: Define specifications and appropriate requirements together

Nowadays aircraft builders integrate every system (propulsion, hydraulic, electrical etc) and every structure together to an aircraft. As integrators we define requirements to our suppliers. If we were to have CBM we would have to discuss and define the appropriate CBM-requirements together with our suppliers. The point here is that there is a lack of experience in full CBM approach. First of all, as integrator, in defining those CBM requirements. Secondly, on the suppliers side, to implement and comply with those CBM-requirements. Aircraft builders have to involve their suppliers to define the appropriate requirements together. This is the exercise the industry is exactly in right now. Suppliers will then develop the ability to provide equipment in accordance with the proposed requirements, integrating them into the other systems. I think aircraft builders and suppliers have to do this together. More discussion and interaction is needed.

4: Learning curves for case by case application

I don’t see too many challenges in terms of the technology itself. The technology is there. But an aircraft is so complex with so many systems, equipment and components, we cannot say one technology fits all. There is no single technology that one can apply to all systems and components. The actual challenge is how to apply this technology to different systems and structures on the aircraft and how to adapt all processes and procedures affected by this technology to fit into the CBM philosophy. ReMAP will bring some learning curves, but my vision is that discussing and applying CBM in systems and structures will be on a case by case basis. 

5: Look wide, not deep

The importance of exercising the full CBM implementation for all aspects is the big meaning of ReMAP. Not only for us, the ReMAP-partners, but for the aviation community as well. Look wide. That is where ReMAP is valuable to the industry. In ReMAP we look not only at sensor level but also at the IT-platform with the sensor data storage and processing, the algorithms development and deployment, the monitoring tools and processes, the decision making, the planning and the execution. It is not worthy to deeply develop a specific part of CBM if the partners don’t look to the other parts and their interconnections. The meaning and importance is not going deep into discussion of a specific problem. Instead, let’s first try to exercise not so deep but full: end-to-end, in a process chain from the sensor data to the maintenance action. 

6: Close the loop

As aircraft builder we try to provide the airlines, or whoever operates the CBM, as much good tools as possible and good support to address the health monitoring and prognostics to take fleet decisions. Must a part be replaced or not and does this require action on fleet level or not? The aircraft builder can generate recommendations, but in the end it is an airline side decision. At this point ReMAP can help a lot,  demonstrating the technology and gaining operational experience. This information will give feedback to the design, to substantiate the analysis and trade-offs. That closes the loop and thus has an impact on the complete aviation chain. The industry has to be here all together: airlines, aircraft builders, suppliers and of course the certification authorities. There is no other way.

7: Solve the data sharing issue

Data sharing is necessary to incorporate CBM. As a matter of fact I think it is one of the key aspects. If one solves that, for sure partnerships will be much easier and collaboration will be faster. But I recognize as an aircraft builder, that the discussions are complex: who owns the data, what are the rights involving data, are the operating data airline properties, what are the integrator properties and supplier properties, etcetera. Forums specifically for this kind of discussions can help. There are some of them already in place. I hope the solution comes quick, because I think this can unwrap many issues on CBM.

Yes, the ambition of ReMAP is very high and expectations are high. The discussions themselves already bring big learnings. If the partners are able to reach part of this ambition, performing this exercise for specific systems for specific structures on an end-to-end basis, as a member of ReMAP Advisory Board, I would be very happy already.

Paulo Rupino Cunha

Paulo Rupino Cunha

Assistant Professor of Information Systems with Habilitation and former head of the IS Group at the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra, Portugal. Director of Informatics and Systems Lab of Instituto Pedro Nunes (IPN), a non-profit association for Innovation and Technology Transfer.

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