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James Angus, Commercial Director of the Integrated Vehicle Health Management (IVHM) Centre at Cranfield University and John Maggiore is a senior aerospace leader, executive consultant, and digital transformation expert at Cranfield University IVHM Centre.|
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Author: James Angus, Commercial Director of the Integrated Vehicle Health Management (IVHM) Centre at Cranfield University and John Maggiore is a senior aerospace leader, executive consultant, and digital transformation expert at Cranfield University IVHM Centre.
SubscribeJames Angus, Commercial Director of the Integrated Vehicle Health Management (IVHM) Centre at Cranfield University and John Maggiore is a senior aerospace leader, executive consultant, and digital transformation expert at Cranfield University IVHM Centre.
Over the last 20 years there has been a revolution in the use of digital technology in aircraft design, manufacturing, operation, and sustainment; commonly called ‘digital aviation’. We wanted to explore this phenomenon, where it has come from and where it might take us in the future.
AN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE
In 1999, Boeing shared in AERO Magazine that the 253 million pages of paper manuals they produced each year, if all the pages were stacked one upon the other, would reach 20 miles (32 Km) up to the stratosphere. Aircraft OEMs had launched their web-based portals, and were investing to create new information delivery tools, both on-line and delivered via other digital media. For aviation, the impetus for the transition from paper to digital was strong, as the latest approved documentation was and is required to be available at all points of maintenance and flight operations. An enormous amount of work and resources were being used to keep paper documentation current at the many points of use.
The worldwide transition from paper to digital in aviation ground operations, was an early and important example of the industry innovating in a way that provided both significant operational efficiency and environmental benefits. In the case of the paper-to-digital shift, not only was the significant cost of printing, distributing, and maintaining paper and other physical media eliminated but, also, day-to-day operational efficiency was increased where engineers and mechanics could more readily have necessary documentation to hand with less time spent transiting around airports and hangars to source the approved documentation. A clear and quantifiable ‘economic’ benefit.
In addition, this shift provided a massive sustainability benefit. If we extrapolate from the 253 million pages, 20-mile-high stack of paper from Boeing alone in 1999, and account for market share and industry adoption rates, we can conservatively estimate that the paper-to-digital shift in commercial aviation alone has saved approximately 8.8 billion pages from being created and printed since the year 2000. That’s a notional stack of paper 1100 Km high. For perspective, that is nearly 15 times the altitude that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos orbited the Earth on his July 20th, 2021 spaceflight. From a sustainability point of view, it has provided significant energy and emissions savings by eliminating the energy to manufacture that paper (~100 million kWh/53 million kilograms CO2) and global distribution of 40 million kilograms of paper, plus the consumption of nearly 10,000 hectares of forest, the latter helping to reduce the industry’s impact on biodiversity. This is an early and well-known, but perhaps now taken-for-granted, example of the industry reaping significant economic benefits while providing significant environmental benefits through digitally focused investment and innovation.
SUSTAINABILITY AS AN INDUSTRY IMPERATIVE
Aerospace has always embraced innovation, with improvements that make aircraft safer and more reliable, and ever improving performance and efficiencies. Since the dawn of the jet age commercial aircraft have become 70% more fuel efficient and noise has been reduced by 90%. Reducing fuel burn and emissions is in the DNA of Commercial Aviation. Modern wing and engine design, new materials such as carbon fiber, access to greater data volumes and new information processing methods support industry sustainability goals along with increased performance efficiency. Currently we are seeing a step increase in the focus on alternative propulsion and fuels driven by economic realities, and by the goals set out by governments and industry. ICAO, for example, has two major aspirational goals for international aviation: 2% annual fuel efficiency improvement through to 2050, and carbon neutral growth from 2020 onwards. These are audacious goals which will require multiple tacks.
The ICAO Global Collation for Sustainable Aviation is tracking and driving several major related themes, including ‘Operations and Infrastructure’: ‘win-win’ developments, reducing costs along with emissions. The promise of digital operational efficiencies in this regard is not the largest, but it is one of the most immediately available to use. It is generally accepted that approximately 10% of the opportunity derives from optimization of operations. Case in point, the Air Transport Action Group (ATAG) in its ‘Waypoint 2050’ report estimates that 8-12% of CO2 reductions by 2050 will come from operations and infrastructure improvements. Boeing echoes this; Sheila Remes, Boeing Vice President of Environmental Sustainability, explained to us, “By flying more efficiently, we can collectively reduce aviation’s emissions by about 10%. Data is the key to efficiency. By leveraging data, we can help our customers plan the most efficient route, optimize flight planning, provide real-time weather and traffic information to pilots and establish more direct routings – thus lowering fuel burn.”
While not the largest lever, digital efficiency is important as, for the most part, the pieces are very much available today. The reality is that there are few if any things we can do that will deliver large, step-change payback but are also easy. The step-change innovations, such as new engine design, new wing design, and alternate powered electric propulsion, are all the result of enormous investment and industry commitment. In this sense, the present value of things we can do today are equal to or greater than the larger sustainable aviation levers which are years, or even decades, and large capital investments, away.
REAL-WORLD ‘WIN-WIN’ EXAMPLES
What we are presenting here can be generally scoped within Integrated Vehicle Health Management (IVHM), which is a super-set of what we generally think of as ‘health management’. IVHM encompasses a broad swathe of technologies, both within and beyond the traditional digital aviation domain. IVHM is the unified capability of systems to assess the current or future state of the member system health and integrate that picture of system health within a framework of available resources and operational demand. It is a very wide-reaching capability encompassing business cases and models; legislation, certification and standards; architecture and design; as well as algorithms for prognostics, diagnostics and reasoning. IVHM is a key component of the ‘digital aviation’ domain.
We can categorize the sustainability benefits which stem from IVHM as direct and indirect, as well as tangible and intangible. Intangible benefits are often focused on employee and market perceptions and brand image. They are very real but difficult to quantify. Here we focus on the tangible benefits. The direct benefits can include material and waste reduction, reduced energy usage, reduced noise, enhanced biodiversity, and of course lower emissions of CO2 and other pollutants of concern. Indirect benefits include labor efficiency, human quality of life, safety, and material usage and consumption. By its very nature, increased efficiency supports sustainability, both directly and indirectly. The previous paper-to-digital example is an excellent illustration of this.
The classic IVHM use case involves proactively and remotely understanding a vehicle’s current or future serviceability. We often call this ‘predictive maintenance’, ‘condition-based maintenance’ or ‘aircraft health management’. When we can predict a pending equipment failure, we can reap the economic benefit of dealing with the issue in a scheduled manner and avoid the likelihood and impact of a schedule interruption. We can also deliver material direct sustainability benefits. In many cases, operation with a degraded system, while safe and approved, can greatly limit operations in terms of altitude or range. This results in fewer degrees of freedom in vehicle usage and lessens the likelihood of mission or schedule completion. In cases where the equipment is part of the environmental control system, such as a valve, a very significant direct fuel burn penalty (up to 4%) and additional resulting CO2 emissions may be avoided. Of course, there are indirect benefits which follow, such as reduced stock requirements, parts shipping costs, and more efficient labor utilization. This is an excellent example of economic and performance benefits ‘paying’ for an activity, and there being measurable sustainability benefits. This plays out in many other digital aviation activities.
As in the case of aircraft health management, we can proactively monitor and analyze in-flight data to directly or indirectly understand aircraft and crew performance. Often the data sources are the same, and in some cases a dedicated data acquisition scheme is used for crew performance monitoring. Often the segregation is driven by personal privacy concerns. Regardless, much can be done with aircraft data to drive sustainability. For example, when combined with modern flight deck Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) or mobile device hosted applications, we can monitor and optimize pilot decision making, help pilots meet efficiency goals and ensure compliance with company sustainability policies. The benefits can be substantial with fuel savings having been demonstrated as high as 4%. Of course, this leads to proportionally lower CO2 emissions.
Considerable energy expenditure and consumption occur during ground operations, and we can apply these types of digital techniques to this phase of operations. By monitoring and optimizing ground operations with new sensors and analytics we can ensure maximized operational efficiency throughout maintenance and flight operations activities. For example, the latest Jeppesen ‘Smart EFB’ applications help pilots understand the prevailing taxi situation, actively manage slot and pushback requests, more accurately predict their inbound and outbound clearances, and support implementation of reduced engine taxi operations. By actively monitoring aircraft auxiliary power unit (APU) usage data (e.g., by location) we can encourage and drive the use of more energy efficient ground power. By applying sophisticated analytics and modelling to airport air and ground traffic we can streamline air traffic flow, reduce wasted flight time at arrival, reduce taxi time. In summary, by optimizing ground operations via analytics we can reduce overall energy usage/emissions, reduce undesirable noise, and improve biodiversity through more efficient utilization of land.
Thales Avionics is very focused on applying digital to the issue of sustainability in the near term. Denis Bonnet, Director Innovation, Thales Avionics Global Business Unit, told us that, “In order to accelerate the near-term benefit from greener operation, Thales strongly believes that it is essential to set-up and disseminate a single source of truth in order to assess the climate impact of flight operations across the whole eco-system. It is important to ensure that green initiatives should not focus solely on CO2 emission but include other emissions such as contrails. Finally, an important aspect to accelerate operational and technological improvements is through open and transparent collaboration between pilots, airlines and air navigation services starting through digital tools”
By monitoring and analyzing aircraft data via IVHM methods, we can understand the fuel efficiency characteristics of individual aircraft and their performance on different routes. With this understanding we can optimize the usage of the aircraft by route, carry the optimal amount of fuel, and identify degradations (caused by ice, sand, volcanic ash etc.) of aircraft and take quick action to remedy (e.g., control surface trim adjustments). This results in lower Emissions via reduced fuel consumption, reduced energy and reduced materials usage/wastage resulting from less maintenance throughout life cycle. This is crucial if civil aircraft are to become compliant with the demands of the Circular Economy.
Regarding maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO), an enormous amount of investment and energy is expended to sustain aircraft throughout their lifecycle. As we know, for every dollar spent as part of an aircraft purchase, that much is spent on maintenance throughout the service life of the aircraft. As such, MRO is a major target area for efficiency improvements via digital methods. By enabling new more autonomous inspection methods we can improve efficiency and increase the accuracy of inspection while reducing labor and energy usage. This reduces unneeded repair or removals waste. Also, by deploying analytics to the aircraft troubleshooting process we can reduce the number of maintenance actions and ‘no fault found’ removals. ‘Rogue units’ can also be identified and addressed through procedure or scrap. The result of digitally enhanced MRO includes lower energy usage and reduced materials usage/wastage, along with the commensurate economic savings. As an example, SAP is focused on using their A&D digital manufacturing and maintenance footprint to support sustainability. Torsten Welte, Global VP of SAP A&D Industry Business, shard with us, “The key is linking data across the lifecycle. We see measurable sustainability efficiencies across the design, manufacturing and sustainment phases. This is important because every wasted activity adds costs and emissions and detracts the industry’s ability to invest in innovation.”
The overall economic picture of commercial aviation is both challenging and increasingly complex. For a number of compelling reasons, leased aircraft as a percentage of total aircraft fleets have increased substantially in recent years, as have integrated and managed maintenance programs. In response, OEMs, MROs and operators are increasingly deploying analytics in new ways, combining aircraft technical data with maintenance contractual agreements and operational data to run complex ‘what if?’ scenarios to identify efficiencies across complete life cycle of an asset or aircraft. By applying advanced analytics and modelling at the material, component, subassembly or asset level across its entire lifecycle we can optimize the procurement, manufacturing, operation, maintenance and ultimate retirement/scrap of the asset (again ensuring compliance with the Circular Economy) The economic benefits are manifest, and this also results in lower energy usage and reduced material usage.
Today’s focus is to continually make the air transport industry more resilient, safe and sustainable. This means that innovation continues apace. For example, Cranfield’s IVHM Centre has, with its Core Partners, had a long-term aspiration to deliver a so-called ‘Conscious Aircraft’ with the potential for a zero-maintenance aircraft platform. This concept aims to achieve the creation of an IVHM system that is capable of being fully aware of the aircraft’s condition, able to either suggest appropriate action or take action for itself. By creating the ‘Conscious Aircraft’ (figure 1) the entire aircraft is monitored and is linked to the Aviation ecosystem (airports, airspace, airlines, passengers, aftermarket services), maximizing the benefits from the previous examples. This concept aims to eliminate unforeseen technical faults and in the event of damage be able to decide actions that minimize impact on the environment or operate a modified mission in a military application. The promised sustainability benefits are significant and varied. They include lower emissions from lower fuel consumption, lower energy usage and reduced materials usage/wastage.
On another, wider scale, there is a unique opportunity to apply the same, proven digital and analytics methods we’ve created and deployed for aviation to future-proof the industry’s green technology investments. That is, by leveraging proven IVHM methods and modelling, the aviation industry can increase likelihood of success during the introduction of new technologies/solutions while accelerating their introduction, resulting in the achievement of the industry’s sustainability goals.
It’s well understood that IVHM and digital aviation are delivering economic benefits today. As discussed above they are also delivering significant, albeit often unrecognized, sustainability benefits in both flight operations and technical operations. By looking at these activities through a new lens we can also see that digital will have a key role to secure the promise of sustainability-focused investments and that operations and sustainment are as sustainable as possible.
As the work and investments regarding fleet renewal to more efficient aircraft, sustainable aviation fuels (SAF), green hydrogen and renewable electricity, and alternative fueled electric propulsion continue, so will the operational efficiency-driven sustainability gains through IVHM and digital aviation. New research and investment focuses are opening exciting new horizons and opportunities, reaping benefits throughout the entire aerospace lifecycle. Cranfield University is focused on the future of aviation and sustainability. Professor Dame Helen Atkinson DBE FREng, Cranfield University’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the School of Aerospace, Transport and Manufacturing, said: “As a global university with sustainability ingrained in its educational and research offerings, Cranfield is leading the way in helping the global economy transition to a green sustainable future. Innovation in aviation is a key part of this and technology development will be central to reducing the impact of aviation on the environment. The web of connections between aviation and society is complex and a systems approach is required to ensure a cost- and environment-effective transition to sustainable growth in the aviation sector.”
A NEW BREED OF TALENT
MSc in Aviation Digital Technology Management
Increasing numbers of intelligent aircraft are being introduced as part of a wider technological development across the aviation industry ecosystem. As more intelligent and conscious aircraft enter service, support systems are also becoming more intelligent. Pre-COVID, 87.7m jobs were supported by the air transport industry worldwide: the 2020 Boeing Pilot and Technicians Outlook report projects that 73,9000 new maintenance technicians will be needed to maintain the global fleet over the next 20 years.
New technologies like Internet of Things, robotics, AI, machine learning, AR/VR, big data analytics, predictive maintenance, blockchain, etc. are being introduced to the industry at an accelerating pace. Digitalization promises significant transformation of the aviation industry. While the digital technology is similar to other industrial sectors, the safety conscious and highly regulated aviation industry imposes technology adoption hurdles specific to aerospace regulation and culture.
This MSc program aims to develop professionals to innovate and apply digital technology in the aerospace context. The course adds the digital component to aeronautical engineering graduates. It helps them to expand from the design and manufacture focus of established aeronautical engineering programs to the wider aviation industry opportunities. The course is also a route for the large number of non-aerospace engineering and computing graduates who aspire to enter the aviation industry. In addition, the course is a career development path for aerospace industry professionals to boost their digital and innovation skill.
Course graduates should find engineering and management opportunities in the aviation ecosystem, including operators, maintenance organizations, financiers, airports and future spaceport operators.
Cranfield University IVHM Centre has been leading research in predictive health maintenance with technology adopted by major aircraft manufacturers. There are well established programmes in Air Transport Management, Airworthiness, Robotics, Connected and Autonomous Vehicle Engineering and Through Life Systems. Students in the course would be able to develop their research with the new Digital Aviation Research and Technology Centre (DARTeC) Hangar and Digital MRO laboratories together with the Cranfield Boeing 737-400 ground demonstrator, and access to industrial scale systems like AMOS.
COURSE INTENDED LEARNING OUTCOMES
In completing this course, and achieving the associated award, a successful student should be able to:
Explain the role and dynamic of the stakeholders in the aerospace industry;
Appraise major aircraft structure and systems and their criticality to airworthiness;
Assess the digital technology for aerospace inspection and maintenance;
Assess the digital technology for aerospace technical and business information integration;
Compose digital aviation business transformation plans.
The course has the standard Cranfield MSc structure with 40% in taught subjects and 60% in practical research projects. The eight subject modules build up the knowledge blocks that would be integrated in the group and the individual research projects.
Example projects are:
Robotic inspection to support aircraft maintenance;
Monitoring robotic vehicle movements using precision location system;
Aircraft damage detection using hangar surveillance cameras;
Fusion of location and camera sensing to support maintenance personnel electronic sign-offs;
Autonomous collision avoidance in aircraft maintenance hangar;
Lean operations in the hangar of the future;
Multi-person AR/wearable supported aircraft maintenance;
Parked Aircraft Maintenance Program;
UAV Operations and Maintenance Management System.
The first intake is expected to start at October 2022.
James played a lead role in the launch of the IVHM Centre in collaboration with Boeing bringing in other major aerospace and defense companies. He joined Cranfield in August 2002, with over twenty-five years’ experience in high technology industry plus consulting experience, and has published/presented/guest lectured on a wide range of topics nationally and internationally. An active member of the Royal Aeronautical Society for many years, James has chaired the Air Transport Specialist Group for the last 10 years.
As a former Boeing executive leader, John developed a portfolio of digitally driven tools and capabilities plus served as The Boeing Company Executive Focal to Cranfield University during the inception of DARTeC. He is a digital aviation expert, in the area of vehicle health management and digital MRO, holding two U.S. patents for innovations in the area of analytics and vehicle health management. John regularly speaks at aviation industry conferences and events, and is passionate about digital methods to support sustainability in aerospace.
Cranfield is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management with over 50 years’ experience in transport, including the aviation, automotive, motorsport, military and marine sectors. It is one of the few universities in the world to have its own airport – Cranfield’s global research airport offers a unique environment for transformational research. The education and award-winning research cover all modes of vehicles and transport across technology, engineering and management, including sustainable transport and intelligent mobility.