Internet of Things solutions enable greater insight for the aviation industry

General Manager, Internet of Things, IBM

The commercial aerospace industry is undergoing significant change, compelling aviation companies to seek new ways to serve the marketplace, including a reconsideration of their fundamental business models. Today’s aircraft are highly instrumented, and the average flight can produce over 1,000 gigabytes of data. This big data is readily available, but the next step is to extract as much commercial value and advantage from it as possible. 

Multiple aircraft, owners and operators, various part types across global locations, and numerous sets of government and industry regulations offer unique challenges to operators as well as great opportunities for those who manage them proactively. For years, legacy maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) providers have invested heavily in custom software applications to control this multitude of information. Often these systems are so proprietary they are difficult to improve; upgrades are long and cumbersome. They cannot be scaled as new sites and aircraft are added. New entry operators or start-ups need a solution that can be quickly deployed, producing fast results for customers and owners.

Regardless of how your MRO organization works—whether as a division of an airline, an independent third-party contractor or the service arm of an equipment manufacturer or supplier—you’re operating in a rapidly shifting and expanding marketplace. From its 2015 level of $67.1 billion, estimates are that the MRO industry will grow to $83.2 billion by 2020 and $100.4 billion by 2025.

As the industry grows, providers face pressures that range from increasing overhead and eroding margins, to competition for specialized maintenance skill sets, outdated management systems, the need to monetize services without alienating customers, and requirements for better insight into equipment and operational performance. The need to support “power-by-the-hour” operations and equipment uptime is especially important as it benefits multiple participants, from manufacturers who provide engines or other equipment to the airlines themselves. Legacy systems are holding back the next wave of maintenance capabilities, while the unlocking of data will move operators to predictive rather than prescriptive maintenance. 

To relieve these pressures, the next step is to adopt more effective systems and data monitoring as well as predictive maintenance solutions. In fact, some 52 percent of MRO companies have approved investments for developing such technologies—and estimates are that these solutions can reduce MRO spending by as much as 15 to 20 percent.

As new technologies are developed, changes for the MRO industry are expected to be rapid and far-reaching—affecting core functions including line maintenance (with handheld devices for accessing information at the aircraft), maintenance planning (with improved component updates and interaction), aircraft health management (with advanced analytics for prognostics and predictive maintenance), supply chain management (with technologies to help increase inventory utilization) and technical documentation (with enhanced generation, accessibility and storage of records).

IBM Maximo for Aviation MRO is designed to address this evolution by enabling greater insight into the health of the many components of an airplane. To support prognostics and predictive maintenance, supply chain management and other core functions, it automates the exchange of information among equipment, physical locations and collaborative personnel, helping ensure uptime in highly regulated environments.