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Ushering in a new era of innovation for MRO

Ushering in a new era of innovation for MRO

04 Aug 2016

As the global aerospace engineering industry gears up to adopt emerging technologies, one company hopes to up the playing field with a new R&D lab in Singapore.

The need for innovation

With ‘smart cities’ becoming a reality the world over, the focus is also turning to ‘smart skies’. However, to realise this vision, the aviation industry must undergo a complete transformation at the ground level – specifically in the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) segment – and of course, in the skies above.

The imperative to transform has never been more urgent for the aviation industry. Global players not only need to cut fuel costs, reduce carbon emissions, lower repair and maintenance spends and eliminate delays in take-offs and landings, but also improve air safety and improve their bottom line.

According to Virender Aggarwal, CEO, Ramco Systems, these demands can be met when cutting-edge technologies are employed across communication, navigation, and repair and maintenance in the aviation industry.

But such innovations cannot happen overnight. There is a need for the right skills and the foresight to invest in emerging technologies. However, implementation costs are high and vendors face numerous challenges, including adapting to the emerging composite materials, the rapid evolution of software products in the cockpit, and stringent compliance requirements that have to be adhered to. It is hence, not surprising that innovation in engineering hasn’t really taken flight.  

A win-win partnership

Against this backdrop, Air France Industries KLM Engineering and Maintenance (AFI KLM E&M) has teamed up with India’s Ramco Systems to establish an innovation lab in Singapore to design and develop novel solutions for aircraft maintenance. “The innovations that arise from this lab will allow us to offer benefits to our customers through —better aircraft interiors that allow for more comfort and efficiency, fewer delays in taking off and landing, less time on the ground due to repairs, and sustainable solutions to long-term problems—while raising the bar for innovation in the industry as a whole,” says Aggarwal.

According to Aggarwal, this world-class MRO Lab – the biggest in Asia outside of India – will bring together the aviation expertise of AFI KLM E&M and Ramco’s considerable knowledge of innovative technologies. “This alliance will lay the groundwork for the widespread adoption of transformative digital solutions to resolve the business problems of aviation players,” he says.

Aggarwal points out that locating the lab in Singapore offers a strategic advantage. “Singapore already has a reputation as a regional aviation hub, with a 20,000 strong workforce and the fact that it is supported by more than 100 aerospace companies,” he says. Ramco hopes to leverage the presence of these major aviation players while tapping into the best talent on offer here.  

Disruptive solutions = constructive outcomes

The MRO Lab Singapore currently has a 25-member team that focuses on a number of innovation areas, researching and testing how they can be implemented to address the pain points of the aviation industry.

Robotics will replace manual scans to scrutinise specific aircraft components and check them for wear and tear, stress or damage. “Using robotics for this will eliminate manual errors, pre-empt component failure and ensure component replacement before any major damage is done. This will also enhance safety in air travel, while enhancing efficiency on the ground,” says Aggarwal.

The lab will also pilot the use of drones and enhanced unmanned aerial systems for logistics and inspection-related activities, for example ultra-scanning the entire aircraft, which will reduce time on tarmac due to component failure or damage.

“Another innovation we are working on is a low-cost gesture computing solution, which will allow us to carry out operations without line mechanics and technicians having to touch any screen when working on the floor,” says Aggarwal. “The solution will allow commands to be keyed in through gestures and help technicians in charge of line and hangar maintenance input gesture-driven data into applications.” Aggarwal says that this solution will “improve focus on the task at hand and ensure greater safety at work.”

Beyond robotics and systems, wearable devices also hold the promise of increased efficiency and lower cost for the aviation industry. These technologies can monitor the stress levels of staff on the ground and in air, and use sophisticated big data analytics and deep learning techniques to access meaningful data from IoT sensors and conduct predictive maintenance.

“What we are aiming at beyond the simple use of these technologies is the perfect blend of IT and aviation,” says Aggarwal. “This can be realised through the deployment of mobility applications for anytime and anywhere actions, and the use of voice technology solutions for controlling systems that use voice and messaging platforms. In addition, the capabilities of IoT will be harnessed to study patterns and provide real-time data to facilitate aircraft safety and quick decision-making.”

Aggarwal is convinced that investing in innovation can “improve productivity, reduce costs, build brand value and impart competitiveness”.

Transforming the aviation space from Asia

Innovations piloted by Ramco’s MRO Lab promise to bring about a paradigm shift in the MRO space, including seeing more new planes taking to the skies, more efficient, reliable and advanced aircrafts, and engines and components being built quicker and with richer features.

When implemented on a larger scale, the innovations at the lab will improve the efficacy of existing processes, particularly those related to aircraft health monitoring (AHM) and predictive maintenance (PM) systems, giving partner organisations a competitive edge. They will also generate substantial data, which can be used to transform the way modern aircrafts are cared for and perform.

Oliver Wyman’s forecast for the MRO market clearly states that technological innovation in the Asia Pacific will impact MRO dynamics and challenge the countries in the region “to build the necessary infrastructure capable of handling the volume of MRO the combined region will demand”.

Though North America currently stands as the global leader in terms of MRO value, Asia is right on its heels, with its MRO market share set to reach $29.8 billion, double its present size, by 2024. Ramco’s MRO Lab is well poised to help Singapore and the Asia-Pacific respond to that challenge.