Internet Of Aircraft Things: An Industry Set To Be Transformed

Jan. 19, 2016
Last year we saw the next generation of aircraft powered by the capabilities of Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data hit scales that have never seen before. What does the future hold?

Last year we saw the next generation of aircraft powered by the capabilities of Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data hit scales that have never seen before. What does the future hold?

At last year’s Paris Air Show for example, Bombardier showcased its C Series jetliner that carries Pratt & Whitney’s Geared Turbo Fan (GTF) engine, which is fitted with 5,000 sensors that generate up to 10 GB of data per second. A single twin-engine aircraft with an average 12-hr. flight-time can produce up to 844 TB of data. In comparison, at the end of 2014, it was estimated that Facebook accumulated around 600 TB of data per day; but with an orderbook of more than 7,000 GTF engines, Pratt could potentially download zeta bytes of data once all their engines are in the field. It seems therefore, that the data generated by the aerospace industry alone could soon surpass the magnitude of the consumer Internet.

Not only is more data created by industry than in the consumer world, it’s more valuable; validating the sentiment that not all big data is created equal. Instead, the data created by industrial equipment such as jet engines, gas turbines and MRI machines has more potential business value on a size-adjusted basis than other types of big data being generated from the social web, consumer Internet and other sources.

Most engines today still have fewer than 250 sensors. For someone who has built engine health-monitoring solutions on big data platforms and demonstrated a reduction in the processing time from days to minutes, working now with data from 5,000 sensors has totally changed the game. These scales were beyond imaginable 10 years ago and the kind of data storage and computing infrastructure required to handle such data is truly mind-blowing.

Questions could be asked about why so much data needs to be collected. The GTF engine uses great swathes of data to build artificial intelligence and predict the demands of the engine in order to adjust thrust levels. As a result, GTF engines are demonstrating a reduction in fuel consumption by 10% to 15%, alongside impressive performance improvements in engine noise and emissions.

Increased revenue streams

Ultimately these Internet of Aircraft Things solutions lead to additional business for engine manufacturers, OEMs and even operators. Bombardier recently announced that it has signed an agreement with Pratt to use their eFAST Health-Monitoring System on the C Series aircraft. Bombardier can earn more revenue by receiving data on the real-time performance of their engines, so they can adjust the way aircraft are flown and take care of potential issues before they become real problems that end up grounding airplanes.

Other major players are also on the same path when it comes to embracing the Internet of Aircraft Things. The new generation of GEnx engines started pumping 5-10 TB of data per day. GE expects to gain up to 40% improvement in factory efficiencies by the application of IoT and Big Data Analytics. Rolls-Royce collects similar amounts of data from 12,000 engines across the globe in its data centers.

While engines are leading the charge and embracing the IoT and data generation, avionics systems are also having to catch up to this trend and do so quickly. Traditional avionics systems transfer data up to a maximum of 12.5 KB/s whereas Boeing 787s and A350s are using Ethernet-based, next-generation aircraft data networks (AFDX) that allow up to 12.5 MB/s. This makes it quicker and easier to transmit information via avionics systems to the maintenance teams on the ground. This can include updates about current flying conditions and any faults that have occurred during the flight.

While avionics vendors have been slow to introduce big data applications, they are today increasingly open to these proposals. The Internet of Aircraft Things is also helping manufacturers manage their Pay-by-Hour engagement models and long-term maintenance contracts at lower costs.

With rapid advancements being made in the Internet of Aircraft Things and data analytics, it is a truly exciting time to be working in the avionics industry. Soon, thousands of sensors will be embedded in each aircraft, allowing data to be streamed down to the ground in real-time. And who knows, in time, this could drive the ubiquitous black box to become simply a backup device!

Bhoopathi Rapolu is Head of Analytics EMEA at Cyient

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This viewpoint originally appeared on MRO Network, part of the Aviation Week Network.

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