Aviation 4.0: Designing For MRO

Andrew Sparrow
7 min readSep 15, 2018

The Boeing Commercial Airplanes project with the 3DExperience Platform and integrated 3DS Modules has been a fascination for me over recent months. Not necessarily because of its sheer scale and the fact so much of the work is based in beautiful and healthy Seattle, but because it offers a mindset shift in one of the most successful, challenging and pioneering enterprises we have in the world.

Last year, Boeing delivered 763 aircraft in 2017 — more commercial airplanes than any manufacturer for the sixth consecutive year. The company grew its backlog with 71 customers placing 912 net orders valued at $134.8 billion at list prices. The total extends Boeing’s backlog to a record 5,864 airplanes at the end of 2017, equal to about seven years of production. [c/o aerospace manufacturing & design.com]

The BCA challenge is one shared by the vast majority of aerospace manufacturers — extending the lifecycle of existing aircraft while backlogs shorten and designing the new future predicted maintenance demands.

The Need For PLM — Design For MRO

Globally, the actual number of aircrafts in the air and the significant increase of new production, order backlog for manufacturers have increased the importance of Maintenance Repair & Overhaul (MRO) services in this industry.

As an example, most airlines operate a mixed fleet of aircraft comprising primarily older planes and it’s estimated that a large percentage of these old aircraft will be due for heavy checks or overhauls. The increase in capacity of commercial and military sector, along with greater aircraft utilization, will lead to increased maintenance and safety demands, creating new challenges for the MRO industry.

MRO services are complex since they involve several processes whose performance depends on the design and manufacturing of products while airlines require the best-cost efficiency, quality and safety. MRO entities ensure the maintenance of a variety of aircraft systems, components and parts, which requires investments in infrastructure, compliance with government regulations and updating of technical staff. Product lifecycle management (PLM) can improve the productivity and quality of MRO. Indeed, it enables care of the Innovation Platforms, the collaborative creation, management, dissemination, use, maintenance and repair of products and its operational process information across the entire life of products from market concept to product retirement.

Design For MRO

I don’t hide the fact we’re heavily focused in the PLM area as I believe today, putting aside an organization’s Digital Culture 4.0 for the moment, there’s nothing more important to an organization in the 4IR than to look at its existing asset lifecycle management and to design and manage new products for the future customer expectation economy.

Creating collaborative design and control platforms for the ecosystem to communicate with a single-source of intelligence across the product lifecycle is the air an organisation will breath.

Given aircraft production backlogs, increasing capacities and utilization of existing aircraft, putting in place a product design for future servicing in the aviation sector, what we call MRO is business critical.

Consideration of a product’s maintenance features early in the design process can reduce maintenance costs, downtime and improve safety (see the 787 Dreamliner below).

By simulating maintenance processes and resources during the design process and long before in-service operations, multiple alternatives can be evaluated to bring agility and savings to the services organizations. With product delivery, detailed 3D-based technical publications such as the Aircraft Maintenance Manual (AMM) and Illustrated Part Catalog (IPC) can be immediately available for services organizations. Leveraging 3D as the new communication media, the easy-to-follow, interactive instructions help minimize errors and time required for training the operators and maintenance personnel.

Furthermore, anticipating changes to products post delivery is a fundamental part of long asset lifecycle like commercial aircraft. This includes spare part management, maintenance operation analysis and description (e.g. removal/installation, inspection, test procedures) and resources specification (e.g. ground support equipment, ingredients, consumables). Moreover, “As Maintained” serialized configuration management capability that links the PLM system with the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) and the MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) systems.

Simulating Maintenance Processes

To rise to the challenge of more dynamic, globalized markets, MROs must quickly develop internal abilities to recognize, assess, and prepare for change. Incorporating analytic and automation technologies is key to modernizing MRO operations and harnessing the power of enterprise-wide digital integration.

Enter The Digital Twin Simulator, drawing from a comprehensive Digital Thread, built on top of a Designed For Maintainability Aircraft. For years, NASA has used digital twins to monitor its space stations and spacecraft to ensure crew safety.

Now, the possibility to create digital twins and feed them with real-world data is of incredible value to Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) developers, giving them the freedom to break and blow up stuff in the cyberworld without loss of life or resources. The ability to employ “connected high-cost assets” has led Gartner to declare digital twins as one of top trends and to me, one of the key definers of a true digital transformation together with the Digital Culture 4.0.

Last year Lockheed Martin unveiled the plans to expand on its Digital Tapestry/Thread strategy. Moving forward, the company intends to create digital twins for almost everything — the products, processes, and tools. By doing so, Lockheed Martin will be able to fine-tune every step in the life cycle of an aircraft, starting from the design.

787 Dreamliner Designed For Maintenance

The Dreamliner broke new ground for Boeing in its plan for the future maintenance of the aircraft and has set a number of sales and production records for the company. much of this due to ease of maintenance. Today, Boeing is looking to spread and escalate its approach to collaborative design, care of the 3DExperience Platform and the associated Enovia, Catia, Simulia, Delmia, 3DVIA and Exalead modules.

The 787 leads the way as one of the most efficient and long-term designs for the industry.

The Structure

Using composites for design, brought a more flexible aesthetic shaping, lighter weight and suitability for multiple aircraft loads. From an MRO perspective a minimal corrosive material, greater durability and lack of sensitivity to flying fatigue.

As a result, it reduced maintenance scheduling labor hours from the 767 and 777 by 56% and 33% respectively.

Fuselage Construction

The fuselage sections were produced as a single-piece barrel, resulting in the elimination of all longitudinal lap-joints, reduced weight & drag and the lowest structural maintenance burden. The 787 fuselage architecture has enabled non-invasive structural crown inspections without systems and insulation removal.

Repair Development

Bonded and hybrid (bonded with bolted sub-structure) repairs have certified for all major areas of the Dreamliner structure (fuselage, wing, tail, etc.)

Quick Composite Repairs (QCR) is a temporary composite repair which takes just 1-hour to install and which can remain on the aircraft for up to 24 months.

The Systems

Much of the 787 system technologies have been built with reliability in mind, such as Electric Power Generation (Variable Frequency Start Generator) versus the Integrated Drive Generators (IDG) as it has no constant speed drive, no frequency conversion at the engine level and the elimination of the pneumatic start motor.

The increasing of hours before overhaul has been achieved by the increasing of electric architecture (electric brakes, ice protection is provided by electrically heated leading edge that is more reliable and more dispatchable than pneumatic anti-ice system) and all pneumatic elements eliminated (no load compressors, inlet guide vanes or IGV Actuators, pneumatic ducts or sensors and frequency converters)

The 787 has no transit or daily maintenance tasks!

Lastly, the Onboard Maintenance Systems have revolutionized the Boeing aircrafts from the 777 days and now see:

EICAS Maint & Synoptic Page Viewer | Circuit Breaker Indication & Control | Cabin Services & Systems | IFE System Maintenance | Flight Data Recorder Management | Flight Deck Security Door Interface | Fault Isolation & Maintenance Procedures | Electronic Logbook Interface | DDG/MMEL & CDL Data | Part Information Management (IPC Replacement) | Interactive Wiring Dgms & Systems Schematics | Structural Repair Data

Information c/o Justin Hale, 787 Chief Mechanic

Boeing & Dassault Systemes Closing The Loop

This long-term collaborative program promises much for the sector and care of the 3DExperience Platform, an enhanced Ideation, Design, Manufacture, MRO and Retirement lifecycle through extended ecosystem collaboration from Customer through to Supplier.

I’m excited to see where the vision will go over the years ahead.

Always love to hear your comments




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Andrew Sparrow

Engineering & Implementation Resources/Solutions in Product Lifecycle & Smart Manufacturing - Shows, Blogs, Vlogs, Podcasts for the Future World