Technological advancements from predictive maintenance to robotics are pushing the aviation industry forward, says Pratt & Whitney’s vice president of aftermarket global operations Joe Sylvestro
[This article first appeared in the December 2021 issue of MRO Management]
Awe-inspiring complexity is behind the engines that take you and me, our heroes and cargo to the sky. Fortunately, we have masterminds who understand the intricacies of engines and who strive to ensure the dependability of these machines that get us where we need to go.
In a typical jet engine, 15,000 parts come together. Similarly, in aviation, technology, product and process innovation must merge with sustainability advancements to keep the industry moving forward.
For the past six years and counting, I have served as vice president of aftermarket global operations at Pratt & Whitney. As the pace of change quickens, our passion for technological advancement deepens.
A world leader in the design, manufacture and service of aircraft engines for nearly a century, Pratt & Whitney remains a leader in innovation – advancing preventative maintenance for customers, inserting technology and implementing ‘Industry 4.0’ initiatives in our shops – all the while focusing on sustainable aviation.
Engines have been generating data for years. As the amount of unlocked data grew, we began to more efficiently project trends and pinpoint potential issues before they occurred. Our GTF (geared turbofan) engines, which generate 40 per cent more data than the V2500 engine, generate about four million data points over an average two-hour flight.
Through our ‘EngineWise’ aftermarket solutions, we work to maximise each customer’s specific engine performance and engine time on-wing, while maintaining predictable MRO spend.
Industry 4.0 and technology insertion
As part of our digital transformation, we launched ‘Connected Factory’ pilots, which we expect to improve order fulfilment time by up to 30 per cent, reduce machine idle time by up to 30 per cent and reduce energy consumption by up to 10 per cent. Technology insertion has already resulted in enhanced operational effectiveness:
• Our Component Aerospace Singapore business successfully deployed the first-in-MRO application of 3D printing for aero engine component details, while pioneering robotics in the MRO sector, including the development of an automated system to replace manual fixtures for tube repair.
• Engineers at our Singapore engine centre have been developing a robot that will assist technicians on our shop floors. Ultimately, it will help them free up time to focus on more substantive work.
Here are some additional ways we are driving performance in our shops
• Industrial simulation is a software package that creates a ‘Digital Twin’ of a factory. The simulation shows movement of product, people, process steps and inventory, allowing for analysis of cycle times, turnaround times, cost, quality signature, and overall equipment effectiveness with the press of a button. It was recently piloted at one of our Singapore facilities, where we optimised floor space and increased productivity.
• Smart glasses or wearable technologies have an integrated camera, screen and audio enabling hands-free communication. There are many uses for smart glasses, from training to troubleshooting and equipment qualification. Given the pandemic and travel restrictions, we recently used a pair to conduct a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) audit on an engine at our Christchurch Engine Centre in New Zealand.
Aside from our flagship environmentally friendly engine – the GTF, which has saved airlines more than 0.5 billion gallons of fuel and avoided more than five million metric tonnes of carbon emissions since entering service in 2016 – our MRO sites have also been re-imagining operations and pursuing greener practices.
Our Arkansas site has made tremendous strides thanks to its rainwater harvesting system, solar field and many other sustainability projects. Since 2010, water consumption has improved by 32 per cent and annual greenhouse gas emissions have reduced by 400 metric tonnes.
Employees at our Dallas site developed an environmentally friendly laser for cleaning engine parts. The laser – as opposed to conventional abrasive grit blasting and powerful water-jet stripping – vaporizes grit, dust and rust from components, reducing material consumption, emissions and industrial waste.
At Pratt & Whitney, we view advancements in sustainable aviation as both a societal imperative and a business opportunity, and so we continue to invest in the geared architecture, hybrid-electric propulsion, alternative fuel compatibility, and more. Our recently named chief sustainability officer, Graham Webb, will guide our progress in supporting the industry’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
While the complexities may sound daunting, our employees rise to the challenge each day, innovating to move the industry forward. To us, it’s about transporting people reliably to their destinations. It’s about providing the care and intelligence to service aircraft engines expertly. Ultimately, it’s about engineering a new and exciting sustainable future for aviation.