The challenges around how to prove the real value of predictive maintenance to secure funding for its future development was tackled at this week’s Predictive Aircraft Maintenance (PAM) Conference.
Cranfield University’s Dr Ip-Shing Fan, senior lecturer in enterprise systems, spoke about the pressing issue of adopting predictive maintenance in the industry, but also expressed concern about the slow pace of action from those who control aviation budgets.
To get value from predictive maintenance, he also stressed the importance of collaboration across all areas of the aviation industry, emphasising a shared vision for success.
“The idea in aviation that ‘more data gives us more opportunities’ highlights the transformative potential of data in improving how the industry approaches maintenance.”
But he also underscored the human factor, noting the need for skilled professionals at all levels and urging the industry to rethink how it attracts talent.
During his presentation, Dr Fan explained how Cranfield University’s Integrated Vehicle Health Management (IVHM) Centre is now globally recognised and playing a part in leading the MRO developments and activities with expertise and capabilities in UAV robotics NDT inspections, SHM sensor monitoring, and advanced digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and digital twins, tools that have the potential to synchronise, monitor, and improve all processes related to aircraft MRO.
With many aviation organisations signing up to new programmes when it comes to predictive maintenance, Dr Fan told the audience he was interested to see what progress will be made “because my perception is that I don’t think the wider industry has enough people who can fully exploit the power of predictive maintenance.”
Dr Fan acknowledged the complexity of ‘data’ and predictive analytics in aviation, but said it is important that careers in these fields appeal to a broader audience beyond mathematicians, to ensure careers in aviation are open to all.
“The key missing piece I think is people with the right understanding. At the moment we have a marketplace with a lot of technology providers saying how great the technology. And we do have airlines and operators starting to understand the potential. But the bit in the middle to make it happen is missing.”
Dr Fan highlighted that he doesn’t think there is enough people in the industry who can understand the operations and engineering side of the aircraft and link it to the data, which is what is holding the industry back.
“The danger is if we don’t have enough people to turn the business benefits into something tangible then the airline industry may begin to lose interest, making predictive maintenance something that could quite simply ‘come and go’. Filling in the skills gap is crucial.”
The adoption of predictive maintenance in aviation is vital, with collaboration, data utilisation, and strategic talent recruitment all key drivers for the industry’s future success, Dr Fan emphasised.