How Technology Is Changing Aircraft Production and Safety

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The aviation industry has never wavered on its dependency on technology. Despite strict regulatory standards, technological advances in the way planes are built and continue to see rapid growth.

This article looks at some of the most significant technologies adopted by the industry in recent years to boost production and improve safety.

  1. IoT is driving the industry to new heights

Considered a frontier technology in the fourth industrial revolution, the Internet of Things (IoT) is transforming every industry in the world and aviation is no exception. For those unfamiliar with IoT (Internet of Things), the technology allows electronic devices to communicate with each other without the need for a host computer.

IoT is currently used in multiple sectors of the aviation industry to achieve both efficiency and safety. Rolls Royce, for example, has partnered with Azure to use their IoT and cloud solutions to aggregate data for predictive maintenance. These IoT devices work as endpoints to continuously check the health of aircraft engines. Virgin Atlantic, too, recently adopted a similar approach. In their new Boeing 787 aircraft, every component is connected to the plane’s wireless network to monitor internal components in real time.

At Virgin Atlantic, the new innovation allows Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) professionals to scan aircraft easily and quickly identify components in need of repair and replacement. The technology has had a positive impact in the supply chain too as, unlike before, suppliers can effortlessly identify parts nearing their end of life, preventing any safety mishaps in advance.

  1. AI is improving fuel efficiency optimization

Global aviation produces nearly 2% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Additionally, inefficiencies in fuel utilization consistently cost the industry billions of dollars. According to a 2012 statistical compilation by IATA, nearly 33% of an airline’s operating costs go to fuel.

To overcome this challenge, a growing number of airlines are incorporating Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning into their systems to collect and analyze flight data, including; routes, distance, altitude, aircraft type, weight, weather, etc. to determine the optimal amount of fuel needed for a particular flight.

In 2015, for instance, Southwest Airlines signed a contract with GE Aviation to use its flight analytics system to improve fuel efficiency for over 700 Boeing 737s. GE’s system allows operators to analyze data collected by a plane during a flight deeply. Pilots can, for instance, analyze data on; wind speed, humidity, plane weight and speed, maximum thrust, and altitude when planning a flight.

  1. 3D Printing is revolutionizing production

Finally, also known as additive manufacturing, 3D printing is quickly finding its way into large-scale aviation manufacturing.

Last year, for example, Boeing, working with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, printed the largest single item ever made using 3D printing – a 777x wing trim tool. Impressively, the machine, which usually takes up to three months to build, was printed in less than 30 hours.

That’s not all. Other companies are working hard on this front too. In 2017, for instance, Rolls Royce in collaboration with Airbus used 3D printing to manufacture parts for the Trent XWB-97 engine used in the A350-1000.

These are huge steps considering that 3D printing is a rather new technology, and a clear sign that the technology has a big future in the aviation industry.

In summary

Aviation is on the path to bigger things, thanks primarily to technological advancements. From the Internet of Things (IoT) to Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning to 3D printing, innovative technologies are not only pushing the industry towards efficiency in production but also playing a starring role in achieving new flight safety levels.

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