Lufthansa Technik Cockpit Panel Testing Now Fully Automated

The instrument switches in the cockpit of an aircraft are used countless times – not only by the pilots, but also by technicians during maintenance or repair. Some press the switches hard, others more carefully. And when an LED light flickers slightly, some ignore it, others are bothered by it. Over time, the switches become worn out or loose, and long-lasting LEDs lose their brightness. Previously, the decision regarding when to replace them depended on the subjective assessment of the operator.

A robot developed by Lufthansa Technik AG is now setting new standards. The world’s first Robot Controlled Cockpit Electronics Testing, or RoCCET for short, carries out fully automated tests on cockpit control panels. The robot is equipped with sensors and industrial cameras. The sensors measure the forces acting on the switches during operation; the cameras detect external damage and the brightness of all displays from different angles. This enables the robot to check all the switches and lights like a human, but within defined physical limit values. What is considered ‘too dark’ or ‘too loose’ is therefore no longer a matter of opinion, but anything that deviates from these physical limit values.

In terms of Preventive Maintenance, data mining can be used to make more accurate predictions about the expected service life of switches and LEDs. This is carried out by analyzing existing aircraft data and data generated by RoCCET, and evaluating it all together. “We can now decide whether we want to replace a switch or an LED preventatively as part of the current, scheduled workshop visit. This allows us to avoid later unscheduled maintenance work that would become necessary if the switch failed during operation,” explains Project Manager Florian Sell. “This means we can significantly increase the devices’ reliability.”

One major advantage is the time saved in checking an individual panel. Previously, it took one or two hours to test a panel. If RoCCET carries out this work in the future, Lufthansa technicians will have more time for other tasks, such as focused troubleshooting and repairs.

The RoCCET process was developed by the Aircraft Component Services team at Lufthansa Technik between mid-2016 and the end of 2018. RoCCET is currently being integrated into normal operations. In this phase, the existing method is gradually being replaced with the fully automated process. “We are deliberately doing this step by step to ensure that we detect any weak spots early and to improve the system,” says Lufthansa Technik. Fundamentally, the decision to automate is always taken on a case-by-case, economic basis. “How this will affect individual locations is not yet clear.”

During the course of the year, RoCCET will initially be used on the Airbus A320 (entire A320 family) and A350, as well as the Boeing 787 aircraft. As the Lufthansa Group does not operate any B787s itself, RoCCET will also be tested on the cockpit panels of aircraft belonging to external customers. In the long term, RoCCET is to be used for cockpit and cabin control units of all aircraft models in all Lufthansa Technik locations.

Text: Corinna Panek
Fotos: Lufthansa Technik