Optimal engine maintenance with the help of virtual reality

In the wake of “Industrie 4.0” comes “Befund 4.0”: as part of its digital transformation program, engine manufacturer MTU Aero Engines launched a pilot project at the beginning of 2018 aiming at making maintenance of aircraft turbines faster, more efficient, and even safer. On board for the project are the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg, Brandenburg Invest and Investitionsbank des Landes Brandenburg.

No means of transport is considered as safe as the airplane. All components are regularly checked and maintained. The primary focus is on the engines – a malfunction in the air would be disastrous. Depending on the model and area of application, the engines are overhauled every three to five years. MTU Maintenance is a global player in this business. Within the global network of parent company MTU Aero Engines, based in Munich, MTU Maintenance is responsible for the maintenance of aircraft engines in the low to medium performance range, as well as for industrial gas turbines. Each year, over 1,000 engines of various types pass through the workshops of its facilities in Europe, Asia and North America.

“The aim of our joint project ‘Befund 4.0’ is to employ innovative technologies and digital media in engine maintenance to a greater degree than ever before. Above all, we hope we can thus simplify the identification of parts within an engine”, says Marc Gebauer, scientific employee at Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg. An engine consists of thousands of components manufactured by different suppliers, for which there are a wide range of check requirements that have to be meticulously complied with.

Engineer Gebauer is involved in the new project. “In view of the highly specialized work processes with a very small error tolerance, we want to develop different concepts which support the MTU employees in avoiding errors and at the same time increase process speed and quality”, says Gebauer. The costs of engine checks will also thus be significantly reduced.

Aircraft engines must meet stringent reliability requirements. Depending on the model and area of application, they are fully overhauled every three to five years.

In a first step, the project partners are centrally collecting all available technical data, information and maintenance requirements for the respective components of the engine in a single system. “Mechanics no longer have to spend valuable time gathering the necessary information from different documents, but can instead concentrate much more on their actual job, i.e. an examination or so-called ‘diagnosis’ of the relevant engine component”, says Gebauer, stating a further aim of the project. Today, the information needed for servicing is often still to be found in various analog and digital sources, such as manufacturer’s manuals, statistics and owner requirements, or in legally established regulations.

If all data is brought together, the relevant information will in future be transferred to the technician on tablet PCs or data glasses – so-called “smart glasses” – in a clearly presented form. This will give mechanics all the information they need for their work on the component.

After all, the sometimes highly diverse textual and graphic presentation of the components along with their maintenance requirements also has potential for improvement – the project partners are also examining different approaches aiming at presenting all data to the technicians in a more comprehensible and uniform manner than ever before. This too will increase the safety of work carried out.

A further focus of the project is digital damage profile transmission. This will allow the findings of the check, such as wear and tear of important components, not only to be digitally stored but also made available to third parties. This way, problems in the transmission of identified damage, which for example can occur when dockets are lost, can be prevented. At the same time, use of paper as a data carrier will be reduced further.

The “Befund 4.0” project will run until July 2019. If the developed technology is then judged by the project partners to be ready for use, they will apply to the Federal Aviation Office for the necessary permits, to finally make the future of engine maintenance “4.0”.

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Text by Behrend Oldenburg
Photos: MTU Aero Engines AG

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