Predictive maintenance: taking better care of fleets with OMAHA

Airlines around the world are looking to make MRO more efficient through predictive maintenance. But when exactly is the best time to perform maintenance or replace certain parts? Lufthansa Industry Solutions is researching this. The German government is funding the OMAHA project.

The project

The “oracle of Omaha” is what they call a world-famous investor. But the abbreviation OMAHA has nothing to do with speculative stock market forecasts. It stands for Overall Management Architecture for Health Analysis. The purpose of the research project by this name is to develop scientifically sound forecast models for an entirely different purpose. As part of OMAHA, specialists from Lufthansa Industry Solutions, aircraft manufacturers, suppliers and technology research institutes are developing the basis for a standardized system of monitoring the condition of airplanes. In practice, such solutions will one day warn of wear and tear before it happens – with the help of sensors and big data. The findings could be so significant for the global aviation industry that the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy’s aviation research program is funding the OMAHA project from 2014 to 2017.

The challenge

Airlines invest extensive resources in maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) – rightfully so. It is the only way to ensure a high level of safety in aviation. Routine checks at predetermined intervals have so far been the best approach to maintaining, repairing or replacing parts before performance starts to suffer or they break down. After all, no human is capable of keeping an eye on every part all the time, neither on the ground nor in the air. But sensors and computers can. Server capacities, transmission speeds and self-learning algorithms are already so advanced today that it is possible to automatically aggregate and analyze huge quantities of data.

As a result, the concept of big data will give the aviation industry a potential way to reduce the time, effort and money spent on MRO, as well as the associated unscheduled downtime for aircraft, with the help of artificial intelligence. However, large passenger and cargo aircraft – with their extensive connected subsystems – and international aviation are too complex for raw data to permit easy-to-implement conclusions. Practical models are necessary to channel the scope for interpretation of data analysis into reliable recommendations for action. The aviation industry is just starting to pursue this path, and basic research is still needed.

The goal

Lufthansa Industry Solutions has been involved in the OMAHA model project since 2014 with the aim of helping predictive maintenance achieve a breakthrough in MRO services in aviation. Other partners in the joint research project spearheaded by Airbus include Airbus Defence & Space, Airbus Group Innovations, Nord Micro, Linova Software, the German Aerospace Center and the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence.

By the time the project ends in 2017, the research partners will have created a standardized platform that is capable of providing a foundation for the integrated condition monitoring of civil aircraft fleets in the future. Lufthansa Industry Solutions’ role consists of developing the software for the maintenance planning of civil aircraft according to the principles of predictive maintenance. Specifically, the IT specialists are developing a fleet simulator that makes it possible to compare maintenance scenarios while taking into account the influence of various eventualities. As a result, it will be possible to coordinate maintenance and repair measures more efficiently in line with an integrated approach to condition monitoring.

Until now, the partners have been focusing on basic research that is creating a foundation for future application-related projects. Once the OMAHA architecture is added to commercial IT solutions, it will start making a contribution to significantly increasing the availability of aircraft in fleet planning and reducing the time, effort and money spent on MRO.

The client benefits

Through their involvement in the OMAHA research project, the specialists from Lufthansa Industry Solutions are developing expertise in one of the most important big data trends for the future of the aviation industry at an early stage. As a result, Lufthansa Industry Solutions clients from the MRO sector benefit from first-hand knowledge. The insights into predictive maintenance gained during the project can also be applied to many additional sectors.

A wide variety of partners is involved in the project, giving Lufthansa Industry Solutions an overview of predictive maintenance that takes all perspectives into account – a major advantage. After all, the amount of data gathered in new aircraft models is set to rise dramatically. However, all parties involved in MRO operations have to work with a common data platform to analyze this information optimally. The more comprehensive analysis with big data is, the better management can use it as a decision-making basis. This will lead to even more economical maintenance planning and scheduling of aircraft.

Predictive maintenance is one of the most important topics in IT right now, not only in the aviation industry, but also in many other sectors. Here we can see the potential big data has to make maintenance processes more efficient and significantly reduce operating costs. Despite constant improvement in IT systems, the field remains complex and calls for a targeted approach to providing advice. First-hand knowledge and taking all perspectives into account are absolutely essential.

Frieder Henning, Technical Consultant, Lufthansa Industry Solutions