GE brings AI into preventive maintenance to reduce jet engine failure by one-third

50 per cent of design and development work for the American aviation giant’s wide body aircraft engines being done at Bengaluru centre

Issue: 9 / 2019By Vishal Thapar, GE Facility, BengaluruPhoto(s): By GE
Foam Wash is another technology, which extends the life of engine blades through optimum cleaning of dust

An Artifical Intelligence-driven, data analystics-based breakdown pre-empting system pioneered by GE’s Bengalurubased John F Welch Technology Centre is poised to revolutionise preventive maintenance of jet engines by reducing unscheduled engine removal from civil airliners by one-third.

Validated in a pilot project with the Dubai-based Emirates Airline, this maintenance solution is a hybrid application of an Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning ‘Digital Twin’, and in combination with GE’s deep domain expertise, is set to be a big driver for the American aviation giant’s engine sustenance business worldwide, and will be on offer to Indian operators soon.

Image analystics, similar to face recognition algorithms, will be part of the solution which will let software take preventive maintenance decisions and even prioritise remedial action based on a damage ranking mechanism.

“This Hybrid AI solution has been developed initially for the wide body segment. We shall move to the narrow bodies soon for the shortest possible turnaround time and to facilitate maximisation of cycles by the operator,” announced Alok Nanda, CEO GE India Technology Centre.

Being pitched as the 21st century fleet management panacea, the Digital Twin is programmed to minimise engine inspection, disruption and removal, and ensure the availability of the asset on the wing for more time.

STRENGTHENING MATERIALS

A cutting-edge Materials lab at the Centre is at the heart of the capability to prevent materials failure. Failure analytics, and a unique capability to scan materials, their images magnified up to 30,000 times, put the Materials lab in the super nano space, making it well placed to scan grain structures of materials and alloys which have broken down, and take remedial steps to improve strength of materials. This facility also enables thermal barrier coating for bigger engines to cope with super high temperatures.

“We’ve been involved in the GE9X engine for the Boeing 777X from the design stage. The aircraft will fly with this engine next year. Fifty per cent of the wide body work is being done out of India. We are now a growth engine for aviation.” — Alok Nanda, CEO, GE India Technology Centre

“Every operator wants predictability of failure. This is where our analytics come into play, combing data with domain knowledge,” says Dinakar Deshmukh, GE Aviation’s global VP Data & Analytics. “This will help airlines decide when to take a decision. It is also a big safety driver,” he explains.

The ‘Digital Twin’ is part of cutting edge work being done at GE’s Bengaluru Centre, which has completed 20 years in India this year. This reporter was part of a select group of journalists who were given a rare opportunity to visit this Centre, which is only the second GE research and development establishment anywhere in the world after the one set up in New York the legendary Thomas Alva Edison.

‘LEAP’ TO SUCCESS

The John F Welch Technology Centre had an early baptism by fire, when it was co-opted into the development of the iconic CFM International LEAP (Leading Edge Aviation Propulsion) engine, which has become a best-seller in the narrowbody segment. This was the successor to the very successful CFM56 produced by CFM International, a joint venture between GE Aviation and French Safran Aircraft Engines. Indigo is a big Indian operator of the LEAP engine.

“The Bengaluru Centre was involved in the early architecture, concept and design stage for LEAP. This early entry into LEAP help us put the building blocks together as a high-tech centre. It also gave us an opportunity to build up our credibility,” recalled Nanda. LEAP threw GE’s Bengaluru Centre into the deep end of demanding expectations in an increasingly cutthroat airline operator business. “The airlines wanted to push the number of cycles, and the engine had to be maintainable for high tempo of operations. Very importantly, we also had to get the fuel burn and emissions right,” Nanda said.

CRACKING COMBUSTION

The result was the development of the TAPS-II combustor for leaner burn and dramaic reduction in emissions to not just meet but better the stringent CEAP environmental standard of less than 5 per cent NOx emissions. “The TAPS combustor has 40 per cent margin to CAEP 6 limits. Our work has generated 50+ patents in combustion, 20 in the TAPS domain alone,” Nanda explained. The LEAP nozzle is among four components certified by the US FAA. The nozzle is the first FAA-approved 3D-printed component.

“From the design of the largest selling engine, we got LEAP into the factory. A Tata facility at Hyderabad is making LEAP parts,” said a jubilant Nanda. TAPS combustor nozzles for 35,000 LEAP engines sold worldwide have been made in India.

LEAPING INTO THE FUTURE

It’s work on LEAP, and Asia becoming the largest market, lifted the Bengaluru Centre into the wide body segment. “We’ve been involved in the GE9X engine for the Boeing 777X from the design stage. The aircraft will fly with this engine next year. Fifty per cent of the wide body work is being done out of India. We are now a growth engine for aviation,” he said.

Besides advanced variants of the TAPS combustor, which deals with temperatures of up to 1,600 degrees Celsius, composite rotor blades and fan casings as well as on wing inspection systems have been developed in India. The TAPS III combustor for the GE9X takes combustion technology to the next level.

SUCCESS IN 3D

Dramatic improvement in fuel efficiency and significant weight reduction are at the heart of requirements for these new age jet engines, and one of the enablers is Additive manufacturing – also called 3D printing – which is being hailed as a technology of the future. GE’s Welch Technology Centre is doing pioneering work with this technology.

3D eliminates the need for tools, expands freedom for design, shrinks design time and test schedules by half and sharply reduces the number of parts. For the TAPS combustor, for instance, 855 parts have come down to 12 thanks to 3D printing, time for design tests has shrunk by 6 months. The new technology has enabled 5 per cent weight reduction, and 20 per cent less fuel burn.

As stated above, nozzles for TAPS combustors in 35,000 engines sold across the world have come out of 3D printing. Sensing potential, GE has started Ad Works, a consultancy for using 3D Printing technology for precision manufacturing in India.

FOAM WASH MIRACLE

Foam Wash is another technology which the aviation major is in the process of commercialising, and adding to its sustenance services. This technology extends the life of engine blades through optimum cleaning of dust. Stubborn layers of dust reduce engine performance and time on the wing, and increase fuel consumption. GE claims that this is 50 per cent more efficient than washing the blades with water. Exhaust temperatures have halved during pilot trials of foam wash technology which will on the market in 2020.