How Rolls Royce is Applying AI and Robotics for Smart Engine Maintenance

Rolls Royce has been working in the civil aviation domain for quite some time now, to build what they call as ‘intelligent engines’. The IntelligentEngine vision was first announced at the Singapore Airshow in February 2018. The idea was built around how robotics could be used to revolutionise the future of engine maintenance. Rolls Royce aims to build engines which are:

Connected, using cloud-based nodes and IoT devices with other engines of the fleet, as well as with the customers and operators.

Contextually aware, of its operations, constraints, and customers, with modern data analysis and big data mining techniques.

Comprehending, of its own experiences and other engines in the fleet using state-of-the-art machine learning and recommendation algorithms.

The company has been demonstrating steady progress and showing off their rapidly developing digital capabilities.

Using tiny SWARM robots for engine maintenance

Their latest inventions are, tiny roach-sized ‘SWARM’ robots, capable of crawling inside airplane engines and fix them. They look like they’ve just crawled straight out of a Transformers movie.

This small robot, almost 10mm in size can perform a visual inspection of hard to reach airplane engine parts. The devices will be mounted with tiny cameras providing a live video feed to allow engineers to see what’s going on inside an engine without having to take it apart.

These swarm robots will be deposited on the engine via another invention, the ‘snake’ robots. Officially called FLARE, these snake robots are flexible enough to travel through an engine, like an endoscope.

Another group of robots, the INSPECT robots is a network of periscopes permanently embedded within the engine. These bots can inspect engines using periscope cameras to spot and report any maintenance requirements.

Current prototypes of these bots are much larger than the desired size and not quite ready for intricate repairs. They may be production ready in almost two years.

Reducing flight delays with data analysis

R2 Data Labs (Rolls Royce data science department) offers technical insight capabilities to their Airline Support Teams (ASTs). ASTs generally assess incident reports, submitted after disruption events or maintenance is undertaken. The Technical Insight platform will help ASTs easily capture, categorize and collate report data in a single place. This platform builds a bank of high-quality data (almost 10 times the size of the database ASTs had access to previously), and then analyze it to identify trends and common issues for more insightful analytics.

The technical insight platform has so far shown positive results and has been critical to achieving the company’s IntelligentEngine vision. According to their blog, it was able to avoid delays and cancellations in a particular operator’s 757 fleet by 30%, worth £1.5m per year.

The social network for engines

In May 2018, the company launched an engine network app. This app was designed to bring all of the engine data under a single hood, much like how Facebook brings all your friends on a single platform. In this app, all the crucial information regarding all the engines in a fleet is available in a single place.

Much like Facebook, each engine has a ‘profile’, which shows data on how it’s been operated, the aircraft it has been paired with, the parts it contains, and how much service life is left in each component. It also has a ‘Timeline’ which shows the complete story of the engine’s operational history. In fact, you also have a ‘newsfeed’ to display the most important insights from across the fleet.

The engine also has an in-built recommendation algorithm which suggests future maintenance work for individual engines, based on what it learns from other similar engines in the fleet.

As Juan Carlos Cabrejas, Technical Product Manager, R2 Data Labs writes, “This capability is essential to our IntelligentEngine vision, as it underpins our ability to build a frictionless data ecosystem across our fleets.”

Transforming Engine Health Management

Rolls-Royce is taking Engine Health Management (EHM) to a new level of connectivity. Their latest EHM system can measure thousands of parameters and monitor entirely new parts of the engine. And interestingly, the EHM has a ‘talk back’ feature. An operational center can ask the system to focus on one particular part or parameter of the engine. The system listens and responds back with hundreds of hours of information specifically tailored to that request.

Axel Voege, Rolls-Royce, Head of Digital Operations, Germany, says” By getting that greater level of detail, instantly, our engineering teams can work out a solution much more quickly.”

This new system will go into service next year making it their most IntelligentEngine yet.

As IntelligentEngine makes rapid progress, the company sees itself designing, testing, and managing engines entirely through their digital twin in the near future.

You can read more about the IntelligentEngine vision and other stories to discover new products and updates at the Rolls Royce site.