Airbus Helicopters SAS, one of the world’s leading helicopter manufacturers, is testing innovative and disruptive technology across its maintenance operations. This is leading to quantifiable efficiency gains, in some cases, resulting in time reductions from two days to just two hours for certain activities.
The company is trialling JPB Système’s proof-of-concept Smart Washer solution, which is designed to improve efficiencies within maintenance, repair and operations. This is done by enabling touchless and wireless measurement of bolt axial load.
Instead of the need to manually check the tightening torque level of traditional bolts within the helicopter, Smart Washer allows engineers to directly measure bolt tension in just a few seconds with no need for intervention on the bolted assembly.
Certain aspects of helicopter maintenance have been cut from two days with two technicians to just two hours with one technician
According to Georges Devilliers, Senior Expert for Helicopter Maintenance at Airbus Helicopters, since trialling Smart Washer over several months, the company has identified the potential for significant efficiency improvements across helicopter maintenance activities.
An example is the periodic check of the tightening torque on the main gearbox suspension bar attachment. The procedure first requires removal of the two engines, as well as the helicopter’s interior trim, before maintenance engineers can gain access and check the bolts. Once checked, the engine needs to be re-installed and a ground-run undertaken to ensure correct installation of the engines.
Maintenance time reduced
Georges says: “This is a heavy maintenance operation that takes around two days and requires two engineers to check about 12 bolts. By comparison, using Smart Washer, the same task can be performed by just one engineer in about two hours; we don’t need to physically access the bolts to perform the checks, so there’s nothing to dismantle.”
Via its tests of Smart Washer, Airbus Helicopters believes that the device could monitor more accurately the tension in the bolted assemblies. Georges continues: “To check proper tension of the bolts, we currently measure the tightening torque; this is difficult and imprecise. You need access to the assembly, to loosen it and then re-tighten it which can leave room for error in so far as the dismantling of parts to access the bolts, as well as the subsequent re-assembly.”
As a result, when it comes to servicing a substantial amount of time is required to undertake such checks, which for helicopters can sometimes represent as much as 10% of the overall scheduled maintenance time.
For Airbus Helicopters’ customers, the speed at which such checks can be performed also helps to minimise helicopter immobilisation, which drives further efficiencies. In these cases, Smart Washer technology has the potential to facilitate much easier, shorter and less costly procedures.
Big data for a wider vision
The attributes of Smart Washer have more far-reaching potential. Since the device can register tension, date, location, temperature as well as other parameters, this data could be used to alert customers to the need to perform other maintenance procedures – be it immediate or just according to schedule.
Airbus Helicopters provides efficient civil and military helicopter solutions to customers in around 150 countries. From its head office and main facility in Marginane, near Marseille, France, the company’s operations span an array of activities, including design, assembly, training, test flights and delivery.
About JPB Système
Founded in 1995, JPB Système is the leading manufacturer of efficiency-enhancing technology solutions for aerospace, aeronautic and other industries. Headquartered in Paris-Villaroche business park (France), the company serves some of the industry’s largest manufacturers with its Industry 4.0 based process, including Safran, Pratt & Whitney, GE, Rolls-Royce and ITP Aero.
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Images courtesy of Airbus Helicopters