What is the current state of IoT in UK aerospace?

Posted on 4 Aug 2017 by Jonny Williamson

The Aerospace Technology Institute has set out the IoT capability of UK aerospace today, alongside the challenges and opportunities regarding its wider adoption.

IoT Minds + Machines - UK Manufacturing Turbine Boost Aerospace Engine Stock - image courtesy of Pixabay.
The High Value Manufacturing Catapult is working with industry to establish how using simple IoT devices can deliver valuable information to support better decision-making – image courtesy of Pixabay.

It’s no secret that businesses can achieve significant efficiencies by digitising assets. The Internet of Things (IoT), for example, can help assess an organisation’s overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) in real time – useful metric to measure supply chain capability.

Several companies are already utilising off-the-shelf IoT devices, including RFID tags to provide operational prognostics, monitor in-process performance, avoid bottlenecks, and offer information on assemblies, and therefore avoid complex and time-consuming removal.

IoT challenges

Real-time global factory asset monitoring is commonplace in the automotive sector, but not in aerospace, according to the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI).

On board aircraft, wider adoption of IoT devices are limited to premium customers and managed on a separate system, avoiding the issue of connection to safety critical systems.

Further developments are required, including managing data capacity, interoperability between new and legacy systems, and layers of security to support various interface opportunities (something that isn’t available today).

Cyber security is a key challenge of IoT devices and a major focus for every industry. Further challenges, including certification, updates and reconfiguration all need to be considered to support the pace of technology development.

IoT opportunities

There are many IoT devices with direct potential aviation applications, including measuring the performance of products and factories, putting sensors into passenger seats, personalising environmental conditions, and supporting semi-autonomous pilot operations through wearables.

Connecting the assets within an organisation is a first step in optimising their utilisation and effectiveness. Real-time data allows the organisation to predict and plan maintenance requirements, reducing time, manage utilisation and simulate scenarios to improve OEE.

These opportunities, capabilities and challenges are discussed in the inaugural issue of INSIGHT, a new series of ATI publications that will explore a range of cross-sector issues and topics.

The first topic is digital transformation.

The High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult is working with industry to establish how using simple IoT devices can deliver valuable information to support better decision-making. For example, measuring the power usage of a machine can determine accurate utilisation.

Connecting products and assets together can enable dynamic scheduling and flexible factory automation, where multiple products can be managed through the same factory.

Connecting workstations to products and processes can have a profound effect on quality, enhance operator capability and create a flexible, dynamic work area. Smart tooling links machine and operator via interactive tablets or augmented reality headsets.

Laser positioning and labelling, combined with smart fixturing, can ensure processes are completed correctly with improved quality.