: 6 min

When augmented reality augments maintenance efficiency

By calling on augmented reality (AR) techniques, Safran has enhanced the maintenance and monitoring of electrical wiring for commercial mainline and regional jets, military aircraft and helicopters.
turbine

Safran has developed a new augmented reality technique to improve servicing of aircraft wiring. Now on offer to airlines, this innovative technique considerably reduces the time planes must be grounded for maintenance.

Atterrissage
Vue de Singapour

Meeting a potential customer

After a 13-hour flight, Christopher, a sales engineer with EWISE Services, the maintenance arm of Safran Electrical & Power, finally gets to his destination. EWISE Services offers a complete range of through-life support services for the electrical systems on aircraft like these.

Rencontre avec le client

Today, he's meeting the head of engineering at one of the leading airlines in Southeast Asia.

This airline company deploys a fleet over one hundred strong, including a large number of Airbus wide-body jets.

The two men already met not long ago in Paris, at the "Convergences" trade show, dedicated to tomorrow's industries. The airline's head of engineering had been very impressed by how Safran incorporated the latest digital technologies in its production facilities, and in a number of the services offered to both plane-makers and airlines.

Christopher had explained to him the advantages of using augmented reality in this field, which is subject to increasingly stringent safety and compliance requirements. In particular, he explained how this new technology could drive significant improvements in quality and productivity.

Démonstration de la réalité augmentée au salon Convergence
Démonstration de la réalité augmentée au salon Convergence
Démonstration de la réalité augmentée au salon Convergence

Addressing a specific problem

After taking Christopher on a quick tour of their facilities, his hosts emphasized the importance of maintaining their fleet's dispatch reliability, saying

You probably know better than anyone that electrical failures due to wiring are few and far between. But when they do unfortunately occur, they're very difficult to detect. And they often ground the plane for a long time, which is expensive.

Christopher slowly begins to smile, since the solution he will offer the operator today perfectly meets his needs! Christopher and his hosts are comfortably set up in a meeting room, where he starts his presentation by explaining how this technology has been adopted by Safran Electrical & Power.

Implementing augmented reality really comes into its own for our aircraft wiring business, because it's used in conjunction with a manual process, where little or no automation is possible. It also makes sense because of the large mass of complex data that our technicians have to use.

Opération manuelle sur câblage
Zoom sur une opération manuelle sur câblage

Before going into the actual on-site troubleshooting operations offered by EWISE Services, he quickly describes how augmented reality has become an integral part of the production process at Safran's plants.

Des plans de câblage numérisés
Des plans de câblage numérisés

The origins of digital data

At Safran Electrical & Power, the digitization of engineering kicked off in the early 2000s, allowing designer to transition from their drawing boards to digital plans on computers. Christopher explains that this technology shift considerably increased simulation and computation capacity, but without really generating gains in productivity.

In fact, he explains, there wasn't really any way for operators to take advantage of the digital data in 3D models during the manual wiring operations.

So their work was still based on printed plans and instructions. For example, these instructions would tell them where to cut or strip the wire, where it should be crimped, how to route it using little labels to get from point A to point B, etc.

Des plans en 3D

The AR revolution

Safran Electrical & Power has deployed augmented reality since 2016, in a drive to ensure real digital continuity. Christopher explains,

In short, we are at last capitalizing on the advantages of the first phase of digitization from fifteen years ago! For example, take the cable routing process.

We no longer have to read those little labels I just mentioned, nor decrypt printed plans to see where the wires go.

Rouleaux de câbles
Câbles étiquetés sur plans imprimés

From now on, operators use a 3D image projected on the fuselage to show them exactly where the wiring goes!

L'opérateur assisté par la réalité augmentée pendant toute l'intervention sur le câblage

Christopher then shows his hosts that an additional imaging processing step, using a small camera, can be used to check the proper positioning of the wire, all in real time.

L'opérateur assisté par la réalité augmentée pendant toute l'intervention sur le câblage

This processing step increases productivity and quality tenfold!

He continues:

Le field service engineer inspecte le moteur

This is a new technology, in fact, which could also be used on final assembly lines at aircraft manufacturers, so they can optimize final development, especially the first time an aircraft is energized.

Des plans de câblage numérisés
Des plans de câblage numérisés

Electrical system maintenance services

For EWISE Services, augmented reality could open the door to a new and very promising market. In the United States alone, the airlines' annual cost of detecting this type of failure is estimated at 100 million dollars!

Christopher points out that

Our primary concern is improving performance. In this case, we brought together two technology building blocks to come up with the aircraft wiring monitoring and diagnostic solutions that we now offer.

He then shows several slides with schematics and charts to further explain the concept, explaining that the first building block in this solution is reflectometry.

That's a diagnostics method based on the principle of radar. A sounding signal is sent through the wire, allowing us to see if it's cut or damaged, while also showing at what distance the problem is located.

Des plans en 3D

This technique is proposed by WiN MS, a startup specialized in cable monitoring, which has signed a collaboration agreement with Safran Electrical & Power. However, this information alone is not enough to find the exact location of the problem, because wiring inside the airplane is never straight: it climbs, descends, goes around obstacles, etc., all according to the original routing plan.

An exclusive technological innovation

Christopher continues his presentation by describing the other building block.

The second part of this solution is the powerful algorithm developed by Safran Electrical & Power, allowing us to interpret the data generated by reflectometry, so we can pinpoint the location of the anomaly.

Des plans de câblage numérisés
Des plans de câblage numérisés

The maintenance technician walks around the airplane's fuselage, using a tablet that displays a 3D model to see, with "X-Ray vision", the wires behind the airplane's walls, as well as the exact location of the electrical failure. Then all he has to do is remove the panel in question to get to the defective wire and repair it.

Before we needed several days to find this sort of problem, but now we can do it in a couple of hours, enthuses Christopher. For the airline, that means planes get back in the air faster, and maintenance costs are lower. Before, troubleshooting operations like this required two persons. Now, since the process has proved to be very intuitive, a single technician can do the job.

He concludes,

Traditional troubleshooting techniques often needed several tries to discover the defective wire. Today, thanks to augmented reality, we can ‘get it right the first time!

> Credits

© Pierre Soissons / Safran
© ugurhan / Istock
© TommL / Istock
© JohnnyGreig / Istock
© Cyril Abad / CAPA Pictures / Safran
© Cyril Abad / CAPA Pictures / Safran
© Cyril Abad / CAPA Pictures / Safran
© Abdellah Azizi / CAPA Pictures / Safran
© Abdellah Azizi / CAPA Pictures / Safran
© Abdellah Azizi / CAPA Pictures / Safran
© Cyril Abad / CAPA Pictures / Safran
© Pierre Soissons / Safran
© Alex Ojeda / CAPA Pictures / Safran
© Pierre Soissons / Safran
© Pierre Soissons / Safran
© Pierre Soissons / Safran
© Pierre Soissons / Safran
© Pierre Soissons / Safran
© Hermann Bredehorst / CAPA Pictures / Safran
© Hermann Bredehorst / CAPA Pictures / Safran
© Eric Forterre / Safran
© Pierre Soissons / Safran
© Pierre Soissons / Safran
© Abdellah Azizi / CAPA Pictures / Safran

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