What a difference a century makes. When Thomas Edison was tinkering with electric light bulbs, he could have had no idea how fast things would progress technologically. But from those relatively humble yet revolutionary beginnings, the company he founded, General Electric, is now harnessing the Internet of Things (IoT) to revolutionize the aerospace industry.
By syncing the company’s systems with the IoT, enormous amounts of flight data can be tracked with the goal of reducing fuel costs, shortening travel times, and boosting efficiency.
This has been made possible by massive forward strides in technology. Let’s start with computing power. The average desktop or laptop these days would put a supercomputer of the ’90s to shame. And that power is now being backed up by storage systems capable of holding petabytes of information and serving it up rapidly.
Now factor in the rise of data analytics. Formerly the province of a few data scientists, modern analytic software places the analysis of vast troves of data into the hands of many. Today, calculations that used to take months can be accomplished in minutes.
But there is one final piece of the puzzle central to IoT—inexpensive wireless sensors that open the door to gathering data from various components of industrial machinery.
The basic concept is to take industry out of the realm of after-the-fact analysis. IoT takes a mountain of data and puts it to work in real-time to drive better decisions.
“Analyzing big data at rest is too slow,” says Greg Schulz, an analyst with IT consulting firm StorageIO. “You have to be able to process it as it comes in.”
Making long-haul flights more efficient
The potential that this connectivity offers for long-haul flights is enormous. The modern jet engine is already equipped with an array of sensors that generate several terabytes of data every flight. While they are supported by sophisticated analytic tools, the current approach is to store all data in-flight and download it into the database after landing. Thus, only a historical view of the information is available.
The IoT is changing that equation. Instead of downloading data from sensors when the trip is over, flight data would be tracked in real-time. Sensors and actuators inside the engine are connected to the Internet so data can be transmitted and viewed immediately.
“The Internet of Things is all about catching things in progress rather than waiting until after the fact to analyze the data,” says Paul Maritz, CEO of Pivotal, a company that provides a platform for big data analytics and IoT.
Maritz explains that most analytics applications would first ingest the data, store it, and then analyze it. His firm is figuring out the best way to use this information during the journey in order to optimize jet fuel consumption, improve engine efficiency and, in the long-term, drastically reduce maintenance costs. Armed with this data, minor changes could be made to flight plans and air speed to reduce flight times, fuel consumption, and maybe even save lives.
Given the right sensors and software, the IoT could detect an anomaly in a jet engine or its associated hardware, software, or systems. This could, in theory, prevent accidents. Systems will also be able to notify suppliers of parts that need to be replaced and provide alerts to maintenance personnel.
“As advanced telemetry [automatic measurement and transmission of data from remote sources] is added into all devices, it will ramp up the data volume by two orders of magnitude, thus there is a need for real-time analysis,” Maritz says.
Change of business model
Maritz takes it a step further.
“By reviewing real-time data, there is no need to break down an engine every 2,000 hours,” he says. “This will enable [original equipment manufacturers] to profitably change their business model to contracting for hours of operation, not sales of machines.”
Consequently, aircraft manufacturers are gearing up for what promises to be a revolution in flight profitability and efficiency. For instance, GE’s Flight Efficiency Services are helping airlines find efficiencies that can reduce up to 2 percent of their annual fuel bills. GE has been collaborating with Italian airline Alitalia since 2011 in using big data to identify and realize fuel efficiencies. By providing project implementation support, automated reporting and analysis of daily fuel usage, Alitalia identified a 1.5 percent savings in fuel costs within the first year—saving $15 million ($46 million to date).
While real-time big data analytics may take a year or two to come to fruition, the technology is already making inroads. And as it matures in tandem with the other components of the IoT, it appears certain that the airlines will be on the forefront of the next industrial revolution.
This article by Drew Robb originally appeared on Forbes PTCVoice