Big Data and Analytics Improve Commercial Helicopter Reliability
Big data has big effects on business when it comes to safety, mission readiness and affordability.
For its commercial helicopter portfolio, Sikorsky combines data analytics technology with its helicopter engineering and manufacturing expertise to develop product improvements for customers in oil and gas, VIP transport, and search and rescue operations.
Engineers and data scientists at Sikorsky’s Customer Care Center collaborate to interpret data and use those insights to ensure S-92 and S-76 aircraft readiness and reliability whenever – and wherever – they’re needed.
Monitoring Safety Issues
At Sikorsky, safety is the highest priority. Capabilities like the health and usage monitoring system (HUMS) onboard S-92 and S-76 helicopters capture tremendous amounts of information on individual aircraft that can indicate potentially disruptive or dangerous events. Using both individual aircraft data and aggregated data across the fleet, Sikorsky can minimize the impact of an issue and keep the community aware of how to inspect and monitor their aircraft to identify whether they are at risk.
“Being able to look at aircraft data immediately is a huge benefit to the industry, and it’s something the industry needs in order to ensure the highest level of safety,” said Simon Gharibian, director of fleet management at Sikorsky. “HUMS data turns unplanned events into planned events for our operators.”
The immediacy and accuracy of the information enables Sikorsky to work with customers in real time, and takes the burden off of operators.
Rather than grounding an entire fleet, pulling parts and finding an improvement Sikorsky analysts and engineers can examine the data to find a specific issue and fix the problem before it becomes catastrophic.
According to Gharibian, once Sikorsky identifies and solves an issue, data scientists will sift through fleet and aircraft records to find early indicators of the problem and build tools that can catch them in advance.
Looking to the future…
Real-time health and usage monitoring will cut the time between data collection and analysis. With this improvement, in-flight data will be transmitted directly to commercial helicopter operators to view and track; the data will then be transferred to Sikorsky via a traditional ground station to analyze and monitor.
“We’re looking to improve availability and reliability, and minimize the amount of time that aircraft are grounded. Data tells us the story – but our engineering and manufacturing teams take action to make changes that keep our customers flying smarter and longer.”
~ Simon Gharibian, director of fleet management at Sikorsky
Maintaining Mission Readiness
Keeping customers mission-ready is another benefit of data analytics. Efficiently predicting when and where a customer will need a specific part saves crucial time -- and cost -- of operating an aircraft.
Today, Sikorsky monitors the removal rates of different parts that contribute to grounded aircraft. They track when the parts need to be replaced, how old they were, the reason they needed to be replaced, and how long they took to be replaced. Analytics tools are set to target parts that need to be replaced most often, or took the most time. To best serve customers, Sikorsky is working with data to reduce the number of times parts need to be replaced, and also reduce the turnaround time for repairs.
“In one case, we noticed that operators needed to replace their landing gear more often than we expected, so we took a look at the data and found that the issue was actually related to leakage and corrosion on the landing gear piston,” said Gharibian. “At this point, our engineering and manufacturing teams came in and developed on-aircraft repairs to address the corrosion and resulting leakage, thus reducing the number of times the landing gear needed to be removed and replaced.”
Over time, customers will reap the rewards of the continual improvement processes that Sikorsky has implemented. Gharibian explained that the more data is available on the aircraft, the more Sikorsky is able to focus on parts that drive down availability.
Looking to the future…
Developments in communications, processing power and sensor technology have helped helicopters to become more self-aware; as they continue to advance, Sikorsky will be able to take advantage of those capabilities to improve logistics and sustainment. Aircraft will be able to detect an issue, recommend a solution, and communicate that solution back to the operator and the Forward Stocking Location so they can have a part ready for the aircraft once it arrives.
Increasing Operational Affordability
Data analytics not only increases mission readiness, but also drives down the overall operating expense.
“The data we gather on individual aircraft and operators’ fleets helps us to gain a better understanding for how our customers are using the aircraft – for example, the maneuvers they’re doing, where they’re operating, and what kinds of stresses they’re putting on the helicopter parts,” said Gharibian.
As Sikorsky analysts track what different aircraft parts have been exposed to, they use that data to determine how it affects the life span of a particular part. That informs their recommendations on when to replace specific parts.
Looking to the future…
As companies like Sikorsky learn more about the wear and tear on different aircraft parts, the next step to implementing more advanced data analytics is regulation. Expanding the level of trust in these recommendations for repairs and replacements can influence policy decisions from the FAA – and ultimately lead to a 10-15 percent reduction in maintenance costs for commercial helicopter operators.