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Next generation smart products helping aerospace industry increase revenue and improve safety using predictive analytics

Ready for take-off? Answering this question used to require airline inspectors to manually perform a series of meticulous safety checks before each flight such as physically counting inventory, visually verifying cabin items and double-checking flight bag contents.  Today, the process of approving an airplane for flight is being reduced by an estimated 90 percent (Embedded M2M Solutions, 8/12/2013) thanks to smart product technology.  From electronic flight bags that automatically connect and relay information in an emergency, to on-board fire extinguishers that alert maintenance when they expire, the adoption of machine-to-machine communication capabilities is helping to improve operational efficiencies and aircraft safety.

As discussed in our recent blog, “The Rise of the Machines,” transforming products into smart machines is one of the hottest topics in manufacturing. The vast amount of new data being generated is helping companies improve existing designs, invent new products and streamline processes. But, it is the ability to predict, and possibly prevent, the future that is driving much of the smart machine movement.

Taking Action Based on Data

The concept of analyzing usage data to prevent product failures is not new. In fact, aerospace manufacturers have been successfully putting sensors into engines for nearly 20 years. Data such as temperature, shaft vibrations, or pressure differences between the intake and exhaust values is downloaded after each flight and used to identify when an engine part might be trending in the wrong direction, so it can be fixed before it fails.

Today, miniaturized sensors can be placed on nearly anything, anywhere; while network capacity and processing capabilities transmit and analyze massive quantities of data faster than ever before.  As a result, other areas within airline manufacturing, as well as companies across every industry vertical, can now “see” exactly how their products are performing when in operation  and take appropriate action. Of course, accessing  this information cannot be done without addressing privacy and security concerns. Businesses need to clearly communicate smart machine capabilities so that all parties involved can make informed decisions.

Turning Predictions into Profits

For businesses, the opportunities to generate recurring revenues after a product sale are of critical importance. While it is likely that many more value-added services will emerge as smart machine implementation continues, a few strategies for turning predictive analytics into profitable services are health monitoring services, quick-turn issue resolution and consulting.

Products that transmit data at regular intervals are not valuable in and of themselves. It takes processing capabilities and product knowledge to appropriately analyze the information for smart decision making. Manufacturers are uniquely suited to monitor data from installed equipment and take proactive maintenance action on behalf of the customer. This service could be offered as a monthly subscription or possibly charged based on results, such as the hours of consecutive flight time achieved through proactive monitoring.

Another benefit companies could offer customers based on smart machine technology is faster response time and issue resolution.  When a part or system fails unexpectedly, companies with access to real-time product analytics can quickly determine the source of the problem, respond immediately and solve the issue in a single visit. This premium service reduces costs and other challenges associated with downtime.

Finally, a third revenue opportunity enabled by access to insightful product data is consultation services. Offered either on a project basis or as a retainer, manufacturers could make recommendations for process or product utilization improvements. Customers could either implement the recommendations themselves or outsource the actions to the manufacturing partner.

The idea of telling the future by deciphering a cloudy image in a glass ball is gone.  Instead, by constantly collecting and analyzing millions of product data points, companies will be able to understand and anticipate product performance in ways never before possible. The projected benefits are not only transformative for the end product, such as a talking car, but will be incredibly important to sustaining profitable innovation within the business community as well.

christopher.macluckie co-wrote this blog post.

Continue the conversation in the comments below and on Twitter @SAPAerospace. To learn more about the adoption of smart machine technology within the A&D industry, please plan to attend SAP North America Aerospace and Defense Innovation Days in Cape Canaveral, FL, on March 24-26. RSVP Now.