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In Aerospace and Defense, maintenance in the field is very different from at the depot or base. The environment is unique, often extreme – movement is rather limited for an engineer in a dark submarine bilge or the underbelly of an aircraft! – and turn-round schedules can be tight.

These unique environments are driving new technologies to be developed to support solutions tailored in a more effective way for A&D maintenance.

Take the developments in wearables with augmented reality. I believe these have real potential. By automatically identifying the spare part required by a field engineer, key information on the maintenance task required can be fed back through to the engineer’s wearable device, negating the need to barcode scan or consult technology documents in difficult maintenance environments.

According to recent Forrester research, 68 percent of global technology and business decision makers say that wearables are a priority for their firm, with 51 percent calling it a moderate, high or critical priority. Wearables can sense the user’s physical environment much more completely than previously possible, and in many more situations. This makes them excellent platforms for applications where the computer is working even when the users aren’t giving explicit commands.

Here’s some examples. Supporting the location of faulty wires or equipment on a grounded aircraft, and notifying workers about hazards such as the presence of other activities being conducted on the aircraft, are areas that could be addressed right now. EasyJet and Japan Airlines have experimented with using augmented reality glasses for their ground engineers. Working around aircraft on the tarmac, they are able to send images of the aircraft to maintenance specialists for assessment who then feed any issues they see back to the engineer on the ground.

The ability to add operational data relating to flight, crew and vehicle in real-time adds serious value to ERP in A&D. The next step would be to port mobile apps on to a wearable device that is contextually aware so it automatically records when and where a fault is logged – saving valuable time by negating the need for the engineer to ‘down tools’ in order to log on to a laptop or handheld device to gain access to back-office information.

With hands-free context aware and wearable technology cross-matching bar codes, stock or part numbers, the engineer can ensure that the right item is demanded or fitted without physically entering and sending information down the supply chain, with the benefit of reducing time consuming document and database searches that introduce a greater opportunity for error – again the maintenance engineer spends less time ‘downing tools’ to consult collateral material, improving overall MRO efficiency.

  • Read Martin Gunnarsson’s blog to watch a video of how IFS partner, XMReality, deliver “Expertise on Demand” through augmented reality and wearable technology to support aircraft maintenance

Innovative wearable technology has matured over the past decade from simple ‘fall monitors’ in hospitals to truly interactive, context aware support tools. We can give operators direct support at their fingertips, in their ears or in front of their eyes, and also intimately understand the challenges they are facing. There are now exciting opportunities to streamline MRO activity and modernize supply chains. The result will be aircraft spend more time in the air with maintenance support tailored to suit any environment, at any time.

The advance of wearable technology seems unstoppable. Its deployment has simply taken off over the past few years. We all understand that wearable blood glucose, heart rate, blood pressure monitors can help people stay healthier for longer. Similarly, in A&D, wearable technology must be demonstrably useful but I hope I have given some examples of the real benefits that wearables and contextually aware solutions will bring to A&D maintenance – because only then can we truly demonstrate a real return on investment that warrants change and adoption of the technology.

First published by MRO Network on October 19th, 2015. Republished with permission.

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