Manufacturers are finding that the design phase of a product has vast implications on its serviceability and availability in the field. This is especially important for mission-critical products such as aircraft. This story is about an incident that our GE Aviation organization had with a specific component that encased the hot section of the jet engines we make.
As in any good research and development team, the component had been tested under many environmental extremes and was shown to be serviceable. The problem was that this component was failing inspection in the field. This caused a high level of maintenance and potential unavailability of aircraft engines for our customers. One of the aspects of what we call the digital thread is the linkage of information throughout the supply chain, which includes information from design through to manufacturing to the operating parameters in the field.
GE Digital has created a vast network of sensors and analytics that can be used to monitor our aircraft engines as they operate on wings in the fleet. This gave us the ability to analyze a vast amount of information and look for correlations to these specific components that were failing in the field. After looking at the data, it was discovered that most of the failures were associated with aircraft operating in the hot and sandy environment. This was a mystery as these components had been tested in high silica (desert) environments, but they had not initially been tested with the type of sand in that region.
Then the mystery got even deeper; not all the components were failing to the same level across the region. So, it had to be something involved with the way that a specific operator was using the engines. After looking at further information, it was narrowed down to a specific customer in the region. After speaking with this customer, it was discovered that they had a policy of taking off and initiating a higher climb rate than the rest of the fleet, which created more heat in the engine, which led to a higher degradation of the material and more failed inspections in the field.
This information was provided back to the design department, which then improved the material to be more silica resistant in a high-temperature environment. The result was much fewer failed inspections in the field and more availability for our customers. The key here was the linkage of operation information to the design process and leveraging this to make continuous improvements.
Miss the beginning of this series? Read 12 Manufacturing Tips for a Brilliant 2017. Tip 1: Manufacturing Physics