Blockchain for Aerospace MRO and Parts Tracking

Blockchain Technology enables end-to-end component lifecycle visibility, trusted data exchange across internal and external MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul) stakeholders, and unified operational efficiency across the MRO Value Chain. This results in decreased risk, decreased turn around time, and cost savings for the entire industry.

Is your data valuable? If you work in airline MRO, the answer would most likely be a resounding “yes!” Good MRO data management can have a lasting impact on customer safety, fleet availability, and operational success. But today’s MRO IT landscape isn’t trusted, intelligent, or interoperable enough — and some of the most critical parts tracking processes fall to offline paperwork or hundreds of data silos, hindering collective efforts toward interoperability and maintenance optimization.

Blockchain technology, a distributed digital ledger of unalterable records, has a great chance to shine in providing the traceability, transparency, interoperability, and auditing capabilities that MRO so desperately needs.

Safety First

Airlines, aircraft manufacturing, and regulatory authorities are tasked with the ongoing mission of ensuring passenger safety via good MRO management. From an IT perspective, this task manifests as a combined need for:

  • Trusted, reliable, and error-free data
  • Advanced and comprehensive traceability
  • Interconnected data exchange (MRO applications like inventory management or maintenance planning SaaS must have access to a wide range of un-siloed data for better insights and optimized processing)
  • Available insights access for all parties involved, across multiple companies and locations

We can quickly map these needs to the native functionality of blockchain technology — and especially with a Fluree stack in which we take a data-first approach to distributed ledger technology.

Today’s MRO data management environment involves point-to-point EDI communication, redundant and paper-based procedures, and an opaque system of data silos. Instead of an application-centric system of parts procurement, maintenance, repair, and operation, we need to take a data-first approach. MRO data is a resource that must be realized across the complex MRO ecosystem in a trusted, secure, and highly-available repository. We’ll need to break down the walls and understand the journey of parts from procurement to implementation, from reuse to recall, and from inventory reports to audit logs. Let’s dive in:

Blockchain Technology for Tracking Parts Through (1) Origin (2) Journey and (3) Industry Interoperability

1 — Origin: Reliable and Traceable Procurement

The current airplane parts supply chain is muddled with the complexity inherent in managing its various stakeholders (build-to-print manufacturers, systems integrators, resellers, vendors, airlines.)

By leveraging reliable and interconnected data, aircraft companies can realize the immense benefits blockchain immutability can provide for the Original Equipment airframers supply chain, namely:

Implementing blockchain technology not only brings trust and transparency to the supply chain process, but it also facilitates a more efficient means of third party collaboration between stakeholders involved in a component’s path.

Read more: Blockchain Technology for SCM, Logistics, and Procurement

Get Started Developing: Check out a sample Fluree Supply Chain app

2 — Journey: Tracking Repair History and Status

Leveraging blockchain technology, aerospace and defense companies can have holistic visibility into the history of each part — where it came from, who operated it and for how long, failure information, etc. Airline companies can verifiably track the journey of specific parts through procurement, shelf life, flight, testing, removal, repair, re-installation, rotation, and retirement.

Who is the manufacturer? How many planes contain this part, and where are they located? When was the component installed on each plane? When was it last serviced, and by whom?

This is truly comprehensive traceability, with lasting benefits.

With Fluree, the concept of traceability is a native (and leverageable) component:

  • Time Travel Queries allows you (or your apps) to query the blockchain as of any point in time — effectively allowing for complete and instant state reproducibility. “Example: Where was part x at time y?” (more on time travel here)
  • Historical Queries allows you or your apps to follow the path of a specific piece of data throughout time. Example: “What repair stations has part x visited through time?” (see history query in our documentation)

A unified view of MRO operations, including data and metadata on rotable and repairable components as well as LRUs (Line Repairable Units) will allow airlines to maintain maximize fleet availability by reducing turnaround time. An airline can grab a complete real-time snapshot of fleet configuration and maintenance status across all existing assets. The data insights afforded by immutable accounts for all parts give airlines actionable data :

  • Quicker responses to unplanned maintenance
  • Reliable, actionable and complete information for better parts servicing
  • Streamlined purchase orders
  • Reduction in recurring defects
  • Reduction in unnecessary maintenance actions

Streamlined efficiency means less downtime for fleets, fewer recalls, less risk, and, ultimately, reduced ongoing operational costs.

3 — Industry Interoperability: Facilitating win-win data exchange

Blockchain Technology can power deep interoperability across key MRO and aviation industry players as a distributed registry of sub-systems and parts. Manufacturers, owners, maintenance organizations and regulators can access information such as complete parts service and usage histories in their own SaaS and dashboards.

This information would be trusted, unified, and available as a single source of verifiable truth, providing operational cost savings, lower paperwork overhead, and better analysis into predicting the serviceable life of components.

Realizing Blockchain’s Benefit Across the MRO Value Chain

By leveraging blockchain in both procurement of parts and ongoing servicing, airlines can now tap into unified MRO data for incredible cost-savings, benefits, and opportunities.

Quality Assurance: Boost the value of aircraft in the secondary market and at the end of leases

Transferring aircraft from one operator to another costs commercial aviation about $1 billion each year (source.) Much of this process (and associated IT headache) involves gathering information on the safety and quality of specific parts and their compliance with regulations. In addition, verifying this data is both costly and time-consuming.

Tracking and understanding each aircraft component by a trusted, immutable blockchain ledger significantly increases your ability to derive and prove the direct value of your fleet. This, in turn, trickles down into cost savings for reselling and insurance underwriting while simultaneously providing a dashboard view of risks.

Risk Management: Active Monitoring of Critical Parts Data

Recalls can happen in a flash — and in aerospace, Airworthiness Directives are legally enforceable commands to correct unsafe conditions. Quite often the response to an Airworthiness Directive involves searching for all parts on-wing and determining appropriate action (repair&replace). By using a trusted repository of blockchain-backed parts history, airlines can respond quickly with ample confidence in the relevant actionable data.

Native Audit Trail for Compliance: A unified effort towards safety

Airline manufacturers, component resellers, airlines, service providers, and regulatory authorities all work toward mitigating risk and ensuring ongoing safety. A large part of this effort involves complying with safety regulations issued by authoritative governing bodies such as the FAA.

Blockchain-backed record-keeping is the best way to (1) ensure the compliance of data and (2) provide that audit trail on a turn-key basis. Because of the tamper-proof nature of blockchain’s record-keeping mechanism, we can prove data’s integrity and origin.

Data Leverage: Better reporting and insights

Whether you are pulling internal reports for inventory management or running analysis on risk, the benefits of having trusted and complete data across your MRO systems will markedly improve insights. For example, in the case of a part failure, engineer operations can easily leverage that component’s detailed history to quickly determine whether to repair or replace.

A step further: At Fluree, we use powerful data standards (WWC RDF) and a native cross-data query language (SPARQL) for apps that need to efficiently combine data across multiple sources, thereby breaking down the data silos currently plaguing aerospace.

Digital Transformation: Better MRO Document Management

Current standard MRO procedures involve either data silos of unstructured information or immeasurably tall stacks of paper records. The overhead cost of collecting, processing, storing, reproducing, and archiving manual data is far too high — not to mention the associated costs of documentation loss.

MRO is a process that needs digitization with an emphasis on data interoperability and native auditing. Blockchain technology can enable this transformation from redundant, risky, and time-consuming paperwork to a sophisticated digital document management system.

Zooming Out: MRO Parts Tracking is only part of the larger vision for airline digital transformation via blockchain technology. Here are a few other use cases within the aerospace industry walls:

  • Improve ground operations and on-time departures
  • Enable streamlined flight operations
  • Facilitate easier luggage tracking
  • Reduce centralized control over ticketing
  • Simplify revenue accounting and payment reconciliation
  • Easily manage points and miles data

MRO Digital Transformation with Fluree

Most of today’s blockchain technologies are a poor fit for mission-critical MRO IT. They are inflexible with pre-determined governance and can’t handle data management at the enterprise level.

Your blockchain choice needs to integrate seamlessly with your ERP, scale to enterprise query demand, and provide rich data leverage benefits. We’ve built Fluree with these critical needs in mind — with an emphasis on security, scalability, and enterprise-grade functionality.

Fluree is a blockchain-based data management platform that brings irrefutable data integrity and natively allows secure data sharing and transacting across boundaries (application, department, or even external organization boundaries). As MRO moves towards a digital environment that places emphasis on native data auditing, traceability, and secure data sharing, companies like Fluree are paving the way.

Key Fluree features include:

  • Data Centric — Instead of recording transactions, Fluree records all data changes in a blockchain ledger, formatted as W3C RDF data. System tables, permission logic, and all other metadata are also stored as blockchain-secured data — for a full-stack approach.
  • Native Traceability — Data traceability means parts traceability. Every piece of data is instantly retrievable and provable as of any point in time. This means native and complete audit trails of verified records for reselling, industry compliance, and data quality
  • Rich Query — Apps can query the ledger data via time-traveling graph database supporting W3C SPARQL, GraphQL, and FlureeQL.
  • Semantic Support — Fluree allows for secure, intelligent, and native joins across data sources. As your MRO solution scales to incorporate more data, applications, and sources, this semantic support will keep your workflows simple.
  • Permission-as-code —At Fluree, we believe data security and its logic should be co-resident along with the data it is protecting — we call this letting “data defend itself.” We enable this functionality via Fluree SmartFunctions — programmable code-as-data to build rules around permissions, data integrity.
  • Scalability — Industry formatting (RDF), linearly scalable query edge servers, and the ability to run on any java machine makes Fluree a scalable solution from both a technical and business standpoint.
  • Familiarity to Developers — Blockchain Technology is as foreign to the developer as it is elusive to the enterprise. We are challenging how difficult this adoption curve is by adopting industry-favorite libraries (Javascript and React) and query languages.

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