Tomasz Zajda -

Fly by data: How service models drive data collaboration in aerospace

Rolls-Royce has added collaborative data sharing to its fundamental business model shift to servitisation

It’s 100 years since British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic flight in a Vickers Vimy World War I aircraft.

Powered by two Rolls-Royce Eagle VIII engines, the flight, from St John’s Newfoundland to Clifden, County Galway in Ireland, took around 15 hours. For Rolls-Royce, it’s one of many impressive milestones in its history, and one that marked the beginnings of its aerospace OEM business.

Today, that OEM business is global, and working with some of the world’s largest airline brands. As with any industry that involves a complex supply chain and stringent regulation, managing relationships and ensuring good governance is tricky.

The pressure on the industry is also growing, especially given the volumes of passengers – the International Air Transport Association (IATA) revealed passenger numbers could double to 8.2 billion in 2037 – and that means increased demands for reliability and efficiency.

For Nick Ward, head of OEM digital solutions at Rolls-Royce, this has accelerated a vision. While the organisation reworked its business model in the early 2000s to be services-led, focused on outcomes rather than the selling of just engines (called Total Care), its pursuit of increased precision and reliability has led it towards industry collaboration.

So, what does this mean? Essentially, it comes down to data sharing. If Rolls-Royce is going to improve on its engine reliability and performance, it needs to be part of a larger collaborative network that is willing to share data for mutual benefit. Aerospace is an asset-intensive industry, so the complexity of engines understandably means that to get full visibility and feedback on engine performance, Rolls-Royce needs access to as much data as possible.

“Airlines provide us with data and they retain ownership,” says Ward. “We have to find ways of collaborating with an airline to make that data exchange safe for them. Airlines don’t want to just give away data without understanding how you are going to use it. They don’t want it sold back to them. So, we find ways of collaborating.”

Read more about IT in aerospace

Ward, speaking to Computer Weekly at IFS World 2019 in Boston’s Hynes Convention Centre, says a partnership with IFS to create “a seamless exchange of information” was key to showing airlines it is doing something valuable with the data.

“We add value to it by creating digital twins, delivering more available engines with less disruption, enabling fewer maintenance interventions and so on,” he says.

“We then share our data on the airline’s fleet back to the airline creating a two-way exchange of information. Rolls-Royce pays for the infrastructure of all of that sharing, through IFS and others and offers it completely free to airlines, which of course they find very palatable.”

The intelligent engine

It’s an interesting model made possible by considerable experience in servitisation, which, says Ward, incentivises Rolls-Royce in exactly the same way an airline is incentivised – to “keep the aircraft flying”. This has led the company to develop what it terms “the intelligent engine” – so what is it?

“It’s the next step,” says Ward. “The way we describe the intelligent engine is not so much that you have an engine flying around with a fantastic computer brain attached to it, it’s more that you take a physical engine and the services that wrap around it to make it available, and then you add the digital element, the ability to make it smart.”

By this, Ward means the ability to monitor, map and virtualise the engine through digital twins that enable the company to model and forecast costs, provide predictive maintenance and ultimately minimise risk for the business. When Rolls-Royce changed its business model in the early 2000s, it transferred risk from its customers, the airlines, onto itself. Therefore, using technology to help minimise this risk is a priority.

“You can measure different things, like engine technical dispatch reliability, although the problem with that metric is that it’s so high already because engines are incredibly reliable things, around 99%,” says Ward. “It’s very hard to move the needle any more on that, but what you can measure is the amount of maintenance cost it takes to deliver that level of availability.”


Ward adds that other things such as disruption can also be measured.

“We have a system we call Project Zero,” he says. “This is a device at the heart of our servitisation journey. Disruption is something that affects us, our bottom line and the airline’s bottom line, so from very early on, we keep a disruption index.

“Any event that causes a delay, anything that is disruptive, we can score it and quantify how disruptive the event was and its monetary impact,” says Ward. “Project Zero is a scheme to reduce impact and costs to zero. Things such as engine health monitoring and so on. All of these services target all of those disruption drivers and we measure it very accurately.”

The forecasting is carried out on three main levels. Firstly, Rolls-Royce is looking at the life of the engine in real time. Then at a fleet level, it is looking at everything that may affect a global fleet, in terms of maintenance, and then at a network level, it is forecasting capacity demand for its global maintenance operations.

Having this level of insight into the business is enabling Rolls-Royce to treat each engine as a unique individual. It is also enabling it to optimise its maintenance to the extent that it significantly reduces disruption and cost.

The blue data thread

According to Diogenis Papiomytis, global director at Frost & Sullivan (who has authored a recent report, Navigating through operational turbulence – Applying data and analytics to improve efficiency), network disruption ($33 billion), unplanned maintenance ($20bn) and fuel overspend ($11bn) were the major contributors to inefficiencies in 2018 that cost the industry $74 billion globally.

The key, he suggests, to reducing inefficiencies is data, however he also suggests that there is a significant data gap between what is being generated by airlines and what is actually recorded an analysed. Just 1.5% of the 1,325PB (petabytes) of data the industry generated in 2018 was recorded.

This is the scenario Ward is hoping to challenge with a project called Blue Data Thread, where the company’s 200-plus airline customers share their data with Rolls-Royce to improve services and engine reliability, and Rolls-Royce will share its data back, so the airlines can optimise their fleet.

Using IFS’s Maintenix platform, Rolls-Royce is looking to automate data flow, to improve the accuracy, reliability and volume of data from airline customers so it can maximise its own servitisation plans. This in turn should improve efficiencies and significantly reduce disruption.

“This is a cashless transaction, not a revenue opportunity for Rolls-Royce,” says Ward, driving home the point that it is the collaboration itself that holds the true value for the business. “The data still belongs to the airline. There’s a lot of sensitivity and you have to be clear this data is to drive improvements, in Rolls-Royce internally and therefore in the services we provide.”

It’s indicative of the business. As Mark Homer, senior vice-president of corporate development and head of global customer transformation for ServiceMax, says: “I think it’s fair to say Rolls-Royce opened the door for the widespread servitisation of the airline industry, fundamentally changing the way airlines and manufacturers operate with each other.

“It’s key to competitive advantage, especially in markets where product differentiation is blurring and customer expectations for product and service performance are expanding.”

Redefining manufacturing

There’s certainly a lot that can be learned from the company’s approach to data. Homer agrees that servitisation is at the heart of what it is doing and, in many ways, the business is already redefining manufacturing.

“Servitisation is a perfect fit for Rolls-Royce because it’s all about the availability and the uptime of the asset,” says Homer. “It’s about the through-life cost of the asset, not actually the cost of the equipment itself. It’s one of the great business examples of creative thinking because it means Rolls-Royce has taken on the liability of the risk in exchange for greater profit.”

Read more on Big data analytics

Data Center
Data Management