You have probably heard of Ancestry.com. It helps people discover the story of where they come from. As the website says, “These discoveries can give everyone a greater sense of identity, relatedness, and their place in the world.”
Now imagine if you knew your aircraft engine’s DNA—that is, if you knew exactly what maintenance was performed on which component, by whom and when. How powerful could those insights be?
Pretty powerful, it turns out. It’s what GE Aviation’s Digital Group calls a back-to-birth record of the engine. It is applicable as much to an aircraft as it is valuable to its engine.
Unlike Ancestry.com, the Digital Group has used blockchain technology to create this record. Blockchain has been employed in many applications—from cryptocurrency to coffee sourcing, logistics to legal documents, farm to fork. And now in GE’s case, from engine manufacturing to maintenance.
It’s not easy to relate consumer technology to an industrial application, but that’s exactly what GE does. About 45 percent of commercial aircraft are owned by lessors. About 60 percent of these liquid assets change ownership every five years. Maintenance records are critical to enabling such smooth asset transfers. Parts with insufficient configuration history are not particularly marketable at an individual level; it creates a portability challenge resulting in millions of dollars of orphaned Used Serviceable Material (USM).
GE creates back-to-birth records using blockchain technology based off of industry-accepted Ethereum and Microsoft’s frameworks, as well as our parts manuals, to enable new capabilities such as notarization. This creates a secure, digitized paper trail for used and Life Limited Parts (LLP) for TRUEngine programs. As David Havera, GE Aviation’s data scientist and resident blockchain guru, puts it: “Blockchain drives up to 50 percent higher residual value for used spares material, a faster resale process, easy portability and improved productivity for asset transfers.”
Cash reconciliation is another way that GE applies this cool technology to a hot issue. MTU Maintenance is a leading European engine Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) operator that offers rebates to GE for using MTU components for maintenance of CF6 and GE90 engines. For all the benefits, it is never easy to reconcile rebate amounts. Rebates are dependent on the volume of components utilized during maintenance. Calculating their value requires a significant investment in time and resources.
GE applied blockchain technology to bring visibility to each step of the sourcing and maintenance process in real time. Kornelia Kremer, Procurement Manager MRO for MTU Maintenance, is a fan. “Our blockchain collaboration with GE helped us release more than $10 million in unsettled cash in revenue sharing reconciliation. We benefitted significantly from GE’s expertise in this area and look forward to seeing what happens next.”
Whether it’s discovering where you come from or knowing your flight will take you home safely, blockchain provides insights you can trust.
The US Air Force has been tracking parts and maintenance activities since the 1950s on all it’s J79 engines but all on paper entries which can be lost during a transfer from the Depot and back out to the operating field shop. Digital records will be a step up in maintaining real life records of time operated on all components and core engine parts to ensure the max operating times are not exceeded between Depot visits. During the Vietnam Era it was not uncommon to cannonball parts in the field shops in Europe to maintain the fleet of J79 engines needed to support the Cold War missions due to the Vietnam war support having high priority for all Depot support in spare parts. I seen on several incidences where all we had left of a J79 engine was several bags of bolts and nuts along with the serial number Data plate from the engine that had 99% of its parts cannonballed to support other engines, but down the road the original serial number data plate was reinstalled to a engine totally built up using spare parts ordered from the Depot at Tinker AFB, took approximately 18 months to receive all the parts needed.
Digital records would have helped greatly back in those 1970s days in England but computers were an idea with no Windows programs back then.
It’s clear that blockchain has already captured the imagination of executives around the world. The aviation industry, at this very moment, is standing at an important crossroad, and a major breakthrough in blockchain for the commercial market looks inevitable in many ways.
Blockchain technology offers a new, elegant, and secure way for the industry to track and trace myriad components while deterring counterfeiting and improving maintenance capabilities. Used in combination with technologies like digital twins and digital threads, blockchain could ultimately be a game-changing innovation for this sector.