In this digital industrial era, we know that data can pulled from just about any component. With this in mind, the digital journey at GE Aviation’s industrial facilities means huge potential savings in terms of time and machine efficiencies. And digital technology, manufacturing and engineering teams are working together to bring brilliant tools to these manufacturing environments to do just that.

The European GE Aviation business, Avio Aero, is creating digital solutions for its shops, from the north to the south of the Italian boot. In the north, an application called “Digital Galvanic” has been developed in the Galvanic area in Rivalta di Torino, where Avio Aero headquarters are located. Galvanic is a highly complex area where skilled and qualified professionals work according to stringent Environmental Health & Safety requirements in the workplace.

The application involves an online tool, whose purpose is to facilitate and improve the work of technicians and engineers. The app is combined with several other solutions implemented in Avio Aero facilities, as well as in GE Aviation facilities around the world, and which have been developed on Predix, the GE industrial cloud technology platform.

The same Rivalta team, which has developed tools such as Smartshop, dedicated to the real time monitoring of production lines and cells in three facilities, has also worked on this digital solution. “The implementation of the app in the test phase began in November 2017; the objective was focused on the maintenance of the galvanic tanks: to digitize the department to track prevention activities, support non-compliance management, improve performance, optimize time management, costs and communication between the analysis laboratory and the Galvanic department.” explained the two Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) experts, Matteo Longo, Brilliant Factory IT Engineer, and Giulio Marino, GSC Digital Engineer.

The Galvanic area is a rather large department in the facility, containing eight factory lines dedicated to chemical and electrochemical processes (these are the main and widespread processes), and a separate factory line where chemical attacks (the technical term) are carried out in preparation for non-destructive testing. Each factory line consists of a succession of tanks with a system of immersion and extraction of aircraft engine parts whose metal surfaces are subjected to essential chemical and electrochemical processes (totals 60 across 9 factory lines). “The gears of the power or accessory control drive trains, the casings or housings – which contain the engine modules – are the product categories which we treat here. To provide an idea, with regard to the gears alone, we are able to treat over two thousand units each month,” explains Luigi Melchiorre, the Production Quality Assurance Specialist for the department. The tanks contain chemical solutions that must comply with specific parameters (the measurement of acidity or alkalinity, the concentration levels of the elements or chemical compounds, etc.)

“What we do here,” continues Melchiorre, attempting to make it easier to comprehend, “is treat the surface areas of the aluminum and magnesium housings to increase their resistance to corrosion; or we apply a temporary protective coating to the gears for later heat treatments or even carry out a chemical attack in preparation for non-destructive tests.”

The collaboration with the Analysis Laboratory is crucial for the galvanic process. Laboratory analysts, such as Andrea Sola and Samantha Capobianco at the Rivalta facility, are involved in the cyclical sampling and testing of the metal alloys used in products, and the analysis of chemical solutions contained in the tanks in which these products are immersed and treated. From the laboratory technicians, we are able to understand the added value provided by the digital solution in the department. “The Laboratory is a fair distance from the department, but since the introduction of this app, it is as if we have camera monitoring factory line number 7 for 24/7” they said.

Galvanic factory line 7 is actually a “pilot”, the first to be installed with the app. A screen was mounted above the input to the line which displays the graphic interface through which the line and tank operators are able to check the real time condition of the chemical solution and the concentration levels. The operators and Quality Control operators in the department are able to proceed with the “chemical baths” (that is the immersion of engine parts) confidently in the knowledge that the tanks are shown as green on the display, while they will take corrective action even if only one of these is displayed in yellow. If a tank is displayed in red, based on the data entered by the Laboratory, the tank must be shut-down, and any processes which are in progress must be stopped. In fact, the metal of the part immersed in that solution could be damaged.

Benefits provided by the app are crystal clear: the app makes it possible to anticipate problems, avoid waste and, therefore, reduce costs. According to Melchiorre, “The operators receive the information in real by watching the display. In addition, the system is able to process multiple scenarios and specific situations for each tank and suggest the most suitable corrective action to take for each of these scenarios. Each corrective action has been defined based on technical skill, but also on the tricks of the trade which are learned through experience. Suffice it to say that, in the past, I would dedicate up to one hourfor calculations; for line 7, it now takes three minutes at most.” And there will be even more results when the other 8 factory lines adopt the same tool. “An annual savings of 426 hours has been calculated (approximately equal to 14,000 euros) on line 7. This could rise to 720 hours annually (equal to 80,000 euros) by preventing the shut-down of all tanks on the lines.”

Heading south of Italy, it’s called Taranta the new app adopted inside the Brindisi (Apulia, Italy) Repair center.

The technology behind the app isn’t new; it’s called RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), and enables data acquisition, transmission or storage through electrical or electromagnetic signals. “It’s something very common and similar to systems used in department stores to track goods”, explains Daniela Napolitano, Taranta IT Specialist Project Leader.

In order to kick off the pilot project, collaboration with the Manufacturing Engineers at the Salento Repair center was essential, as well as with the factory teams dealing with safety, environment and planning, EHS and Facilities. Daniela collaborates with specialist from the Materials Plan & Execution team, like Gianluca Proscia, studying digital solutions for the repair shop typical processes: “the time we spent to search for engine parts that we repair or overhaul, that we spent for their tracking and activities planning is a key factor, and optimizing that time with smart tools is a win-win for both our teams and the customers.”

At this point, it is tempting to underestimate innovation: basically, there is little deviation from traditional systems used to track and follow goods and products within stores and factories. However, we need to consider that the aviation industry has atypical dimensions and materials and is very complex.  In fact we’re talking about parts of aircraft engines, very different from items contained in an Amazon package, for example (engine parts are made of materials which are difficult to tag and sometimes have magnetic properties). And with particularly high costs (both in terms of the parts themselves and the processes). Not to mention rather unusual routes, lead times and stock.

RFID enables information to be collected on the movements, stock and location of an item, generating a log. The technology is used in other GE Aviation centers; some facilities in the United States use it to track parts in transit from one industrial site to another. “But the smartphone app that we’ve developed is a new development and it connects with Predix”, explained Daniela, “and obviously it isn’t public. At the end of the pilot project it will be available for download from the GE Store”.

Starting from certain pilot areas in the Repair center, this tool has the ambitious objective of giving an electronic identity to every single incoming part of every engine. Once disassembled, the operators that assess it – i.e. evaluate which parts need to undergo processing – “tag” the individual parts using sticky tags with very thin antennas, produced using special printers and similar to labels found on new clothes. “The size is similar to that of barcodes or magnetic codes in stores, but these contain passive antennas, meaning they don’t have batteries, which collect data and transmit it to the RFID readers”.

The tag reader devices can be both mobile and fixed. The fixed readers are divided into passageways, simply entrance doors or transit areas from one processing area to another, and the famous spiders, which are located in the areas where pallets containing numerous parts undergoing processing are situated. The mobile device that reads the tags is actually the Taranta app: “it’s downloaded and used from a company mobile phone, through authentication using your individual company log-in”, continued Daniela, showing a holder with handle that the smartphone fits into. “The operator or anyone equipped with the mobile reader or just a smartphone that can read QR codes, can go up to an individual item and obtain all the relevant information collected from when the item entered the shop. Or even earlier, if it was tagged previously, and a search can be carried out by entering the ID number registered for that part”.

Digital solutions are transforming manufacturing environments, and Avio Aero is proving just that.