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Exponential Digital Technologies Are Transforming Aviation

Posted: 12 July 2018, 8:45 a.m. EDT

 Colin Parris, vice president for software research, GE Global Research

by Lawrence Garrett, AIAA web editor

Exponential digital technologies are delivering increased value at less cost and rapidly revolutionizing the aviation industry, said Colin Parris, vice president for software research at GE Global Research, July 11 during the “Digital Transformation in Aviation Services” session at the 2018 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum in Cincinnati.

Parris said exponential characteristics exhibited by digital technology are helping GE Aviation economically and strategically. The goal, he said, is to realize lower maintenance costs while maximizing revenue and reliability.

“One percent gain in revenue is equivalent to something like 5 percent drop in fuel costs, 10 percent drop in the price of the plane itself,” he said. “So those are the factors that the airline industry looks at ... powerful factors for us.”

A key component of digital technologies is data, Parris said.

“Data is important because anything I do, I have to get enough data to give me insights,” he said. “That’s why you see data captured on artificial intelligence.”

With more data collected every day, along with the declining cost of storing and processing it, Parris said it’s easier to “understand the rise of AI.”

Computer vision, robotics, machine learning and natural language processing are rapidly increasing due to data capture, computational power and decline in cost, Parris explained, adding that “this is the notion of exponential.”

In terms of software, people have had to write all the code, but Parris said that “now we have no write; I speak; the code is generated; the software is writing the software.

“The hardware and software are building the next, faster hardware and software,” he explained. “How many technologies do you know that do that? Do metals do that? Does concrete do that. What else does that? And when that occurs, and it’s building it faster at lower cost, we have this exponential technology.”

Parris said GE Aviation is using the technology to reduce engine cost and increase utilization, reliability, range and revenue. He cited reduction in the number of unscheduled engine removals and inflight shutdowns as examples.

“If I can reduce those disruptions, I have better reliability. If I have better reliability, I can dispatch these planes a lot faster,” Parris said. “So, I’m using this exponential digital technology to actually hit the exact economic equations that the customer needs and so providing better value.”

Parris said the idea originated in the consumer world. He credited the rapid financial growth of Apple, Amazon and Google and noted that while it took IBM more than 90 years to reach revenues of $100 billion, Amazon achieved revenues of over $177 billion in only 24 years, largely through demographic data collection.


Colin Parris, vice president for software research, GE Global Research, delivers remarks on "Digital Transformation in Aviation Services," July 11 at the 2018 AIAA Propulsion and Energy Forum in Cincinnati.

At GE, Parris explained, they took that existing pattern and applied it in their industrial space, improving a number of processes, such as the collection of individual data on every engine.

Parris emphasized that exponential digital technology depends on intelligent data acquisition and that intelligent data acquisition depends on tagging.

“Tagging is adding meaning to the data,” Parris said. “Unless the data is tagged and unified, it is not useful.”

He said GE Aviation uses computer vision techniques and robotic inspections, enabled by large amounts of tagged data, to scan and inspect engines. Parris also noted that additive manufacturing is also key.

“I can additively build up [a] part, and not only can I build up that part and replace it, I can make it stronger, or more important, I can potentially put in a new sensor, or I can adapt that part to be exactly what you need because … with the digital twin, I am customizing the asset for you, given the data.”

Parris suggested imagining the technology applied to his car. As the vehicle is serviced over time, the data analytics applied to it will continually improve the engine’s tuning, and as parts are swapped with better, additive parts, he may decide it never needs replacement, because it will perform better and better over time.

“The mind gets better with the twin; the body gets better with the additive; I have an immortal machine,” he said.

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Dates to Remember

  • Manuscript Deadline: 15 Jul 2019
  • Early Mem Reg Deadline: 28 Jul 2019
  • Cancellation Deadline: 05 Aug 2019

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