Recently we heard the news that an Air India plane scheduled from Delhi to New York, made an emergency landing at the New Jersey Airport due to multiple instrument failure. A fatal accident got avoided by proactive decision-making between the pilot and the air control tower.
Another fatal incident with Southwest Airlines happened due to inflight failure of a CFM56 engine in April, despite regular maintenance checks.
Why did this happen when every scheduled maintenance had taken place? Were defective parts installed? Was the age of life-limited parts not tracked accurately? Who was the party at fault and where was the real gap? These questions need answers, and actions to be taken, to avoid fatal accidents.
What is bugging the aviation industry?
Listed incidents make part traceability and record authenticity as two major aspects of any industry, but in the aerospace industry, they are a matter of life or death
Other challenges, which add to the complication are:
1. Counterfeit parts from the grey market
2. Life-limited components tracking with cross aircraft usage
3. Multiple stakeholders and parties involved
4. Multiple disintegrated systems involved
5. Large number of regulation and compliance certificates along with quality certifications such as Aircraft export certificate/Master assembly release certificate (EASA Form One, FAA 8130)/ Release certificate for spares/Task Cards/Service Bulletins/Log Books and so on.
The current supply chain in the aviation industry is highly paperwork dependent, and holding and reproducing the information for regulatory or inspection purposes becomes a huge challenge in the long term. Another big challenge comes from counterfeiters and legitimate low-cost competitors, so, it’s all the more important for airlines to ensure that each part used in the aircraft configuration is fit to be airworthy.
Given the complexity of the industry as a whole and the level of detail needed along the product’s lifespan – the needs of aerospace parts manufacturers go far beyond a simple computerized database. They need to start looking towards nextgen technologies, and blockchain is one in which the large aviation companies are investing now.
How can blockchain help?
Blockchain, in simple terms, is a type of database, which enables the identification and tracking of the transactions digitally. It brings to the table an extra layer of transparency and security, as it validates, records chronologically, and shares the information across a distributed network which can’t be distorted by anyone.
Therefore, it ensures that the data gets recorded on a part level from each stakeholder, throughout its life cycle with the required set of information for each and every transaction that has happened.
Key highlights of blockchain technology, which can prove to be a great advantage for aero operations are:
1. Reduces paper burden massively leading to digital traceability - The aerospace & defense industry is constantly under the burden of creating, processing, managing, and storing paper records. Constant duplication of documents occurs as they move across organizational boundaries.
2. Avoids counterfeit and previously scrapped parts - Once on the blockchain, part history and transactions could be easily seen before making a buy decision. Parties will be able to post images of parts they have found to be counterfeit and to educate buyers on what to be on the lookout for.
3. Provides each participant end-to-end visibility based on their level of permission and reduces data blind spots (every transaction will be available along with the part itself).
4. Tracks and traces parts throughout the supply chain (location/quality/compliance).
5. Reduces time spent in managing physical papers.
6. Offers a secure encrypted audit trail because there is only one version of the data.
The Way Forward
The aerospace industry understands the importance of technology and has already started to invest in and explore the same to cater to the ever-demanding customers. A research study conducted recently shows that 86% of aerospace and defense companies expect to integrate blockchain technology into their corporate systems by 2021.
Moog, a U.S. manufacturer of flight control systems, is working with partners to create a blockchain-based solution called VeriPart, which will initially be used to track 3D printed components.
Airbus is looking to use blockchain technology improve the tracking of goods, and become a complement to, not a wholesale replacement of, suppliers’ procurement software, while Rolls-Royce is rapidly developing the same to seize the opportunities to automate records for complex products that currently require significant manual efforts.
Though Gartner predicts that, by 2020, around 90% of supply chain blockchain initiatives will only be at the level of proof-of-concept, yet the willingness to adopt and explore the technology by major aero and defense giants clearly shows the importance of keeping abreast with the technology in making breakthrough improvements in Aero supply chains.