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Essential Equipment: Engine Health Monitoring Solutions

New helicopter engine-monitoring technologies, services and capabilities contribute to improved efficiency and reduced maintenance costs.

Big data is a big topic across a wide range of industries. For helicopter owners and operators, large data sets hold keys to unlocking reduced maintenance costs and increased reliability. Big data can reveal trends, which enable prognostic capabilities. For critical components, like engines, health monitoring and obtaining diagnostic and prognostic information can keep aircraft flying longer. Engine original equipment manufacturers (OEM) are among those at the forefront of this advancing technology.

Safran Helicopter Engines

At Helitech International 2017, Safran Helicopter Engines launched a new engine health monitoring service and unveiled its launch customer, Babcock Mission Critical Services Onshore Ltd.

Babcock is set to report its gains to Safran after a year of usage. But Fréderic Bugeon, the company’s VP of customer satisfaction, would not be surprised to learn Babcock experienced a 5 to 10% cost savings in engine removal and maintenance.

“They are using the data and the amenities of our experts to delay or avoid the engine removal. And also … they can protect their engine in order to reach its maximum life potential, which, at the end of the day, leads to a cost solution,” Bugeon said. “But what is important is when you maintain an engine well, when you implement proactive action instead of reactive action — and this is the way health monitoring is delivery data and analytics — you are in a position to protect the engine life. And then, at the end of the day, you save costs through proactive maintenance.”

Safran Helicopter Engines is developing more algorithms to capture and collect more useful data from its engines.Photo courtesy of Safran

According to Bugeon, Safran’s engine health monitoring service has an emphasis on practicality, with customer-driven customization. Customers can choose from two offerings for any of their Safran engines: Essential and Premium. At the Essential level, the customer is responsible for data collection and analysis. This service is free, and Bugeon said it is a good way to understand the value engine health monitoring can bring. The Premium level has Safran experts making recommendations specific to the customer’s fleet, usage and mission. It’s a fully integrated solution, Bugeon said, enabling customers to implement solutions quickly.

Safran is currently working to develop more algorithms to capture and collect more useful data. Bugeon said the company has a special internal team working on that effort. There are also a couple other developments the company hopes to work on this year. One of those developments would increase Safran’s ability to troubleshoot customer’s engine issues worldwide.

Honeywell Aerospace

Honeywell Aerospace has been offering health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS) for more than 30 years for a variety of platforms with its products and services, including GoDirect Connected Maintenance for auxiliary power units. Josh Melin, senior product line manager for HUMS at Honeywell, explained that the company has traditionally used its HUMS system for helicopter engine health monitoring. But more recently the company has had “major breakthroughs and momentum,” Melin said, concerning engines and analytics.

“When we think about people who can do analytics for engines, we’re sort of uniquely positioned to provide this sort of analytics because we build engines ourselves,” Melin said. “We’re taking our traditional physics-based model approach of analytics to the next level by supplementing it with big data to predict, not only basic engine failures and engine performance opportunities, but also to predict the failures of the [line-replaceable units] that are on that engine. And we find that the best prediction comes when you combine both methods in order to really capture the vagaries of operation.”

Honeywell offers its GoDirect Connected Maintenance for auxiliary power units.Photo courtesy of Honeywell

Prognostics are a newer subject for Honeywell, whereas the company has been providing diagnostic services for decades. Older platforms may not have enough data to pull for prognostics, but a diagnostic would be possible. Senior Product Director for GoDirect Maintenance Services Lewis Mallory said Honeywell would interface with any customer, though, and the value of the service would be based on what Honeywell can do with the available data.

“Not all components you can do prognostics with. You can do diagnostics with most of the components, if not all of them,” Mallory said. “But you have to have certain data points to actually create an algorithm to develop a prognostic approach to those components on an aircraft to let you know when it may fail.”

But so far, Honeywell has seen good numbers through its auxiliary power unit prognostics service. Mallory said customers have experienced a 35% reduction in operational disruptions, and less than 1.5% no-fault-found after that unit is tested. When the units are taken off-wing, he continued, 99% of the time it’s because it is known that the unit is going to fail. That means 99% of the time, there is not a no-fault-found issue for the customer. The company expects the services it’s developing to follow suit.

“In addition to … making advancements on the analytics side, we continue to also make advancements in our data acquisition side,” Melin said. The company just announced its newest HUMS service, Recon, at Heli-Expo in Las Vegas.

Pratt & Whitney Canada

Pratt & Whitney Canada (P&WC) offers its Diagnostics, Prognostics & Health Management (DPHM) system. The company’s FAST product is a turnkey airborne solution that can perform engine monitoring for both digital and analog platforms. From legacy Bell Helicopter models and beyond, there are more than 1,500 FAST systems in operation.

Bjorn Sickling, P&WC’s lead in its engine health management division, said FAST can: calculate full in-flight diagnostics, monitor multiple airings, monitor the flight data recorders and monitor the avionics data stream, as well as the ARINCS and other data streams.

Compressors encrypt and send the data to perform calculations, including: event detection, exceedence detection, assurance checks, turbine blade creep and other capabilities.

“It’s a full solution and, depending on what you need, we can expand it,” Stickling said. “In turboprops, we added vibration monitoring for the propeller to it. So we have a full suite of services there that we do on board.”

Because FAST can run on cellular and Wi-Fi networks, it can offload large amounts of data quickly, he continued. The company is currently working to enable FAST to interface with existing satellite communication systems.

P&WC also offers data analysis services. If a customer wants, Stickling explained, the company can manage the SIM cards. Its ground servers automatically process the data. Customers can receive email alerts through the company’s maintenance provider, CAMP Systems International. Trend health and power assurance data is automatically plotted. According to Stickling, most of what is delivered to the customer doesn’t need human intervention. Humans are used, though, to look at trend data or trend files and to reach out to the customer.

Regional airlines save, in regard to operating costs, anywhere from $1.50 to $4 per flight hour. While those numbers reflect areas like pilot workload, maintenance and returning to service more quickly, they don’t reflect secondary benefits. Stickling said that includes areas like better quality of operation, fuel burn and more.

Customers can also incorporate the solution in a power-by-the-hour program for more benefits.

“If a customer is operating in a harsh environment and they need to operate the engine in a certain fashion … then we can measure that,” Stickling said. “We can lay out a usage-based power-by-the-hour plan … to pass on savings where normally we would have had to [give a] higher rate, due to higher risk in that harsh environment. By monitoring the usage and by marketing that the customer is able to adhere to the conditions we’re able to pass on a more aggressive rate.”

The power-by-the-hour program offers a premium package that includes P&WC’s proactive helpdesk. Called the “Platinum Package,’ it gives customers health monitoring, support for airborne systems, data management and the helpdesk, which takes the alerts and detections and provides a solution. The helpdesk also tells customers how to implement that solution and with what urgency, and provides logistics support.

An entry-level package offers P&WC’s basic trending service through CAMP. The next, middle-level package provides enhanced health-monitoring services. More technical capability is offered, as well as more detection capability and oversight from the company.

“HUMS has been around forever. But for customers to get the value of their HUMS has been often the challenge. And we think with the FAST we’ve got the right balance — that we capture all the aircraft data,” Stickling said. “And we’ve seen operators use that as a competitive advantage when they, for example, reply to EMS requests for quotes. They had a system they were able to turn into a competitive advantage … because it was clear that they had a safety culture, had a data-driven operations culture and a quality culture, and had a system in place that was very robust and automated and wasn’t dependent on human intervention.”


“Operational and performance data provides crucial information in addressing issues related to safety, reliability, and cost of operation,” said Jerry Sheldon, helicopter services executive at Rolls-Royce. “A consistent, timely flow of data can help operators stay ahead of issues and ideally can become predictive indicators.”

The Rolls-Royce M250 Series IV.Image courtesy of Rolls-Royce

According to Sheldon, Rolls-Royce can tailor basic trend monitoring for any of its products. Its focus right now in the helicopter space is on its M250 Series IV engines. The company is pursuing improvement in data acquisition for rotorcraft platforms to better understand engine performance. These improvement areas including effective engine trend monitoring and more advanced new data sets.

“One of the key challenges is establishing that efficient data pipeline from the aircraft to the engineers back at Rolls-Royce. Quick analysis, automated or on-board analysis can also be part of the solution to make data effective for operators,” Sheldon said. “We already have data services under way with large fleet operators and we continue to discuss further developments with customers, as we leverage our broad knowledge base in data collection and analysis.” RWI