To illustrate the scale of data Rolls-Royce now creates through IoT, consider that we made around 6,000 fan blades for aircraft engines in 2019 at one facility alone. And this massive production generated around three petabytes of data.
How big is a petabyte? Well, start by taking 4,000 pictures with your phone. Now do it every day – for the rest of your life. And eventually the file size of all those snaps will be near one petabyte.
Now multiply that by three. That’s how much information IoT generates at Rolls-Royce, just from making fan blades over the course of a year. But data is collected at every point of the product lifecycle, from design to testing and through to creation and maintenance.
Fortunately, all this valuable data needn’t go to waste. At least not if Dr. Terence Hung, Chief of Computational Engineering at Rolls-Royce, has anything to do with it.
“All capabilities will deliver value to the businesses,” he says. Dr. Hung leads an R&D team that specialises in data analytics and machine learning. “The analysis of the collected data can be translated into actionable insights to help enhance product and service quality at pace.”
In 2013, Rolls-Royce partnered with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) to launch the Rolls-Royce@NTU Corporate Lab. The organisation combines the industrial expertise and business capabilities of Rolls-Royce with the research skills and academic acumen of NTU.
According to Hung, the lab focuses on three main areas: electrical and control systems, data analytics and complex systems, and manufacturing and repair technology.
Of all his projects, however, Hung believes the data-analysing tool called Smart Discovery (SD) holds the most promise. And not simply because it can decipher the colossal volume of data churned out by IoT.
“I believe Smart Discovery has the potential to deliver the most impact,” he says. “It’s targeted at enabling many of our engineers to exploit data science capabilities on a regular basis. There are potentially more applications that can leverage SD within the company. It’s my belief that SD can drastically transform the way we enable digital transformation by instilling a rich digital DNA in the company, where everyone can carry out data-driven analysis and innovation.”
While the impact of Smart Discovery has the potential to be huge, as Hung points out, it’s just one part of our pioneering IntelligentEngine vision. Rolls-Royce is committed to leveraging new technology to progress aviation – that’s our pioneering IntelligentEngine vision, which we announced at the Singapore Airshow in 2018.
Digital technology is rapidly reshaping aviation. Before the Internet of Things, there was no way to gather so much useful data about every single jet engine manufactured. Before artificial intelligence, it wasn’t humanly possible to interpret the monumental scale of this information. But Rolls-Royce can now track, monitor and learn from the engines we build like never before. And these learnings will lead to new technologies and new ways of working.
Essentially, these engines, equipped by IoT and interpreted by AI, are now clever enough to help us engineer even smarter engines.