It’s 10:00AM on a late spring morning in 2023 at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. A passenger jet sits at the end of a runway for a moment before it’s given permission to take off for Atlanta.

Future AircraftThree hours later, out over the Atlantic, a sensor embedded in one of it engines’ jet fuel injectors detects that is has reached a critical point of wear. It will continue to work reliably for the rest of the flight. But for safety purposes, it must be replaced prior to the return flight.

Back in 2016, this would have meant taking the aircraft out of service for at least several hours – probably for a full day. But in a digitally transformed ecosystem, that will no longer be necessary. Through its Internet of Things (IoT) communications, the fuel injector reports its status to the aircraft’s autonomous maintenance system. The maintenance system, in turn, lets the airline’s Intelligent Global Maintenance System (IGMS) know that the part will have to be replaced on arrival in Atlanta.

To minimize inventory carrying costs, it happens that spares for this particular part, rarely needing replacement, are not kept on hand in Atlanta. In 2016, this would have meant flying the part in – either from another airport or from an authorized vendor – and further delay.

Instead, the IGMS communicates with the Intelligent Global Procurement System (IGPS) to requisition the correct part. The IGPS them releases an Intelligent Request for Bid Agent onto the Internet. The Intelligent Agent (IA) searches for and communicates with thousands of potential sources for the part, finding several that can provide a version of this part which is fully tested and FAA approved for use in this engine and aircraft.

The IA then negotiates directly with the Intelligent Order Management Agents for each of these prospective suppliers. As a result, it identifies the supplier whose pricing and terms are most favorable for the airline at this specific date and time.

The airline’s and the supplier’s IA’s then execute a Blockchain-based Smart Contract documenting the price, terms, and conditions of the transaction. Once the contract has been executed, the airline’s IGMS downloads the design of the purchased part and feeds it into a 3D Printer at the Atlanta airport. The entire process from the time the sensor detects the wear until the successful completion of the 3D design file download has taken a total of seven minutes – about half of which was required for download of the multiple gigabit 3D design file.

GE-fuel-nozzle-metal-3d-printingJust a few years earlier, it would have taken several hours to 3D Print and finish the part to ready it for use. But using a then current 3D Printer of 2023, the airline’s maintenance department can print and finish the new part in a single process taking less than 30 minutes. And the fuel injector has the sensors and Internet of Things communications circuitry 3D Printed directly into it. The part is delivered to the gate the aircraft will be arriving at two hours before its planned arrival time.

Once the aircraft has arrived, the passengers disembark and the aircraft is refueled for the return flight to Paris. At the same time, the aircraft maintenance engineer replaces the worn jet fuel injector with the new one. While she is very knowledgeable and experienced, she hasn’t had occasion to replace this particular part on this aircraft before. No matter.

Through a recorded set of instructions relayed through the Augmented Reality goggles on her hard hat she is walked through the replacement process step-by step with 3D illustrations of each step visually overlaid directly on the actual physical parts involved. By the time the plane is ready for boarding, the procedure has been finished complete with appropriate documentation including a video of the full replacement process.

The aircraft takes off on the return flight to Paris on time without any delay. And the new fuel injector is in place to ensure many more safe and reliable international round trips.

So, is this successful Digital Transformation of the aircraft maintenance ecosystem the result of the IoT initiative? Or the Intelligent Agent program? Did it result from the successful implementation of Blockchain technology? Or was it the 3D Printing project that produced this desirable outcome? Or perhaps it was the Augmented Reality undertaking? The answer, of course, to all of these questions is, “Yes!”

Each of these technologies is critical to this successful Digital Transformation; and none, on its own, is sufficient. Digital Transformation is not about force fitting particular technologies into your business. It is about rethinking the entire model and ecosystem and using any and all of the technologies needed to implement the new vision.

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