Digital depot and fleet command

Brand new F135 engines await roll-out from Pratt & Whitney’s production line.
Pratt & Whitney

Pratt & Whitney Military Engines recently took a strategic decision – for cost reasons, one which required the division to justify its thinking thoroughly to the top management echelons of Pratt & Whitney and its parent United Technologies – to establish a $2 billion military engine spares holding.

Noting that Pratt & Whitney today is in the best business cycle it has ever seen, with P&W Military Engines, P&W Commercial Engines and Pratt & Whitney Canada’s small-engine business “all growing at top-line rates”, Kevin Kirkpatrick, P&W Military Engines’ VP sustainment, said of the spares holding decision: “We’re loading material we know we’re going to sell.” The $2 billion figure represents “a number that’s required to keep them [the division’s military customers] flying and a number that applies across the board to [include its] international customers.”

Kirkpatrick revealed that “we’re working with the [US] Defense Logistics Agency and the [US] Air Force to do some more commercial [aviation] like contracting initiatives,” adding that the new spares holding “allows us to go out five years or more” in terms of provisioning for customers’ future spares requirements. This ensures that P&W Military Engines will be able to deliver spares in timely fashion to its customers so they can keep their aircraft in a high state of mission readiness.

Closely related to the establishment of the military spares inventory and to each other, the digital depot and fleet command initiatives are efforts Kirkpatrick and his team have launched to digitise many of the work intensive administrative, oversight and maintenance scheduling processes that military engine MRO traditionally have required.

Together with fleet command, which aims to establish a fleet management maintenance programme similar to those offered for every modern commercial engine, the digital depot “helps us look at predictive maintenance a long time in advance”, said Bromberg. Using the fact that the F135 “collects 20 times more [engine health monitoring] data per flight than previous engines”, the digital depot initiative “gives us a great bunch of data” which Pratt & Whitney’s sophisticated software can analyse to give early indication of potential parts failures, well before those failures happen. This allows Pratt & Whitney to inform each engine’s operator well in advance of an expected failure of a specific part so that it can replace the part in time to keep the engine in operation and the aircraft flying rather than having to induct it for unscheduled maintenance. Bromberg estimates that, by using the digital depot, operators of Pratt & Whitney military engines will be able to reduce their maintenance turnaround times by as much as 30%.

With the digital depot initiative, Pratt & Whitney is working with the F135 maintenance division of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex (OK ALC) at Tinker Air Force Base on several “smaller but right now” initiatives, Bromberg said. One is the establishment of a paperless maintenance records system at Tinker for F135 MRO, an initiative P&W and the OK ALC launched in June. A second is a programme to scan every blade aerofoil in every F135 engine to provide a digital record of the surface and interior of the blade. By doing this, said Bromberg, Pratt & Whitney will be able “to tell the [maintenance] inspector, ‘Here’s what you need to look at’.” Chris Kjelgaard