Published on 12 oct. 2020 In: Trend
Localization of parts, tools, equipment or even luggage, discover how indoor geolocation makes it possible to optimize and secure the aeronautics sector.
In the last years, the digitalization of the companies working in the aviation industry and on airport facilities has become a must for them, to adapt to the expansion of the air traffic, as well as to accelerate their production processes. Indeed, according to the calculations of the Flight Fleet Forecast 2016-2035, the size of the global trade air fleet could reach up to nearly 50 000 aircrafts in 2035. The digital revolution is not only bringing new opportunities to increase productivity, but it is also offering opportunities to secure the air traffic.
The need for security for the users and flight crews has always been a major challenge. To address it, the aviation industry is more and more opening itself up to new technologies, in particular to the Internet of Things (IoT).
In this article, we will focus on geo-tracking technologies that help optimizing and securing the maintenance of aircrafts, the management of Non-Motorized Equipment and baggage tracking.
When it comes to talking about the workshop of the future and Industry 4.0, the topic of predictive maintenance often comes quickly. Indeed, aiming to optimize the production chain and equipment maintenance, industrial companies tend to collect as many data as they can to predict the obsolescence of some parts. By locating them, the operators can gather many data which can be transformed into indicators, for instance about their use rates.
Geo-tracking parts and assets also helps in optimizing production processes and maintenance since they contribute to the reduction of the time spent searching for them, to the automatization of stock takings, to the reduction of tool costs, and above all, to securing all these operations. For this type of use case, a very accurate location is often needed with regards to the size of the warehousing facilities and the number of assets to geo-track. To make a real-time inventory of a whole range of tools, some indoor positioning technologies are more suitable than others. For example, the detection by Angle of Arrival (AOA) offers an accuracy that can reach 10 cm, as well as the possibility to know the vertical position of the object relatively to 3D referential points. This type of technology can locate a tool in real time, be it placed on a shelf, on the ground or on a maintenance site.
Although we can find a lot of geo-positioning beacons on the market, very few of them are really able to answer the needs of the aviation industry. These beacons need to be particularly robust, shock-resistant and easily detectable to comply wit the anti-FOD (Foreign Object Damage) standards, so to avoid the risk of tools or beacons being left by mistake in aircrafts, threatening their security.
Because of the air traffic significant growth, the management of Non-Motorized equipment on airports’ tarmac has become an important issue for many airlines. Indeed, the time allowed between the arrival of an aircraft and a next departure is becoming shorter and shorter, while in the same time, security standard are increasingly strict, which results in a double challenge : how to improve the use rate of the equipment, and how to improve as well the security on the airport runways?
For example, on Paris Airport, the daily traffic is of around 2000 flights, and almost 10 000 non-motorized vehicles that can be used by various operators, are to be identified and located permanently. The airport facilities being spread on many hectares, non-motorized vehicles are often lost, which leads to extra costs engaged to purchase replacement ones, costing for some of them up to tens of thousands of euros.
To address these issues, manufacturers of the IoT industry now offer outdoor and indoor tracking solutions to manage the equipment range over large distances. This is possible thanks to the use of geo-positioning beacons featuring long reach communication protocols, such as Bluetooth Low Energy, LoRaWan, Ultra Wideband or Sigfox. These wireless beacons, mounted on NME, are detected by GPS-trackers placed onboard motorized vehicles that permanently drive nearby in the zone.
This type of industrial solution gives real time zone inventory, and drastically reduces the time needed to install the whole equipment used when an aircraft lands, which limits the delays in the overall operations.
Knowing that in the coming years, the air traffic is going to transport up to 7.8 billion of passengers a year, it is obvious that security on airport premises is a key issue. A part of the answer on how to deal with this is to efficiently track and identify pieces of luggage all the way long from the entrance to the exit to avoid their loss or abandonment ; every year, 25 million of pieces of luggage are declared lost.
This motivates manufacturers to always look for more performant, more innovative solutions in indoor tracking. For example, Airfrance airlines have put in place a luggage automated inventory based on RFID that reduces baggage processing and transfer times.
This solution is also an opportunity to improve the passengers’ travel experience. By placing RFID tags on luggage, passengers can check via a simple look at their smartphone where their luggage is, via antennas placed at strategic crosslines all around the airport. When the tags enter the antenna’s detection range, their identification numbers are scanned.
This helps the airlines to cut the costs generated by baggage loss or theft and strengthens the passenger’s sensation of being in a safe environment.
In these digitalization times, the airport industry cannot afford not to invest in the new technological solutions offered by the IoT. Thanks to connected beacons, it is now possible to locate people and assets in indoor environments, a performance that was not possible a few years ago. Nowadays, technological improvements have made it possible to obtain both impressive positioning accuracies and a close to one-second reactivity to collect data in real time. The next step that some manufacturers are already working on, is to ensure continuous geo-tracking solutions, moving from outdoor to indoor environments and vice versa in ways that are perfectly smooth for the users.
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