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Harnessing Power of AI to Deliver More Intelligent Engine Inspections

One thing is true in any industry – time is money. So when the Rolls-Royce Innovation Hub came up with the Intelligent Borescope that can reduce the time it takes to inspect an aircraft engine by 75% and could save up to £100m in inspection costs over five years, they knew they had created something that was not only cost effective but could potentially transform the future of aviation inspection procedures.

“Our new Intelligent Borescope capability brings together cutting-edge technology and AI in a way that has never been used in the aviation industry before,” says Adriano Pulisciano, Rolls-Royce Imaging and Computer Vision Specialist.

An average aircraft does 20,000 flights in its lifetime – that’s the equivalent of 60 million miles or 2,400 times around the world. The engines on the aircraft work hard and so regular inspections are carried out to make sure everything is in good working order. There are around 20,000 components in any engine and one way of getting inside the engine to look at them is with a borescope.

“A routine borescope inspection can take an aircraft out of service for 12 hours– that’s 12 hours that the aircraft is on the ground and not in the air making money for our customers,” adds Pulisciano. “The Intelligent Borescope is an industry first AI engine inspection which dramatically reduces the time taken to complete the measurement and sentencing part of certain inspections.”

The Intelligent Borescope uses a state-of-the-art Waygate Technologies RVI inspection unit enabled with AI Apps to capture data from the engine as it is driven by a Rhinestahl CTS FutureDrive Electronic Turning Tool. The AI Apps, which Rolls-Royce developed with Roke Manor Research and integrated into the borescope inspection unit with Waygate Technologies, help identify any issues with the engine before sending all the data directly to our Rolls-Royce Cloud for further analysis. Connectivity to the Cloud means that certain inspections could even be completed offline once the data has been captured. This level of automation has never been seen in the aviation industry before.

Rhinestahl CTS FutureDrive Electronic Turning Tool

“This technology will not only speed up inspection times, but also transform many aspects of our business through the capture and analysis of high quality standardised data from all of our engines, which can be exploited to maximise the efficiency of our entire fleet and improve future design,” explains Pulisciano.

How does it work?

The tip of the Intelligent Borescope, which is about the size of a pen lid, is enabled with a scanner that can generate 3D colour images. It can view and scan whole objects as large as High Pressure Turbine blades. As it moves through the engine, the borescope captures images which are analysed by the AI App installed on the Borescope handset and then sent to the Rolls-Royce Cloud.

The Intelligent Borescope, powered with a menu driven inspection process, is directly connected to a Rhinestahl CTS Electronic Turning Tool that automatically and safely rotates the engine stage and positions each blade correctly. After each blade is successfully positioned by the turning tool, it communicates with the borescope to capture the image automatically.

The next step is to process the data in the App, which is achieved using AI technology similar to that used for facial recognition. The App maps the blade in the same way a face is mapped looking for key image features that represent inconsistencies or irregularities. This is the first time facial recognition AI technology has been used in this way in aerospace inspections and it required the team to design and build the AI network from scratch with representative data collected from across our fleet of engines.

Once the AI process is complete the operator has to review and approve the predictions. During the review process they can easily fine tune the predictions if needed. In the days before we had this App, processing this data for particular inspections took an operator 90 minutes – it now takes just five.

AI inspection apps

The first of three Rolls-Royce AI Apps will be delivered to customers in 2021. The initial launch will target two key customers with potential to roll out to further customers throughout the year. “The first App is related to the inspection of turbine blades,” says Pulisciano, “and is available to every customer who needs to carry out the inspection wherever they are located in the world. All they have to do is download it from our Care Portal directly onto their Borescope handset.”

The Intelligent Borescope is another great example of our IntelligentEngine vision coming to life. Paul Flint, Rolls-Royce Head of Future Service Propositions, who has worked closely on this project with the team, gives his insights into how the integration of AI into the borescope fits in to our overarching vision and strategy, “As engines become more connected, contextually aware, and capable of comprehension, they become more and more ‘intelligent’. These intelligent engines are linked to others in an ever-evolving ecosystem that allows us to sense and respond to changes in the operating environment, and, through big data, unlock a host of operational efficiencies for airlines.”

He concludes, “Our IntelligentEngine vision and the Intelligent Borescope will ultimately help us to meet the challenges of the ever-increasing demand from our customers for more efficient operations and support them as they build back better from the impact of the global Covid-19 pandemic.”

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