The MROs of the Middle East and the surrounding Asia region are exploring a multitude of new technologies from predictive maintenance to 3D printing as they chase greater efficiencies in an increasingly competitive landscape.

Speaking at Airline E&M Middle East in Dubai on Jan. 22, Khaled Abdel-Motagaly, manager innovation at Etihad Airways Engineering, says digital technologies such as next-generation connectivity solutions and data analytics are among the technologies the Abu Dhabi-based airline maintenance division is looking at, to name but a few.

“Our core business is Part 145, working with small margins, so we have to find ways to do things faster and bette--so we’ve investigated other areas such as going paperless, robotics and 3D printing for cabin modification work,” he says.

Etihad has worked on 3D printing collaborations with the likes of Siemens and Strata Manufacturing, an endeavour that resulted in the region’s first additive manufactured part in March of last year. This lead many in the industry to expect it to become more prevalent across the MRO supply chain, with engine companies particularly finding a lot of value in it.

However, Abdel-Motagaly says Etihad discovered two primary challenges around the technology: in certification and in discovering good use-cases that bring value. “Quite frankly, there are not many of them [use cases] that exist right now in MRO,” he says. Maintenance tooling is one of these few value areas.

More optimistically, he believes as market materials become cheaper, the concept could become more widely used in MRO. He sees Etihad forming more partnerships with other companies to utilize 3D printing for tooling and parts production.

Speaking from an airline maintenance perspective, Sajumon Maledathu Pankajakshan, assistant manager line maintenance at Indian carrier Jet Airways, says the MRO environment is awash with new technologies.

“At the training level, virtual reality is being used while at the inspection level, concepts such as drones and IoT platforms are being considered,” he says.

Mumbai-headquartered Jet Airways is open to implementing new technologies such as drones to carry out aircraft inspections, while robotics, virtual reality and predictive analytics are all tipped to become more ubiquitous in MRO over the next decade. He described it as “an interesting area” for the industry as he believes many carriers would ideally like to go down that route.

However, implementing the use of drones trialled by airlines such as easyJet would come with challenges, he believes. “The initial hurdle of implementing drone mechanisms could be challenging for a number of reasons including the required training that would be needed for the workforce,” he says.

Predicting what a similarly-themed panel could be discussing in the year 2028, Etihad’s Motagaly, believes virtual reality platforms and robotics will be used extensively in MRO over the next decade. He also predicts there will be a growing reliance on predictive analytics, which in turn could lead to a decrease in scheduled maintenance events.