Aviation Week sat down with Jim Daily, VP and chief digital officer for GE Aviation, to discuss how digital is changing the aviation aftermarket.

>Aviation Week: GE Digital has been making a lot of acquisitions lately—Meridium, which provides asset performance management software and services; ServiceMax, which offers cloud-based field service management, and Bit Stew, which handles complex data integration and analysis across connected devices. How are you going to leverage them all?

Daily: There are a lot of pieces to pull together—and we don’t want every business to duplicate efforts. In aviation, asset performance management is vitally important: monitoring how the aircraft performs, detecting failures early, having prognostics and predictive maintenance etc. is always a big deal in our industry. We’re trying to optimize the way aircraft operate and the way the network works. So with a company such as Meridium, or a Bit Stew or other acquisitions, we look at those technologies from an overall digital perspective, so we can leverage them across multiple businesses. We don’t want and we don’t need each business to reinvent the wheel when it comes to some of these foundational technologies that work across multiple businesses.

Jim Daily, GE Aviation vice president and chief digital officerWhat will be your next acquisitions? What holes do you have in your portfolio?

Of course there are gaps in the portfolio that we’re always looking at it, but I can’t talk about any potential acquisitions. I can say we’re looking at acquisitions and partnerships to fill some portfolio gaps—either from a technology perspective, market channel, or ways we acquire the data. As an example, take our partnership with Teledyne. One of our challenges from an aircraft perspective is getting the data off the airplane. Teledyne really has a great installed base and technology for that so a partnership with it made all the sense in the world. But yes, we’re absolutely looking all the time. I’m looking at acquisitions from the aviation perspective, but
we’re tightly linked to GE Digital in terms of what their overall acquisition strategy is and we’re just making sure we do things that are complementary.

How do these new tools and all of the data flow into Intelligence Fleet?

Intelligence Fleet is one of five pillars in aviation, in terms of areas we’re focused on. Intelligent Fleet is really about how we make the data connectivity between our customers, the MRO providers that support them and all of the different pieces of the network that come together. There’s a lot of disparate data that doesn’t flow smoothly, and this has been a problem for decades. It’s such a problem for customers. It’s enormous. It can be tens of millions of dollars per customer per year. It seems simple, to enable that data connection, but it’s not. That is how Intelligent Fleet was born. And honestly, it has internal benefits for us, as well, because we, as a large industrial company, have some of the same challenges. We know exactly what an engine looks like but do we know everything about it 20 years later? We don’t. The more we can help connect the network, the more we help our customers, the better. And there also will be some ancillary internal benefit for us. For Inteligence Fleet, we’re spending a lot of time maturing the technologies and looking at potential partnerships, acquisitions or joint ventures to supplement some of the technology, as well. Surprising to me, it’s such a big problem in the industry.

When will Digital Twins be part of the vernacular of the aviation MRO industry? 

For us, we’re looking at analytics, asset performance management. We’re creating a Digital Twin for whatever the asset is that we’re trying to model. Whether or not the industry wants to acknowledge it, as least from a digital perspective, it’s already there. When we started this digital analytics journey in aviation, we started with Digital Twins. I don’t think we had coined the phrase yet, this was about four years ago, but it was exactly what we were doing.  We were getting from the point where we would have to operate the entire fleet of engines based on average models and basic expected wear to the point, with Digital Twins, where we have serial number by serial number and we know the behavior of each engine. To use a medical metaphor, we know exactly what the patient needs versus generalizing for the whole population. Digital Twin is intrinsic to everything that we are doing from a digital perspective. People might call it different things, but it’s all about creating a digital representation to whatever the physical asset is that you’re trying to optimize. That’s what Digital Twin is and that’s what we’re doing.

With the convergence of technologies, is the aviation aftermarket going to reach a stage similar to the Industrial Revolution? Are we close to the tipping point?

I think it’s there now.  To get any more efficiencies and to optimize it further, I think you have to go down the digital path. We’ve demonstrated it from a GE Aviation perspective with our TrueChoice portfolio.  We’ve worked hard to mature some of these technologies internally and we have a lot of digital tools and applications within that portfolio that have enhanced our ability to provide aftermarket services to our customers.  We’re now looking at how we take that commercially externally to some of some MRO providers and to some customers that deal with us in different ways and through a TrueChoice portfolio. So I think it’s there now. I think our customers are clamoring for improved aftermarket performance, logistics and what they incorporate in an overhaul or maintenance event. They want to be more predictive.  If you’re really looking to make additional inroads in efficiencies, optimizations and finding new ways to positively affect the bottom line, people have to embrace this.