RVI, digitization, and wireless connectivity are helping airlines operate efficiently and maintain fleets cost effectively
Like many industries, commercial aviation is facing numerous challenges due to the current economic climate, rising costs, and global competition. For aviation companies of all sizes, operating as efficiently as possible and maintaining fleets cost effectively is as critical as passenger safety.
Airlines cannot afford to have their aircraft on the ground for lengthy inspections or time-consuming maintenance; they need to employ the most reliable, advanced technology available to quickly and easily complete inspections and reduce downtime.
For example, conducting scheduled maintenance with remote visual inspection (RVI) is a cost-effective and increasingly efficient way to keep aircraft safely flying. RVI helps maintenance experts inspect and capture images in inaccessible locations such as engine chambers or other internal areas of the aircraft. RVI operates as a stand-alone inspection technique or to identify areas that require further nondestructive testing or evaluation (NDT/NDE.) It is often used for root cause failure analysis.
Advances in technology have significantly improved the quality and performance of RVI in aviation inspection, particularly with the introduction of video borescopes in the 1980s. Whereas traditional borescopes rely on hard optic relay components to transfer the image to the tip of the eyepiece, video borescopes use charged couple device chips (CCDs), commonly found in digital cameras, at the end of a thin, flexible probe to capture still and moving images. Capturing and storing images is a major improvement over the previous technique, which required analysis by the technician based on what was seen through the small aperture.
Full articulation allows maintenance crews to navigate the probe by simply using a joystick, allowing access to and inspection of difficult-to-reach areas that were once too small or too dangerous to access. High quality still images and videotape are captured and stored; defects are measured. Millions of hours of data about the engines can now be collected, helping engineers better understand the operation and the limits of the system, thus increasing future reliability and safety.
Early models of video borescopes were cumbersome and involved extensive wiring, complex setups, and bulky equipment. Wires created a safety issue in the work environment; technicians were in danger of tripping, becoming tangled, or getting electrocuted if the wires came in contact with water. Inspections had to take place where there was accessibility to electrical outlets. Viewing areas were limited by where the probe could reach. What was reported relied on the technician’s interpretation. Observations had to be translated into drawings on paper, measured, and then manually written into a report.
Today, video borescopes are smaller, flexible, more portable, and easier to use. Image quality is significantly enhanced. For example, smaller, more powerful light engines have increased light output to more than 200 lumens for some models. Imager pixel counts have nearly doubled from 240K to 440K, resulting in images with greater resolution, which facilitates defect recognition. Technicians can see sharper details with greater magnification at a higher resolution and with less interference. Wireless connectivity makes it easier to maneuver the unit to look for damage to an engine, whether it is caused by normal wear and tear or foreign object debris (FOD). They can also easily enhance details if necessary using digital processing and perform immediate analysis.