Aviation technology continues to improve with the decades. Today’s engineers have an arsenal of tools, such as a variety of sensors, that push innovation forward. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is aware of this and has conducted several flight test programs on commercial aircraft that carry sensors during flight to monitor their structural health and routine maintenance. These sensors can mount in hard-to-reach areas of an aircraft where technicians plug in to retrieve data. These tests give substantial proof that sensors can work on certain applications and can be safe and reliable during aircraft maintenance activities.
Due to these results, the FAA is supporting companies that are developing Structural Health Monitoring (SHM) sensors that use nondestructive inspection principles that remotely perform an assessment of an aircraft's structural condition in real time and gives a signal for maintenance.
The FAA’s collaboration with these companies help conduct research on sensors that improve crack detection, aircraft fatigue, and pressure changes that alert inspectors before tiny cracks becomes a safety issue. While some companies are developing an SHM solution and others are working on a propeller-balance trending system, United Aircraft Technologies is developing a unique smart aircraft clamp that improves safety and addresses wire integrity by using onboard sensors for fault detection without the need of plug-ins or disconnections. The Smart Inter-Connecting Clamp (ICC) is a disruptive technology since it is made to replace the standard clamp that exists today. This new retrofit technology improves functionality of scheduled maintenance by leading high volumes of data to better computing models that filters it through a prognostics software and machine learning.
As aircraft continue to age, the need for wiring integrity is a priority. Given that the smart ICC is already securing the wire bundles, they become a useful automated device for ensuring the integrity of electrical systems. The unique functions of the Smart ICC are to provide an integrated technology in the areas of detection, diagnostics, and prognostics of electrical wiring while providing data regarding failure characterization and diagnostics. This is done in order to identify wiring system failure mechanisms, wire degradation processes, loose metal shavings from repairs, risks caused by exposure to fluids, anomalies in PH levels, and contamination in robust insulators and conductors. Additionally, the Smart ICC will be able to detect physical abuse such as stepping on the wire bundles by perceiving changes in the physical and chemical properties of insulation such as flexibility, hardness, tensile strength, compressive strength, and torsion strength. Lastly, it will detect environmental effects that include temperature, humidity, electromagnetic interference, and solar exposure.
Since this innovation was created by an ex aircraft mechanic with over 14 years of experience that knows the work hazards, he focused on helping improve the work environment by creating an ergonomic design for the ICC. This design uses minimal manual or physical force required for installation. Therefore, the ICC design reduces the risk of Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) that can occur with monotonous hand crimping.
The benefits for this wireless sensing technology is mostly on weight reduction and cost efficiency. The ICC cuts installation time in half, saving maintenance costs on the ground and minimizing health risks. Compared to the existing product, the ICC saves weight, an average of 65-70% from incumbent. Additionally, the ICC reduces the occurrence of lost/foreign items and the threat of fire due to electric shorts. The ICC not only has effects on fuel savings but saves the environment from CO2 emissions by reducing the amount to closely 80 tons for each aircraft.