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RFID Helps Rolls-Royce Canada Maintain Jets

The company is tracking an important tool to ensure it is not left inside engines after servicing.
By Samuel Greengard
Jan 26, 2014

Maintaining and repairing jet airplane engines is an incredibly complex task. Mechanics must handle hundreds of parts and use sophisticated tools, devices and other equipment inside the engines during servicing.

At Rolls-Royce Canada's 500,000-square-foot facility in Montreal, Quebec, the company maintains and repairs both civil and military jet engines. One key tool used during servicing is a bolt retainer, which secures bolts while a mechanic dissembles and reassembles an engine, measures roughly 18 inches in diameter. The device has 10 separate components attached together to create a single Teflon ring; each tool includes seven individual rings that are separated when maintenance takes place. If a bolt retainer were left inside an engine, it could cause major damage or failure.

The system alerts fitters and managers if a tool has not been returned to a storage cabinet in due time, by triggering an onscreen alert as well as a light stack visual cue.

"It is not a part that has any function within the engine," says Wassim Shirry, a design engineer at Rolls-Royce Canada. "It's a maintenance tool that can be easily overlooked because it is hidden from view, and it is not used actively while maintenance is taking place." In the past, although the company provided maintenance workers with a process checklist, there was no way to guarantee that the tool had been removed at completion.

In fact, Shirry admits that mechanics—known as fitters—had occasionally left the tool inside engines after completing their work. The oversight was typically detected during a later engine test phase. But if the tool were left undetected, it could melt when the engine heated up, forcing mechanics to clean and rework internal engine components.

More worrisome was a nightmare scenario that could have dire consequences. "There was a very small chance that an engine could have passed through testing with the device inside, and the engine would be delivered back to the customer," Shirry explains. "If an airplane wound up flying with the bolt retainer inside an engine, it could fail."

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