Social networking – for engines

Rolls-Royce’s Richard Goodhead outlines the IntelligentEngine concept, and why thinking differently about data could redefine aviation.

Civil aviation has always been at the forefront of technology. Engineers and designers work…


Rolls-Royce’s Richard Goodhead outlines the IntelligentEngine concept, and why thinking differently about data could redefine aviation.

Civil aviation has always been at the forefront of technology. Engineers and designers work unceasingly to make air travel faster, cleaner, more efficient and more convenient for passengers.

Doing this requires a constant process of reinvention and innovation. Bold thinking, vision and imagination are prerequisites. These days, our processes may involve artificial intelligence, but the intelligence creating the solutions is anything but artificial.


Rolls-Royce and its competitors are at the forefront of pioneering advances that have the potential to change the shape of the global aviation industry. At the 2018 Singapore Air Show, we launched our new IntelligentEngine. We believe that over time it will turn prove to be truly revolutionary.

Rather than being a pure technology, this is a concept, bringing unprecedented integration into the industry and determining how civil aircraft will operate in the future. The worlds of product and service have now become so closely connected that they are inseparable, and the IntelligentEngine reflects that.

This coming together of these two areas of business has been going on since at least the 1990s, when Rolls-Royce launched its market-leading TotalCare® offering,  which brought capital engine purchase and a comprehensive maintenance programme together.

Now the advent of highly sophisticated digital technology provides a wealth of opportunity for companies like ours. We can now empower and provide increasing value and reliability to customers in a way we could only have dreamed of 20 years ago.

Three Cs

The IntelligentEngine vision introduces a future that is increasingly connected, contextually aware and comprehending. By that we mean:

  • Connected – with other engines, its support ecosystem, and with its customer, allowing for regular, two-way flow of information between many parties
  • Contextually aware – of its operating context, constraints and the needs of the customer, allowing it to respond to the environment around it without human intervention
  • Comprehending – learning from its own experiences and from its network of peers to adjust its behaviour and achieve best performance

In real world application, though, how will that happen?

The increased functionality of these engines means that they will continually learn from each other and from their broader operational environment, adjusting their behaviour without human intervention in order to achieve ever greater levels of performance.

The social network for engines

This visionary social network for engines requires cognitive capability. Rolls-Royce’s innovation business, R2 Data Labs, has been working with best-in-class partners to build the operational and digital connections that are making the IntelligentEngine possible.

Through the use of new technologies and the power of big data, we are creating a suite of digital applications that connect across our design, manufacturing and servicing operations.

These capabilities create a comprehensive environment known as a digital twin. This replicates and then simulates the full operational life cycle of individual engines or even fleets.

The technology and data analysis are of course highly complex, but the ideas behind this exciting new concept have been around for some time.

Information from the engines is currently collected using a variety of different systems. The aim is now to bring it all together and then present the results in a user-friendly tool. This will give our world-beating engineers a complete picture of operations and allow them to take action accordingly when required.

Inspiration online

For inspiration, we looked at popular websites that present data in accessible ways. For example, with Facebook or LinkedIn, we can all see what our friends or colleagues have been up to, often going back years.

Websites like Amazon and Netflix use powerful algorithms to suggest products or films individual customers might like, based on the preferences of others with a similar profile.

We felt we could apply a similar sophisticated level of data interrogation not to people, but to our engines.

The depth of detail we will have allows us to deliver even greater enhancements to the design, manufacturing and operation of our engines. It also lays the foundations for further disruptive innovation, enabling Rolls-Royce to find new ways of powering aircraft in the future.

At the centre of this new paradigm is an app, Fleet Insight, that presents all of the important information on the engines in a fleet in a single place. Each engine has an individual profile.

This profile shows how it has been operated, the aircraft it has been paired with, the parts it contains, and how much service life is left in each component.

Engine timeline

The complete story of the engine’s operational history is told in a timeline, again mirroring some social media sites. There is also a newsfeed that displays the most important insights from across the fleet.

Fleet Insight’s recommendation algorithms also suggest pre-emptive maintenance work for individual engines, based on data from other engines in the fleet with a similar profile.

This means we can improve the way we manage our fleets. Our service teams can use the app to make more informed decisions on maintenance and take early action to ensure maximum availability.

That in turn means our customers – and their passengers – will benefit from reduced disruption.

Fleet Insight also gives us a way to gather valuable intelligence from across our engine fleet and to automatically analyse that data in order to apply lessons learned from one power plant to the next.

Redefining aviation

This is essential to our vision for the IntelligentEngine, as it underpins our ability to build a frictionless data ecosystem. In time, it may even be the case that the engines can repair themselves.

To say that all this is exciting is an understatement. We are helping redefine not just the way people travel, but the aviation sector itself. As we move through the 21st century, that is a clear win for everyone.

Richard Goodhead will discuss this topic in more detail at the inaugural FINN Sessions at Farnborough Airshow next month.

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