Filtering the signal from the noise
To bring its vision of a powerful and scalable data analytics system to life, Rolls-Royce chose to build it on the Microsoft Azure platform. “We realized early on, as customer and engine data volumes increased, that we were looking at a big-data problem,” says Richard Beesley, Senior Enterprise Architect Data Services, Rolls-Royce. “We quickly concluded that a cloud platform like Azure was a ready-made solution for us.”
Beesley explains, “With Microsoft, it isn’t just about the infrastructure, it’s end-to-end and global. There are the skills, the capabilities, the service offering, the development environment, the security. It all just fit together.” Once Rolls-Royce started to collaborate with Microsoft, it began to develop a number of new capabilities using an expansive set of Azure platform services.
Starting with Azure IoT solution accelerators, Rolls-Royce will be able to collect and aggregate data from disparate and geographically distributed sources at an unprecedented scale. “With the increase in the volume and velocity of data that we’re looking at, Microsoft Azure IoT solution accelerators will have a key part to play in our ability to reliably aggregate data across our customers’ fleets,” Beesley says. Initially, the types of data being processed include snapshots of engine performance that the planes send wirelessly during a flight, massive downloads of comprehensive “black box”–type data, technical logs, and flight plans as well as forecast and actual weather data provided by third parties.
Using Microsoft Cortana Intelligence Suite, Rolls-Royce will be able to analyze a rich set of data and perform data modeling at scale to accurately detect operational anomalies and help customers plan relevant actions. Farrant says, “Microsoft Cortana Intelligence capabilities are helping us filter the signal from the noise across large data sets so we can focus on finding the real value in the data. Our vision of future digital capability will need to aggregate many sources of data and provide a platform for collaboration with customers.”
Michael Chester, Product Manager Data Services, Rolls-Royce explains, “By looking at wider sets of operating data and using machine learning and analytics to spot subtle correlations, we can optimize our models and provide insight that might improve a flight schedule or a maintenance plan and help reduce disruption for our customers.”
For example, aircraft and engine components, such as a fuel pump, often have a “soft life”—the point at which it is recommended to remove it for maintenance based on its time in operation. By analyzing detailed data from each specific pump and comparing it to data models and other pumps in the fleet, it is possible to provide an alert that indicates that a specific pump might not be performing well and should be replaced sooner than its soft life. Conversely, if a pump is close to its soft life, but monitoring and analytics show that the performance is normal, a decision could be made to defer until a later, routine maintenance window. Moving to an approach based on components’ actual condition could potentially add up to tremendous savings across a fleet by minimizing the disruption and cost of maintenance. “We see emerging digital technologies and robust prognostic analytics allowing us to work with customers to realize these types of opportunities” Farrant says.
In expanding the scope of services Rolls-Royce offers its customers, fuel efficiency is one of the first and highest-yield areas that the company is targeting. By analyzing new data against existing forecasts, reference tables, and historical trends, Rolls-Royce will be able to help airlines understand exactly which factors—including flight plans, equipment maintenance, weather, and discretionary fuel—have the most impact on fuel performance. “By blending all these data sets, we can provide more targeted and actionable insights at the point of need to inform the decisions that optimize how the airlines go about doing business,” says Chester.
All of this requires a massive level of scalability that is greatly facilitated by employing a wide range of Azure platform services. From using Azure Data Factory for orchestration and Azure HDInsight for high-level data aggregation and summarization, to using Azure SQL and Azure Blob Storage to handle all the different types of storage needs, Rolls-Royce is taking full advantage of the integrated Azure platform services. Beesley explains, “The Microsoft Azure platform makes it a lot easier for us to deliver on our vision without getting stuck on the individual IT components. We can focus on our end solution and delivering real value to customers rather than on managing the infrastructure.”