Microsoft and GE Aviation Unveil Aircraft Parts Blockchain

GE Aviation, which provides jet engines to around 60% of the international airline sector, has utilized Microsoft Azure to create a supply chain track-and-trace blockchain.

GE Aviation Digital Group wants to share the blockchain throughout an industry-wide consortium of partners. The use case of the ledger, which involves collating and monitoring data related to the life cycle and production of aircraft engine parts, might scarcely be more pertinent considering Boeing’s travails.

“Our vision is being able to trace parts as they are manufactured and the engine when it’s shipped. Then how that engine performs in the field, when to repair it and then re-enter it into the field,” GE Aviation Digital Group blockchain CTO David Havera stated.

GE Aviation sells aircraft engines to the military and commercial airlines, while GE Aviation Digital Group is a business unit within it, employing around 700 staff worldwide and selling software externally to the sector. The group turns out a range of data science, 3D printing, and IoT solutions.

According to Havara, for over two years, his team had been cooperating with partners such as MTU Maintenance to develop the blockchain. “What we are calling it, kind of internally, is TRUEngine,” Havera noted.

The presence of a blockchain will structure data which is crucial to the ecosystem in one format and bring it to the fingertips of users. The process of data analysis often involves threading back through several vendors and ERP systems, per Havera, saying:

“If you think about it, a quality event in the aircraft engine industry is catastrophic. And to research that takes months of manual time. Driving efficiencies, accountability and visibility into the process of making an engine will make us all safer.” 

Microsoft’s senior director of applied innovation and digital transformation, Mike Walker, compared the ledger to a “tapestry.” According to him, it had the effect of “stitching together [GE Aviation’s] entire supply chain into one view – so you’ve got a full understanding of all the partners; you’ve got one ecosystem repository instead of hundreds, if not thousands.”

Havera noted that about 60% of aircraft engines change hands within a five-year period, making certifications and documentation important.

The process involves clients like British Airways or Delta, for instance, keeping flight history records of the number of cycles they have flown on every part, data that are then sent to GE Aviation so certain parts are changed in a timely manner. Per Havera, that has resulted in a paper-based conundrum.

“We can’t sell those used parts back into the open market without the proper paperwork,” he stated. “Which is really a crisis in the industry at the moment. At our warehouse facility in Texas, there are tens of millions worth of dollars of inventory orphaned, because over the last 20 years we didn’t have a digital solution to get that paperwork to sell those parts back into the market.”

“So what we have done brings cost optimization and significant safety improvement, but now we are exposing a new business model. We are creating a profit center for what I lovingly referred to as ‘the boneyard’ in Texas, where essentially they put all these parts where they don’t have the GE Aviation genuine paperwork – and you can do that for all the other boneyards out there, too,” Walker added.

While he still could not name the industry players who have been invited to participate in the TRUEngine consortium, Havera noted:

“We are targeting companies who have already bought our engines – so it could be Delta or Southwest or BA – and they have a maintenance contract with us. We have a kind of ‘razor and blades’ business model where we sell you the engine and then you will sign a maintenance agreement to be TRUEngine-certified and we will maintain that. So, we are rolling this out to our maintenance agreement base.”

Walker referred to the blockchain as “a production pilot” leveraging live data and business processes with actual clients. “So we have a controlled rollout, a trickle effect,” he stated. “We will have three or four airlines and then another trickle out to reach five or six.”

According to Havera, the service’s pricing model is yet to be formalized, adding: “We are ready to sell this service. We are actively engaging with customers now and more airlines are asking about it every day.”