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Predicting Breakdowns

ATLANTA (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- No one knows what caused the Air France flight to come down last month, killing everyone onboard, but what if you could predict when there was going to be a mechanical problem or part failure? That's exactly what some scientists are hoping to do -- prevent breakdowns, by predicting exactly when they'll happen.

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At EPPS Aviation in Atlanta, Ga., mechanics repair, replace and rework close to 2,000 jets a year. Crew chief Greg Allen says when it comes to maintenance, every plane is different.

"Absolutely every airplane has its own characteristics, certain different maintenance requirements, and you get to know them inside and out," Allen told Ivanhoe.

But parts and electronic components can be unpredictable. In the past few years, a part fell off a plane above New York, a wing flew off a plane over Maryland and a wheel came crashing down over buffalo. The results can be catastrophic.

"Other than the manufacturer will tell you the part will last so long, you count on that, but it's not always the case," Allen said.

What if mechanics like Allen could predict exactly when a part would fail? That's where Georgia Tech's Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineer Dr. Nagi Gebraeel comes in.

He's developed a system called adaptive prognostics for electronics and manufacturing components. The system uses internal sensors to measure, use and wear in real time. It then calculates when the part will wear out, and the best time to replace it.

"This system will not only say how long this product or component is going to last. It will also give them economic insight as to when is the best economical time to replace that component," Dr. Gebraeel explained.

Researchers say the system can be adapted to constantly monitor any moving part, from aircraft electronics to ball bearings, sending out electronic alerts well in advance of a breakdown.

"The benefits of this type of system are going to be tremendous," Dr. Gebraeel said. "They are going to be both safety use and financial especially when it comes to maintenance."

It's science that's helping predict equipment problems before they happen -- saving time, money and even lives.

Though adaptive prognostic systems are not yet in commercial use, Georgia Tech researchers are studying potential applications in military aviation and power generating systems.

The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.

Click here to Go Inside This Science or contact:

Nagi Gebraeel
Atlanta Georgia 30332-0205 USA
(404) 894-0054

Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences
Barry List
(443) 757-3560

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