Investigating Lufthansa Technik's leading aviation digitisation strategy

Technology | Jan 02, 2019 | By Satair | 11 min read

Lufthansa Technik, one of the world’s leading MROs, is on the front line of innovation and well on the road to what’s becoming known as MRO 4.0. We set out to explore the MRO’s latest projects and to find out what’s driving their relentless pursuit for innovative solutions and their digital approach to aviation MRO.

With the ambitious goal of becoming the most digital aviation group on the planet, Lufthansa Group is constantly pushing the status quo of the aviation industry and the business models associated with it.

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The entire airline and its subsidiaries are pursuing the digital track and are by many respected for their approach to their aviation digitisation strategy. This is especially true of the company's MRO subsidiary, Lufthansa Technik, who has caught the attention of the industry in recent years with multiple projects already successfully completed 

Among them, their introduction of the world’s first independent digital platform for the aviation industry in 2017. Since then, other major industry players have followed in their footsteps. A notable example is Airbus, who recently introduced their data platform Skywise.

A male passenger checks his table tin the airport

Lufthansa's heavy investment in digital transformation

Lufthansa Group’s pursuit for innovation appears to stem from a powerful connection and understanding of the changing demands of their customers and an organisational foundation that supports and promotes innovative thinking – all the way from the operations floor to the executive board.

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»The core of our company strategy is to put airlines in a perfect position for the digital future. For example, we have spent over 15 years helping airlines work toward a paperless flight deck,« says Olivier Krüger, CEO of Lufthansa Systems. He adds:

»We are offering new solutions and expanding our consulting unit in response to growing demand in the market. In keeping with this, we are continually enhancing our digital expertise, so we can develop innovative solutions for the entire cosmos of an airline and its passengers – with data analytics, personalisation, mobility and new developments such as eye tracking and dynamic navigation maps.«

The company is very much aware that a digital approach to airline operations will be a key differentiator in the future. By 2020, the company will have invested a staggering 500 million euros into the creation of digital products for airlines.

»Digitalisation is one of our keys to the future. Our goal is an integrated mobility concept that is tailored to the particular wishes of our customers. By 2020 we will have invested 500 million euros into the creation and development of personalised digital products for the airlines,« says Carsten Spohr, Chairman of the Executive Board of Deutsche Lufthansa AG.

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At the very core of Lufthansa Group’s approach to digitisation is their strategy, containing strategic considerations as well as a digital roadmap, outlining the transformation processes.

Three-step aviation digitisation strategy

According to Lufthansa Group, a well-defined aviation digitalisation strategy is crucial for any aviation industry company wishing to accelerate digital transformation.

The group has developed its own approach to creating such strategies, taking into account what the company believes are the three main pillars of a digitisation process: innovation, processes and technologies.

1. Strategic analysis and setting targets

Forming a digitisation strategy naturally starts with upper and mid-level management creating a digital vision and agenda for the company. This includes the process of analysing new technologies and exploring the potential benefits for the company. It’s vital that the new vision is aligned with the capabilities and characteristics of the company at hand.

“This step also includes an analysis of the company that takes into account the sector and the competition. After that, companies should develop a target vision of the digital business model and prioritise digital issues, based on their own business and IT strategy. Determining the level of digital maturity is an important part of this,” Lufthansa Group writes.

A company’s digital maturity refers to the level of existing digital processes and the experience the company has so far with regard to working digitally.

2. Operationalising the digitisation strategy

With the vision and agenda in place, it’s time to identify the know-how and expertise required to fulfil the vision. The findings from the first step also help the company evaluate which innovations and new technologies will provide a good match.

Here, Lufthansa Group notes, it’s important to bring IT, specialist departments and middle management together, so that the strategy can take all departments’ needs into consideration.

3. Implementing the aviation digitisation strategy

Carrying out the aviation digitisation strategy starts with the creation of a digital roadmap with priorities and well-defined KPIs.

This step involves the communication by upper management required to coordinate the different digital projects outlined in the digital roadmap, so that each department knows and understands their role in the process.

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Once this step has been completed, Lufthansa Group notes, the digital transformation has begun. Provided that the company has adequately completed the previous steps, the journey towards digital transformation should be a rewarding one, even when faced with the inevitable obstacles and challenges along the way.

Lufthansa Group’s push for digital transformation has already led the company down the path of various digital projects - the biggest one, arguably, the launch of their digital platform AVIATAR one year ago.

A business meeting in a glass conference room

Pioneering digital platform

At MRO Americas 2017, Lufthansa Technik presented AVIATAR as part of the MRO’s new product division “Digital Fleet Solutions”. AVIATAR is an innovative and holistic platform that offers an extensive variety of digital products and services for MROs by combining multiple web-based apps in one single place.

It offers a way for airlines and MROs to get involved with data analytics, predictive maintenance and other emerging technologies with limited risks, as the platform is built and maintained by world-leading experts.

»Digital transformation has evolved to shape economies and industries enormously – no sector being spared. New technologies arise, turning long-term standards into out-of-date. Processes change fundamentally and even proven and successful business models become outdated. This development also has a significant impact on the MRO industry", said Dr. Johannes Bussmann, Chairman of the Executive Board at Lufthansa Technik, in a press release at the time, adding that:

»Lufthansa Technik takes the digital transformation of the aviation industry to the next level. We want to shape the future of aviation by being a pioneer in offering unique digital MRO solutions – not just for our clients, but with them. Close customer collaboration has always been a key element of our successful products and services. Our digital journey has just begun.«

Open-source enables collaboration

Lufthansa’s open-source approach to AVIATAR means that the platform is completely open for partners, clients, and developers, who can co-create the future of the platform or connect their own apps and solutions to AVIATAR. At the time of the introduction, the platform offered seven apps – each one of them designed to work independently or in collaboration, based on the customer’s preference.

  • “Fleet Management” and “Performance Metrics”: Provide basic features needed by clients to overview their fleet and KPIs in real-time.
  • “Condition Analytics”, “Fault Analytics” and “Predictor Plugins”: Provide customers with the ability to monitor their fleet, analyse their data and predict maintenance ahead of time.
  • "Record Status”: The 3rd-party app by Flydocs that offers a real-time overview of the fleet’s record status. It enables customers to quickly assess the aircraft’s and component’s readiness for transitions or to support airworthiness reviews.
  • “Reliability Benchmarking”: Allows operators to benchmark their technical reliability anonymously against the world’s leading airlines.

Since the introduction of AVIATAR in 2017, more than 500 aircraft have joined the platform and four more apps have been added:

  • “MROradar”: A digital request for proposal (RFP) platform for aircraft base maintenance. This app helps airlines and MROs have a more lean, efficient and comparable RFP process. 
  • “AirGlance”: Digitalises and streamlines reporting along base maintenance layovers. The aim is to optimise communication between MROs and airline customers during base maintenance events.
  • “ToolNOW”: The world’s first online brokerage platform for tool loans in the aviation industry.
  • “Engine Health Management app”: The latest addition to Aviatar enhances the engine health management service and offers airlines a highly efficient and useful means to monitor and manage the status of their engine fleets using what’s called a “digital twin”, a virtual replica of the engines.

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Although AVIATAR is a major cornerstone in Lufthansa Technik’s digital efforts, it’s far from the only innovative project that the company has set their eyes on. Currently, the MRO is involved in more than 30 research and innovation projects, developing and testing new technologies, solutions and processes for aircraft operations.

Spotlight on current projects

From an additive manufacturing centre to a digital warehouse program. Lufthansa Technik’s current projects reach far and wide and demonstrate no lack of ambition. We took a closer look at some of the most exciting paths that the MRO is currently exploring.

Additive manufacturing centre

As one of the fundamental technologies in the Industry 4.0 vision, additive manufacturing, commonly referred to as 3D-printing, is considered, by many, to be an inevitable part of manufacturing in the near future. The promise of AM is great, as it offers unprecedented freedom and flexibility when it comes to designing lightweight parts. Not to mention, it dramatically increases the speed with which parts can be manufactured.

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Lufthansa Technik recently set up a brand new additive manufacturing centre with the aim of developing solutions that can be readily adopted by the industry. Dr. Aenne Koester, head of the AM Centre, explains:

»The new AM centre will serve as a collaborative hub where the experience and skills that Lufthansa Technik has gained in additive manufacturing can be bundled and further expanded upon. The aim is to increase the degree of maturity of the technologies and to develop products that are suitable for production.«

At the AM centre, Lufthansa Technik will collaborate with a wide range of experts in order to drive the industrialisation of additive manufacturing forward - something that isn’t exactly an easy task in the highly-regulated world of the aviation industry.

Digital warehouse

Smart, efficient, digital and highly automated; if you ask Lufthansa Technik Logistical Services, these are the words that define the future of the logistics sector.

For this reason, the company has set out to experiment with the warehouse of the future, establishing a brand new digital warehouse pilot program in Munich Airport.

»We are currently testing and starting to implement digital assistance systems, localisation technologies and driverless transport systems in selected areas of activity. We cooperate with specific start-ups. For instance, we are introducing the smart data glove of Proglove as well as an automated guided vehicle of Agilox,« says Dr. Harald Kolbe, Head of Digital Innovation at LTLS.

Proglove, a so-called wearable, is essentially a glove with an integrated 2D scanner so that warehouse employees no longer have to hold a mobile scanner in their hand.

The Agilox system brings more flexibility and automation to employees, as it allows the goods themselves to become mobile.

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Worth mentioning, too, is Lufthansa’s localisation platform GSE 4.0 that takes transparency in the spare parts warehouse to a new level.

This platform allows large stored components to be located automatically, without the need for re-entry into the system, reducing administrative efforts and time spent locating parts at huge warehouses.

Munich isn’t the only location where core logistics processes are being revised. Other locations such as Hamburg and Frankfurt are also experimenting with digital solutions, and the plan is to expand the findings from the pilot program to even more locations once an adequate amount of data has been collected.

Innovation bay

Talk doesn’t move innovations forward, trial and error do. On Malta, Lufthansa Technik has launched their innovation bay - an area where the MRO will test and review state-of-the-art technologies for aircraft overhauls.

From drone-based inspections of the aircraft skin to mobile 3D-scanners and exoskeletons - everything that proves itself in the harsh world of reality will be rolled out further at other Lufthansa Technik maintenance bases.

Thus, the sole purpose of this project is to drive innovations forward toward practical implementation, and the MRO does so in collaboration with different startups and established technology companies from around the world.

»Our aim is to improve base maintenance processes and then use the improved processes across all our locations. This enables us to guarantee the same quality and standards at the highest technological level throughout the Lufthansa Technik Group's network,« says Marcus Motschenbacher, CEO of Lufthansa Technik Malta.

In the near future, the MRO expects to establish more innovation bays throughout their locations, to further strengthen their efforts of testing the technologies of tomorrow.

Augmented reality

Virtual reality and augmented reality have gained quite a bit of attention lately, as experts point to a series of potential benefits for the aviation industry. So far, though, not a lot of practical projects have seen the light of day. Lufthansa Technik recently introduced a laser-based AR system for supporting installation when equipping VIP aircraft cabins.

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The AR-solution is a mobile laser projection system that can be positioned and aligned flexibly in the aircraft fuselage, in line with the respective installation situation. It works in the following way:

An installation template is projected directly into the work environment. This template corresponds to the component contours selected in the virtual 3D model, which are projected onto the aircraft structure in the correct position and therefore act as a positioning and alignment aid for the component that is being installed. As a result, the precision is increased and the level of work required reduced significantly.

»We have achieved another milestone in further advancing the digitisation of industrial work processes at Lufthansa Technik with the projection-based installation support, using laser-based templates,« says Dr. Severin S. Todt, Head of CAx Competence Center and Tool & Equipment Solutions at Lufthansa Technik.

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