Delivering critical engine data on Boeing’s 737 MAX

The Boeing Company
Case Study

Industry
Aerospace

Objective
Develop an application that allows mechanics to easily access engine health data and make necessary adjustments.

Client
The Boeing Company

Solution
Engine Health Management application that collects aircraft data and integrates with Boeing’s Onboard Network System.

Services
Custom Software Development
Systems Engineering
Information Security

Access to data is changing how business works, from customer service departments to maintenance bays. Every industry is seizing the moment, including aviation. Base2, working with Boeing, is playing an important role. We’re developing apps to bring data to the people who need it most.

When Boeing announced its new 737 MAX airplanes, it introduced a new upgrade called the Onboard Network System (ONS). The system helps connect airline operations and maintenance with airplane data and software parts. With delivery scheduled for 2017, Boeing sought out Base2 to help drive the development process.

Access to jet engine data

“We had a few challenges on this one,” said Base2’s front end developer Patrick McCarthy. “Our principal task was to build a back end component that could talk to the engine and collect engine data. Then make sure it integrates with the ONS. We also needed to work on the user interface. The goal was for mechanics to easily access the data and make any necessary adjustments from the app.”

The engine health management app that Base2 implemented is a boon to mechanics and the airline.

“The main feature,” P.J. Little, the team’s lead developer, said, “is that mechanics will have a far easier way to manage engine trim balance.”

Sensors, apps, mechanics

Here’s how it works: It starts with data the engine collects. Sensors detect vibration frequencies that occur within different parts of the turbofan engine. Mechanics then use the engine health management app to view the data. Next, via the engine’s computer, the mechanics calculate what weights and what parts need to be moved on the fan blades and on the other rotating assemblies. This ensures that the engine blades are optimally balanced. That reduces engine vibrations for smoother, more effective operations. The result is less maintenance and lower costs.

The engine health management app also allows a mechanic to run ground tests. They can run an engine and collect data in a controlled environment. Mechanics can set different data collection parameters. They can create, view, and export custom reports.

Managing turbulence

A five-month development project this complex will hit some turbulence. Requirements often change and disparate technologies conflict. Little said, “Integrating the products that the engine manufacturer is developing as well as getting everything running on the target platform (ONS), running integration tests in the Boeing test labs, getting three to four different systems to play nice together for the first time, it’s challenging. But this is what we do. We got it done.”

One of the bigger challenges was that the front end of the application had to look and feel like an app inside of a cockpit. It’s a Boeing standard. “That mandate is a little bit at odds with typical design paradigms for web applications,” said McCarthy. “But the team developed a way for the app to conform to Boeing’s needs.”

How key decisions led to success

An early decision was to tackle the hard things up front. As the team delved into engine management, engine trim balance and some outdated code, they picked up cues about their prospects for success. Next came an effective development cycle and tool chain.

It’s noteworthy that the development team used Agile, which isn’t common in aerospace. An iterative methodology was the right fit, since at different times along the way, different teams had to make design changes. And it worked. In fact, it worked so well that Boeing has leveraged this specific framework on numerous software development projects since then.

From several disciplines, a great outcome

“This is a world-class project,” said Charlie Barbour, a Base2 program manager. “It’s been very successful. We brought a lot to the table, and the team set a high bar on this one.”

Managing systems and relationships, communications and quality — it’s familiar terrain at Base2. It’s how we bring the hardest, most challenging projects to successful conclusions.

Image and content used with permission by The Boeing Company.