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March 30, 2015

Pratt mining big data

Lawrence Volz, CIO, Pratt & Whitney

More than just selling engines, East Hartford aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney has made a business of servicing those products in the aftermarket. Now, the company is further expanding on that post-purchase revenue, by providing data to customers on engine performance.

Timing this new service to the release of its next generation of military and commercial engines, Pratt hopes to provide customers with information that achieve goals such as extending engines' life, minimizing airlines' flight delays and cancellations due to engine problems, and determining how different environments impact engine performance.

“It is going to be tremendous,” said Lawrence Volz, Pratt's chief information officer. “It is going to drive real value for customers both internally and externally.”

For the past 10 years, Pratt has used the data it collected from engines both on-wing and at-rest to enhance its engineering capabilities, by examining the structural and aerodynamic performance of the engine systems. Early last year, the company started developing ways to use that data to provide extra services to customers.

As Pratt installs its new commercial PurePower engines and its F135 military engines on eight different types of aircraft starting in July, the company wants to start rolling out eight to 10 different data products by the third quarter of this year, Volz said.

Pratt's aftermarket division still is figuring out how to sell the data to customers, whether it will be an inclusive service as part of the engine purchase contract, or if the data will be sold as a separate revenue stream.

The concept of using large data sets to package information to customers started in the early 2000s with Google, which initially used systems to analyze data on websites to enhance its search engine performance, said Ramesh Shankar, associate professor of information systems at the UConn School of Business.

Over the past couple of years, major companies like Fairfield conglomerate General Electric have used big data to judge product performance, Shankar said. Insurance companies use it to analyze customer behavior — like GPS that evaluates how safely motorists drive — to determine how to structure policies and premiums. Retailers like Target, Walmart, and Amazon use big data to make sure they have enough stock of popular products.

“If companies do not adapt to big data, they are going to increasingly become obsolete,” Shankar said.

In addition to packaging it for customers, Pratt has started using big data to find efficiencies in its supply chain and protect against cyberattacks, Volz said.

For its customers, Pratt will provide information that is predictive, so problems are resolved before they become disruptive. Eventually, Volz said, the company wants the information to be prescriptive, so any potential issues can be addressed in the production and routine maintenance of an engine.

“We want to expand out value offerings, and we think big data is a way to do that,” Volz said.

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