The digital transformation cannot be ignored, and the world was given tangible proof of this in 2020, during the months when the pandemic forced us all into lockdown. The change taking place has already been in progress for a number of years in many sectors of society, and in this Leonardo is playing a key and growing role - as demonstrated by the “Be Tomorrow – Leonardo 2030” strategic plan.
The transformation has also been driven by our customers, who have drastically changed their requirements from the “digital” viewpoint and asked us for solutions based on new technologies, the essential enablers of today.
The Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare - AM) is also undergoing an evolution that for some years has already been having an impact right across our range of products and services. Particularly in the aircraft maintenance sector, the focal point of the relationship with our customers, the AM has launched a series of development and innovation projects intended to accelerate the digital transformation.
This is the background for a major training event, “Industry 4.0”, which has just come to a close in Caserta at the Scuola Specialisti dell’Aeronautica Militare, focused on “augmented, virtual and immersive reality for aircraft maintenance” and run in collaboration with Leonardo, Università Vanvitelli, Centro Italiano Ricerche Aerospaziali (CIRA) and Digitalcomoedia.
The Scuola Specialisti dell’Aeronautica Militare - the military institute for initial basic and specialist technical education, training, refresher/ recurrent training, specialisation, qualification and reconditioning of personnel in the AM and elsewhere - is fully involved in the programme of renewal launched by the air force. By employing cutting-edge technologies it will be possible to prepare personnel for the use of augmented, virtual and immersive platforms that are already being tested at the AM within the ambit of research projects promoted in the "Logistics 4.0” plan, a vast programme for the innovation of organisational and technological processes that has been developed through a close and fruitful creative collaboration with universities, start-ups, SMEs and leading players - like Leonardo - in the Italian aerospace industry.
The 4.0 revolution taking place in logistics is leading to innovations - above all in the technological area - that enable greater efficiency, fewer errors, and monitoring in real time: the main innovative elements are dedicated software and platforms for the analysis and storage of data, networks and sensors for the sharing of information throughout the supply chain.
For Leonardo, collaborations of this kind make it possible to identify solutions that fully respond to customer needs. The aim is to generate greater operational, organisational, economic and safety advantages for end users, and in this sense the “Logistics 4.0” plan will ensure the availability of tools ranging from a technological interface for augmented, virtual and immersive reality to be used in aircraft maintenance training, to innovations in the connected training models.
The activities illustrated during the event - also with interesting demonstrations of the results achieved - included the Air4MAM project of the 10th RMV (aircraft maintenance division) of Galatina (Lecce) and the Piattaforma Digitale Collaborativa (collaborative digital platform) applied to the Italian Air Force’s C-27J - i.e. virtual and immersive maintenance training and remote maintenance. These projects are the result, respectively, of technological testing activities in support of virtual maintenance training and the development of operational support methods.
In particular, the Air4MAM project and its immersive virtual system demonstrator for training maintenance personnel is the logical technological evolution of a category of products, known as Virtual Maintenance Trainers (VMTs), that Leonardo has been developing for over 10 years - and is still developing - for its customers in relation to both fixed-wing and rotary-wing proprietary platforms, demonstrating the close attention that Leonardo has always paid to the use of virtual reality in aeronautical maintenance training.
In the same way, the intention in the Piattaforma Digitale Collaborativa project was to create a digital infrastructure that would enable the sharing of technical knowledge between the company and its customers in support of both training and operational technical support activities. Connection technologies and the availability of wearable smart devices enable platforms to be developed that can provide operators with the tools to support operational activities and in-field learning. This means that a vast quantity of highly immersive technical content can be effectively used in digital form, in real-time mobile mode, on demand and in the field.
The event highlighted the extent to which virtual reality, together with other innovative technologies applied to the world of training, is a powerful tool for educational purposes.
The huge opportunity that it offers is connected with the possibility of sharing content, experiences and professional competencies at low cost due to the number of people who can be trained.
There are many opportunities to support the trainers of the future, who in turn will themselves need to evolve to fully exploit the enormous potential available.
As well as being an important opportunity for course participants and teachers at the Scuola Specialisti dell’Aeronautica Militare to update their knowledge, the event - thanks to the participation of representatives from academia, the world of research and companies - also offered the chance to discuss possible initiatives and ways of collaborating in the development and use of the technological interface for augmented, virtual and immersive reality in aircraft maintenance training, in order to immediately create specific joint working groups on the innovation of training models.
Photo credit: Italian Air Force