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Rolls-Royce is using Azure Stream Analytics and Power BI to link up sensor data from its engines with more contextual information like air traffic control, route data, weather and fuel usage to get a fuller picture of the health of its aircraft engines.

Using Microsoft’s Azure IoT Suite to collect data, and Cortana Intelligence Suite to derive insights, Rolls-Royce will now go beyond predictive maintenance and into metrics that it can pass onto operations teams at airlines as a value added service. These insights are aimed at helping airlines to be more efficient when it comes to maintenance, aircraft choice and route selection.

A typical Rolls-Royce Trent engine - which can be found on the latest Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircrafts - will be fitted with 25 sensors, tracking everything from fuel flow, pressure and temperature to the aircraft's altitude, speed and the air temperature.

Even with airline fuel prices falling, revenue margins in the industry remain razor thin, meaning airlines are always looking for efficiency gains. Even a one percent saving on fuel costs would save an airline $250,000 per aircraft per year.

Read next: Singapore Airlines inks 5-year deal with Rolls Royce for fuel efficiency data analytics

ComputerworldUK sat down with Peter Chapman, head of capability at Rolls-Royce, during Microsoft's Future Decoded at London’s Excel this week to discuss how they are using the vendor's advanced analytics tools to manage the lifecycle of an aircraft engine, and create new revenue streams.

Beyond predictive maintenance

Predictive maintenance seems to be the buzz phrase around industrial internet of thing (IoT) use cases, but Chapman said that Rolls-Royce has a heritage of predictive maintenance, using home-grown analytics tools on small data sets and aggregating results out across a fleet for "many years now".

Instead, he wants to use the power of cloud-based technologies to "go beyond predictive maintenance and offer more services to our customers", such as using data to expand availability and efficiency services.

He added: "We have a long history of predictive and preventative maintenance and now we are looking at how our customers are actually flying the engine: what routes are they taking, what weather impacts those routes, can we help advise them to have a more efficient route plan or even an aircraft choice or engine?"

Rolls-Royce uses Microsoft's newly blended CRM and ERP tool Dynamics 365 to aggregate data across these various sources. Chapman said: "Traditionally, like many businesses we have many different technologies with data silos. Using Azure and Dynamics we are aggregating those data sets, providing a single view of the customer, or a single view of the maintenance of an engine."

Chapman says that Rolls-Royce's team of data scientists apply machine learning algorithms to these expanded data sets to spot patterns and identify operational efficiencies which could then be passed on to the customer.

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Now the company is looking at ways to sell this operational insight into its customers. "It is something we will be discussing with the airline customers about the best ways of monetising that, if we do," Chapman said.

This access to metrics fits with the companies move towards a more service-oriented business model, called TotalCare, which essentially means licensing engines to airlines to maintain perpetual revenue.

Cloud

Chapman says that Rolls-Royce sees its future firmly in the public cloud and that they chose Microsoft instead of rivals like AWS or Google Cloud because of its suite of tools and enterprise track record.

Read next: Microsoft Azure vs Amazon AWS public cloud comparison: Which cloud is best for the enterprise?

"We don't want to focus on a lot of the plumbing and more on the analytics and the customer outcome," Chapman explained. Rolls-Royce was also attracted to Azure's regional strategy because "regional data centres help us with regulated markets, export control regulations, data sovereignty", Chapman explained.

To sum up Chapman said: "The goal really is to make sure that every Rolls-Royce powered aircraft takes off and completes its mission as planned in the most efficient way possible. So it is ensuring the availability of the aircraft. [Airlines] would see increased reliability and availability, as well as fuel efficiency and general operational performance."