44/2018

Engine parts in the dishwasher

The first automated cleaning system for engine heat exchangers world-wide
The first automated cleaning system for engine heat exchangers world-wide
Long-haul aircraft fly almost 10,000 kilometers every day – while their engines must always function reliably. There is hardly another part of the aircraft that is stressed as much. The engines must therefore be regularly serviced and cleaned. Individual parts, such as the engine heat exchangers, also have to be removed and cleaned separately. Lufthansa Technik is developing new processes that save time and protect the environment at the same time.

On average, engine heat exchangers are hardly larger than a briefcase and look like a ventilation shaft at first glance. There are heat exchangers at several points in the engine. One of their functions, for example, is to transfer heat from oil systems to the ambient air.

Faster and easier on the environment

On average, the components must be thoroughly cleaned every five years. Previously this was done manually. Due to the narrow fins of the heat exchangers – just picture a ventilation shaft – the work involved is painstaking. As a result, this required a great amount of time: Cleaning this small component alone took an average of 16 hours. If the heat exchangers were very dirty, they even had to be scrapped and replaced with new ones.

Since July 2018, Lufthansa Technik has been cleaning the parts in a newly developed facility employing an automated cleaning process – virtually the world's first dishwasher for engine heat exchangers. The results are impressive: Even heavily soiled heat exchangers are as good as new after cleaning and up to their original performance specs. The cleaning system can be adapted to heat exchangers of all common engine types – from 20 centimeters to two meters in size. The time saved is considerable. Instead of the previous average of 16 hours, cleaning now only takes about an hour. Thanks to full automation, employees can save some work steps and concentrate on more demanding tasks.

What's more, unlike in the past, the cleaning process requires no chemicals at all. It uses steam. Where previously residues of chemical cleaning agents had to be disposed of in a complex and costly process, now the only waste produced is waste water that can be easily disposed of, which is of great benefit to the environment.

The system only takes an hour to clean heat exchangers

On the way to digital maintenance

Lufthansa Technik developed the cleaning process on its own. Furthermore, the cleaning system will also be part of Lufthansa Technik's Digital Shop Floor. This means that data can be collected for further optimization and the cleaning process can be monitored virtually. This supports the goal of reinstalling a heat exchanger in the engine as quickly as possible. The new system is thus another milestone on the road to tomorrow's digitally networked engine maintenance.