Industry 4.0 Technologies could be the key to unlocking future competitiveness. There are a clear and compelling case for aerospace and defense (A&D) companies to leverage these technologies and incorporate digital transformation throughout their organizations.
Industry 4.0-driven technologies can impact every company that operates within the A&D industry, from original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to small suppliers. However, not all companies seem to be taking advantage of these technologies, whether for growing revenues or improving profitability. Designing new products and business models remains a significant challenge for most A&D.
Furthermore, despite implementing Industry technologies in areas such as factory manufacturing and supply chain, many A&D companies have been slow in adopting broader digital transformation initiatives that span the entire enterprise. This is because many companies in the industry note that they have not made Industry 4.0 a priority across the enterprise; rather, they have primarily invested in specific, focused technology implementations. Limiting the digital strategy to a few business functions may increase the risk of A&D companies being left behind in today’s digital era. It is important, therefore, that companies across the industry understand and harness the power of new technologies to benefit from the opportunities of Industry 4.0 transformation. A&D companies, especially mid-and small-sized, could start small but scale enterprise-wide to maximize the benefits of these technologies. Instead of viewing new technologies as an add-on to existing processes and practices, A&D executives should rethink how they do business leveraging those technologies.
Aerospace & Defence 4.0 is the application of the Industry 4.0 technologies in the A&D industry for developing new cost-effective products and services, making existing products smarter using sensors and connectivity, and leveraging advanced manufacturing processes such as additive manufacturing, among other objectives.
Some A&D companies are already beginning to realize the transformative effects of these technologies. They are exploring significant potential value across a variety of dimensions, from cutting costs and restructuring supply chains to expediting time to delivery and making devices and products connected across the board.
For instance, real-time flight data collected from sensors in aircraft is being used to reduce fuel consumption, improve scheduling, and minimize flight delays.4 Aerospace & Defence 4.0 technologies are also improving the aftermarket experience by using data to track asset conditions and predicting parts and systems failures beforehand.
Key focus areas of Aerospace & Defence 4.0
As the market impact of A&D 4.0 technologies plays out, barriers to entry are lowering and industry lines are blurring. Competition is emerging from new entrants into the market, who are moving beyond creating traditional physical products to using data gleaned from customers and product functioning to create new revenue streams. In the long run, players that are nimble and adept at leveraging multiple advanced technologies could scale up, outperform, and outcompete their industry counterparts.
The data that results from connected systems inherent in Industry 4.0 presents significant opportunities. And today’s A&D products produce vast amounts of information from thousands of sensors and systems. As such, A&D companies should leverage this information not only for designing, manufacturing, and operating their products but also for developing new business models. The industry could leverage advanced analytics and predictive applications to optimize maintenance, repair, and overhaul processes, and leverage the increased access to performance data to create new services. For instance, Boeing recently launched AnalytX, through which it provides data analytics tools and services to its customers. The company’s analytics-based solutions and consulting services were designed to help customers enhance operations by exploring data-based flight plans that deliver insights to help maximize fuel efficiency and minimize operational disruptions. The analysts platform had more than 200 customers at the end of 2017, and Boeing expects further growth in its customer base while aiming to ramp up its data-based services.
Un- anticipated supply chain and vendor challenges, coupled with unpredictable program management issues, often pose another significant challenge. Owing to demands for increased capacity and on-time delivery, the A&D supply chain is currently being transformed,9 and A&D manufacturers should work closely with vendors to innovate, collaborate, and share best practices in digital manufacturing. A&D companies could achieve this using digital design, simulation, and integration, which can help them conceptualize and digitally construct a virtual prototype or a process. This could help enable digital integration across the manufacturing life cycle and increase supply chain visibility. Furthermore, the industry can use high-performance or quantum computing to enable intelligent supply chains that model and simulate manufacturing processes to fix errors as well as analyze inventory to optimize logistics. To enhance collaboration, Dassault Systèmes developed AirDesign under the governance of BoostAeroSpace—a private cloud created by European A&D manufacturers.
With the adoption of connected systems and the proliferation of data, A&D companies face in-creased cybersecurity risks. In fact, various A&D executives surveyed quoted cyber risks and data ownership to be the most common technical challenges their organizations face as they seek to pursue their digital transformation initiatives.11 A&D companies are highly security-conscious and focus on managing inherent vulnerabilities that come with increased digitization. They are keenly aware of the various national and global regulations around cybersecurity, such as compliance with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s cybersecurity guidelines in the United States.12 In an era of digitization where cyber threats continue to rise, some defense contractors are already focusing more on ensuring the safety of data and intellectual property from cybersecurity risks.
The impact of Industry 4.0 technologies can have on Aerospace & Defense companies varies depending on a company’s size, where it is in the supply chain, what its role in the supply chain is, and, most importantly, its business focus. For A&D companies to successfully implement Industry 4.0 at the enterprise level, digital transformation should occur at three levels: customer engagement, new products/services, and platforms, and intelligent assets.
By Mayank Vashisht | Technology Journalist | ELE Times