Integrated technology processes are thus increasingly used in aerospace industry to improve efficiency in different sectors by enhancing process automation, information concurrency and avoiding data recopy. What follows is a description of how each of these areas are evolving in relation to technology integration.
A notable shift in mentality
The aerospace industry is known to be of the most conservatives with little flexibility in implementing emerging technological advances. Rather the common approach has been for companies to use successful assembly methods and processes. This reluctance to embrace integrated technology processes however is changing in recent years with companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin showing a complete mentality shift.
As more and more aircrafts phase out for more energy efficient new aircrafts, the need arises for aircraft production. To respond to this backlog of orders, aerospace manufacturers need to automate their factories to improve quality and boost productivity. Therefore, industrial automation has been deemed as a necessary step for reducing manufactural and assembly costs of aircraft structural components as well as for maintenance processes. At the same time automation saves time and enables more productivity and accuracy.
Aerospace manufacturers are highly sensitive regarding precision since safety is of the most significant issues for the industry. The importance of cost-efficiency is also imperative along the value chain and as a result automation development in manufacturing processes has seen gradual growth in the past few years. Most of these ideas for automation derive from the more advanced in this sector automotive industry with deployment of moving assembly lines and increasingly more use of robotic applications (Waurzyniak, 2012). Whilst traditionally, automation in aerospace industry meant to use large monument machines fed from manual processes, nowadays, the big automation thrust is to eliminate destock.
When discussing integrated technology processes, one should not omit concurrent engineering (CE), which refers to the factors associated with the life cycle of a product during the design phase. These factors include elements such as product functionality, manufacturing, assembly, testing, maintenance, reliability, cost and quality (Abdalla, 1999). During the past years, an attempt has been made in different sectors including the aerospace industry to investigate the techniques and tools needed for implementing concurrent engineering strategy. With large numbers of actors working simultaneously at different locations and through heterogeneous technologies, there is an urgent need to develop flexible frameworks that will facilitate management of complex projects such as the ones of manufacturing an aircraft. Although at first, this was thought to be achieved best with a design-manufacturing alignment, concurrent engineering now expands to incorporate more lifecycle functions whilst focusing on and involvement of customer and supplier.
According to aircraft manufacturers, one other significant application of integrated technology processes is predictive maintenance (Hollinger, 2015). This refers to being able to transmit information through sensors attached on crucial parts of an aircraft to ground engineers, who will then be ready to provide them when the plane lands. Airplanes come with lots of information, these data should not be disregarded but rather be used meaningfully to make airplanes more available and reliable. These procedures can reduce maintenance costs which account to around 10% of an airline’s operating costs and cause delays. Therefore big financial gains await carriers if they take advantage of data streamed through use of technology. However the opportunities of available wealth of data generated in every flight go beyond maintenance. Towards his direction, Boeing and Airbus look into how these data can help pilots adjust their navigation through real time chart planning and avoid turbulence or bad weather. Also there is the potential to be able to track differences in fuel consumption depending on piloting techniques.
Future Robotic applications
One of the most promising uses of technology integration in the aerospace industry is with regards to advances in the field of robotics. Among the different possibilities for applications according to Bélanger-Barrette (2014), arises first the use of robots for drilling and fastening since the robot can use a vision system to drill the hole and desired spot. Another area where robots can excel is inspection process in the manufacturing of aircrafts. Several of these strict inspection procedures can be performed by robots. Further to this, metal parts, for example in assembly such as turbine, need to be precisely attached to the aircraft. Robots are essential to perform accurate and effective welds. Robotic welding therefore is all about repeatability, rigidity, and tight tolerance achievement in aerospace applications. Another way to take advantage of robots is for applying sealant, paint, metal and ceramic coating on large parts of the aircraft, a task difficult to handle for a human. Robots can replace a manual operator with great success. Overall, it seems that a switch to robotization is one of the future integration technology processes that aerospace industry will embrace the most.
Integration technology processes can truly take off the aerospace industry and potentially revolutionize what was until recently a highly rigid and conservative world. The opportunities are there; aircraft manufacturers should embrace them if they want to move forward.
Abdalla, H. S. (1999) Concurrent engineering for global manufacturing. Int. J. Production Economics, vol. 60—61, pp. 251-260.
Bélanger-Barrette, M. (2014) Top 5 robotic applications in the aerospace industry. Retrieved from: http://blog.robotiq.com/bid/70043/Top-5-Robotic-Applications-in-the-Aerospace-Industry. [Accessed 13th December 2015].
Hollinger, P. (2015) Smarter aircraft create a wealth of data but it remains underexploited. The Financial Times Limited 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/2/3f956a92-0943-11e5-b643-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3uSltUtDh. [Accessed 12th December 2015].
Waurzyniak, P. (2012) Aerospace Builders Automate Processes. Retrieved from: http://www.sme.org/MEMagazine/Article.aspx?id=49582. [Accessed 11th December 2015].