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Industry 4.0 Is Increasingly Vital in Aerospace Competitiveness

Jun 14, 2022 | Aerospace, IoT, Research

Like other branches of industry, aerospace companies are quickly adopting industry 4.0 technology. Innovations in computers and data analytics in the past decade and a half have brought forth a brand new model of industry. Some are even calling it the fourth industrial revolution! These digital transformation trends cannot be ignored if you want to remain competitive. But what does a digital transformation in aerospace involve, and why is it necessary to start now?

Investments in modern industrial IT yield significant returns. In addition, they make companies more agile and able to respond to changing global circumstances. Best of all, upgrading your industrial processes doesn’t require a complete overhaul of your production lines or your company structure. Any aerospace manufacturer can complete a digital transformation. Industry 4.0 isn’t just for massive enterprises: even startups and small companies can leverage the latest technology for massive improvements. Let’s find out how.

Industry 4.0 Is Increasingly Vital in Aerospace Competitiveness

Industry 4.0 Is Increasingly Vital in Aerospace Competitiveness

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

What is industry 4.0? Why are industry experts calling it the next industrial revolution? Historians and long-standing businesses alike agree that we are quickly entering a new phase in industrial production. As always, technological innovation spurs an explosion in industrial productivity. First, it was the steam engine, then railroads and internal combustion engines facilitated growth. Over a century passed between Industry 2.0 and 3.0. The third revolution was brought about by the advent of the computer.

Computers gave industrial enterprises much more control over their operations, allowing for extremely precise timing. So, what’s propelling the industry into a new age this time? Computers are now far more interconnected thanks to widespread internet access. Cloud-based storage and processing enable real-time data analytics on a global scale. These innovations form the backbone of Big Data. The icing on the cake is artificial intelligence. Today’s computer systems can now control themselves and optimize production even further.

Digital Transformation Trends in Industry

Industry 4.0 trends have already taken over several other industrial sectors. Manufacturing across the board has implemented data capture plans to collect as much data as possible. Data analytics reveal ways to optimize processes, and AI helps to execute those insights. Even complex chemical processes can be digitized today thanks to sensors with increased connectivity. Pharmaceutical manufacturers, as well as oil and gas companies, have all employed industry 4.0 tools to great effect.  

What’s unique about current digital transformation trends is that they’ve trickled down from the services sector. Tech giants like Amazon and Google pioneered the technology that is driving industrial businesses today. This means that the technology is already tested and been proven to work. It’s a safe investment for industrial companies, which is why many of your competitors are already marching towards a digital future. Within the aerospace industry, especially, there’s an urgent need to go digital. 

How Digital Transformation in Aerospace Works

A complete digital transformation for an aerospace company starts with a thorough analysis of internal processes. Whether you’re a supplier for larger aerospace companies or you develop your own finished products in-house, your processes must facilitate data capture. This starts at the office level but quickly bleeds into engineering. For example, using model-based engineering, you can design parts and entire products through 3D models that are dynamically linked to data analytics software.

Whenever your team makes an adjustment to a part, the ripple effects are immediately felt throughout the company. Suppose you choose a lighter material for a wing. The cost of producing that wing is updated, which informs sales as to how much they need to increase prices. Logistics also gets a notification so they can immediately procure the materials needed. Timetables update automatically to reflect estimated delivery times. This approach helps your company overcome the hurdles common to aerospace manufacturers.

Challenges Aerospace Companies Must Overcome

Digital transformation is not limited to any specific branch of industry. However, the aerospace industry stands to benefit more than others given the unique pressures facing the industry today. Unlike the automotive industry, which pumps out tens of thousands of units for a given product line, aerospace companies often produce fewer units. This means that the profit margin for a given unit becomes even more important at lower volumes. A setback can cripple a company.

On top of the inherent problems in aerospace manufacturing, external factors are constantly threatening the industry. Events like the COVID-19 pandemic or the Boeing 737 MAX crashes can cause investors to pull out en masse. When this happens, aerospace companies have to adapt quickly to unfavorable market conditions. Going digital helps your company stay afloat in these turbulent times, while also giving you advantages to stay ahead of your competitors.  

Rising Fuel Costs

Fuel costs are the bane of the entire aerospace industry. While a digital transformation cannot lower the cost of a barrel of oil, it can help you design parts that minimize the impact of fuel costs. Your customers will thank you. The key to cutting fuel costs in aerospace design is to use lightweight components. However, this is easier said than done. Not only do your engineers have to try new materials, but they also have to test components extensively.

With cloud computing, you can discover new compounds and experiment on computer models rather than build and reiterate on expensive prototypes. Simulations driven by data can produce very accurate results in a matter of minutes instead of the days or weeks that it would have taken years ago. As more aerospace customers look for fuel-efficient or electric vehicles, the ability to design new components quickly will separate successful companies from failures.

Regulatory Obstacles

If engineers could design aircraft without regulatory restrictions, we’d have some fascinating vehicles. However, governments have the final say in what can and cannot be used. Rather than manually inspect your parts or vehicles to make sure they’re compliant, your data system can validate components to ensure they are up to code. A model-based design system can flag areas that don’t meet FAA regulations so that they can be easily fixed on the next revision.

When you produce a prototype for testing, the data you gather can also be compared against government standards. In a digital company, government regulations act like helpful rails to keep your train on track. In an analog business, they’re a nuisance. By going digital, you can also react quickly if governments change policies. All you need to do is turn the law into code, and your models will respond accordingly.

What Is Required for a Digital Transformation?

You don’t have to embrace all of the digital transformation trends we’ve talked about at once. The key is to implement the underlying infrastructure, which starts with data collection. Every process in your organization must capture, organize, and centralize data. That’s easy to do with business processes since those already happen on a computer, but what about older machinery that wasn’t designed with data capture in mind?

Older equipment can be retrofitted with sensors so that you can perform preventative maintenance and reduce downtime. Model-based enterprise systems extract data as you design and reiterate. Real-world testing data can be gathered by attaching sensors to your prototypes. Gather all of this data into a central location and let your data analytics software do the rest. The insights that your software outputs can be carried out through programmable software, automating your production and simplifying work throughout the organization.

Get a Personalized Evaluation

Even though these digital transformation trends apply to everyone, each company is unique. Your implementation of industry 4.0 technology will vary from that of another company. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for a digital transformation in aerospace. Each company needs to evaluate its processes and determine the best way to optimize them for data capture and analysis. You may need to dispose of certain processes altogether or reallocate work amongst your staff. Therefore, we suggest a personalized approach.

Personalized consulting is exactly what separates SAAB RDS from other companies. We understand the challenges that face the aerospace industry as a whole, but we also recognize that each company has its own unique pain points and obstacles toward a digital transformation. Our goal is to help you get there. Contact SAAB RDS to schedule an appointment and learn more about how we can help you successfully transform your organization into a digital powerhouse.