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Tech Enablers for Digital Transformation in the Aerospace and Defense Industry

Dec 20, 2022 | Aerospace, All Content, Defense

Another industrial revolution is in progress. This time, it’s Industry 4.0. Companies around the world are working hard to complete their digital transformation and take advantage of the opportunities that Industry 4.0 has to offer. Nowhere is this more important than in the aerospace and defense industries, where large, lucrative contracts come with big expectations. To stay ahead of the competition, you’ll need as many tech enablers as possible to adopt a fully digital environment.

Tech enablers are the underlying technologies and tools that make a greater technological achievement possible. The steam engine was a tech enabler for railroads, power generation, and mass production, for example. Today’s industrial revolution relies on a greater number of tech enablers, all of which work together to produce a shift in how your company conducts its business. Consider which enablers you’ve already deployed and which ones are missing to complete your digital transformation.

Digital Transformation in the Aerospace and Defense Industry

Tech Enablers for Digital Transformation in the Aerospace and Defense Industry

Improved Sensors

One of the core tenets behind Industry 4.0 is data collection. Data must be collected at every possible opportunity. However, most industrial processes rely on machines that make data collection a challenge. While the machine itself can accept digital inputs and report some data on its operations, more precise measurements are necessary. Fortunately, improved sensors make it possible to monitor hardware more thoroughly and record more data from the production process. There are a number of potential applications here.

Miniaturized sensors can fit into places that older sensors cannot. They’re also more resilient to damage, making them more reliable for long-term use. A prototype drone outfitted with sensors on various components will yield much more useful data. For instance, a vibration sensor on each wing could help you design a better drone for bad weather. Temperature sensors that fit into smaller spaces can help spot cooling issues that otherwise would go unnoticed.

Connectivity Solutions

The faster you can collect data, the faster you can analyze it and turn it into actionable items. However, older devices lacked constant connectivity. Data was typically dumped into a log file and had to be recovered manually. Even devices that had wireless connectivity were often limited by distance and power consumption. Today’s tech enablers do away with those limitations. You can collect data across vast distances in real-time thanks to advanced connectivity solutions.

For example, a GSM module can be attached to nearly any device or set of sensors. By using cellular networks, your device can transmit data live as long as it has coverage. But what if you’re testing aerospace equipment in areas without cellular coverage? Long-range, high-speed transmission options can extend your private network using laser or microwave transmitters as long as there is a line of sight, perfect for data transmission across the desert.

Machine Learning for Robotics

Tech enablers go beyond physical hardware. Software is now just as critical, if not more so. Machine learning algorithms take data and turn it into meaningful improvements in code. This has enormous potential in the defense industry. Drones and other autonomous tools will play an ever-increasing role in defense efforts. How these robots “think” will be critical to their deployment. For example, a drone that can distinguish between enemy combatants and innocent bystanders would reduce the risk of collateral damage.

Similarly, a demining device that can identify types of mines and defuse them safely would save thousands of lives and greatly facilitate logistics on the ground. These kinds of projects are already in the works, thanks to machine learning. There will undoubtedly be more unique applications and specialized autonomous devices as the technology matures. However, one thing is clear: Humans won’t be behind the controls of every robot. The sooner you can leverage this technology, the better.

Business Analytics Software

Although product demonstrations and innovations are exciting, aerospace and defense companies still have plenty of tedious business tasks to take care of. Business analytics is just as much a tech enabler for Industry 4.0 as any of the other items on this list. Employees need to be able to put the majority of their effort into the tasks that produce the most value for the business. However, traditional tasks like making reports or sending emails distract from more important work.

Business analytics tools and management platforms automate repetitive tasks and give your team useful insights to guide the business in the right direction. Managers can see how their decisions could impact the company using predictive modeling. Customer Relationship Management systems help you address client concerns without hiring more representatives. Purchasing becomes much more streamlined as well. Business intelligence has proven useful for all kinds of companies and will be a vital part of the defense industry going forward.

Internet of Things Devices

Since the launch of IPv6, IoT has taken great strides forward. IoT means more than simply having lots of devices connected to the internet. IoT devices can also form their own private networks, communicate with one another, and still be controlled by higher-level systems. Although most consumers think of IoT as a connected refrigerator or home lighting you can control from your phone, IoT applications in industry can do much more.

Airports are already making use of IoT to improve air traffic flow. Instead of simply relying on plane position data, devices on the ground can actually track aircraft speed, inform traffic control towers when a plane has left the landing area, and automatically inform a plane in waiting that it’s time to land. These same applications can be used on air force and navy vessels to facilitate faster deployment in conflict zones.

Prototyping Solutions

Being able to craft parts in-house accelerates development by removing delays from suppliers. The most successful industrial companies now have their own prototyping workshops complete with intelligent machines that can correct user errors and change tools without human intervention. Tormach’s CNC machines, for example, even use AI to take verbal or written commands and translate them into code for milling. These advancements make it easier for operators to perform more complex tasks.

3D printing has also made incredible progress in recent years. 3D printers can now craft larger components with more durable materials, making them ideal for prototyping. 3D scanning can be performed using mobile phones, with the models then sent to the printer for immediate production. Never again will you have to wait weeks for a single part to arrive. Now you can reiterate faster and produce better designs, all while reducing the cost of a single prototype.

Model-based Design

Going from prototype to production can be a challenge. Model-based design aims to minimize those challenges and simplify logistics around production. Rather than having separate files for every component, a model-based design approach links everything in your business to a production model. As this model is refined and updated, everyone else in the company can react accordingly, thanks to how data is shared across departments. This puts engineering first, which leads to better products and faster delivery times.

For instance, if a model is updated to include a new component, a company purchaser can receive a notification that they need to order the new part. They’ll also know how many units to buy. As they input pricing information, engineers will receive that data to determine if their changes will fit the project’s budget. Meanwhile, accountants get updated figures on the total cost per unit. This approach benefits everyone in the company and eliminates miscommunications between different departments.

Cloud Computing and Cloud-based Software

The cloud acts as a hub through which all of these other tools connect. When all of your devices can transmit data to the cloud, and your operations happen there, too, seamless collaboration is possible. More programs are moving into the cloud for precisely this reason. Instead of having to manually transfer data to other departments or grant access to files and folders, your whole company can share data and work on files together.

Cloud computing eliminates the need for a powerful company server. You pay a fraction of the price to get real-time computing done in the cloud. Likewise, storage is billed based on usage. Rather than pay for an expensive storage solution, you can simply keep your data in the cloud and pay as you go. Using the cloud minimizes accidental duplicates, accelerates your workflow, and opens up the possibility of remote work.

How to Leverage Tech Enablers to Achieve a True Digital Transformation

On their own, these technologies have a modest impact. When combined, they create a whole new paradigm. However, bringing all of these enablers together to achieve your company’s goals is a challenge. Unlike previous industrial revolutions, where just one or two enablers could transform your entire operation, Industry 4.0 needs to incorporate all of these pieces to form a coherent system. No two companies will have the same implementation.

That’s why it’s best to bring in experts who have experience helping aerospace and defense companies complete their digital transformation. Contact SAAB RDS today to schedule a meeting with us to learn more about how we can help your company transition to a digital future.

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