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The Role of Big Data in Aerospace Manufacturing

Sep 11, 2023

The aerospace manufacturing industry is in the middle of a massive boom. With advancements in aerospace materials and technology, both governments and private aerospace manufacturers alike are looking to update and upgrade their equipment. In addition, the increased presence of private businesses in space means more opportunities for aerospace companies on the ground. To remain competitive in this changing landscape, aerospace companies need to embrace big data to drive their operations. Consider three key areas where data delivers results.

Big Data in Aerospace Manufacturing

The Role of Big Data in Aerospace Manufacturing

Big Data Powers Aerospace R&D

Research and development is where big data can have an immediate impact on your product development timelines. By collecting as much data as possible, you can identify your components’ biggest weaknesses and address them quickly. Laboratory and real-world testing data can be gathered and processed to help you spot where improvements are most needed.

However, the sheer amount of data produced in the aerospace industry is overwhelming. A 2018 estimate calculated that from the Boeing 737 alone, nearly 2.5 billion terabytes of data are produced annually. Naturally, airlines operating finished products will deal with the largest amounts of data. But even as a supplier to major aerospace companies, you need to measure large volumes of information. You can simplify that complex task by honing in on two distinct areas.

IoT for Product Development

The Internet of Things, or IoT, has immense potential to accelerate product development. By adding sensors to each component, it’s possible to build a smarter device that reports more data back to engineering. Furthermore, you can eliminate a great deal of human error in product assembly. Complex assemblies can use sensors to report if the product has been properly assembled, speeding up quality control and ensuring that tests produce reliable data.

Virtual Testing

Another way to leverage big data in R&D is to use virtual environments to develop products. A virtual model can be put through advanced simulations to identify flaws in the design before proceeding to prototyping. Although real-world testing will always be necessary, using virtual models first results in faster iterations. After fine-tuning the design based off the data from simulations, the time between prototyping and mass production decreases significantly.

Virtual testing is exceptionally helpful when looking to use new materials. Lightweight materials like carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRPs) have become much more commonplace on aircraft. Virtual testing drove these innovations. Today, finite element analysis (FEA) software can perform a battery of virtual tests on complex models. By isolating each component and their connections, FEA can replace numerous expensive physical tests and reduce time to deployment.

Machine Data Drives Aerospace Manufacturing Operations

Big data can lead to big profits at the manufacturing phase of operations when properly implemented. The key is to capture data from the machines in your facilities to improve operating performance and uptime. Both your manufacturing equipment and your testing machines should feed as much data as possible into your company’s data management system.

To accomplish this, you may need to retrofit older equipment with sensors. Fortunately, this process is not very expensive and can be achieved gradually as you perform maintenance. However, if you’re considering installing new equipment, be sure to look for machines that already support data output with as many capture points as possible.

Preventative Maintenance

When your machines output data, you can detect mechanical problems before they lead to shutdowns. Vibration sensors, for example, can alert your engineers whenever a machine starts to operate out of spec. Instead of following a strict maintenance schedule where you may service a machine that was operating perfectly well, you can focus your efforts on the machines that actually need maintenance. This reduces downtime and improves productivity.

Automated Testing

Automated test beds are quickly becoming the standard in the industry. You can run a series of tests without human intervention when you have the right equipment. However, it’s also important to ensure that your testing devices are performing properly. When you capture data about the test equipment, you’ll be confident in the test results.

Business Data Improves Margins and Profitability

Don’t make the mistake of only focusing on big data applications that are specific to aerospace manufacturing. Aerospace manufacturers operate as businesses, which means that general business intelligence tools can also be very useful. Business intelligence uses big data to measure company performance and improve business practices. You can collect data from each activity in your operations to identify waste and make your business more efficient.

For example, you could track the time employees spend on certain tasks. This could help you spot a high performing worker who deserves recognition. Conversely, you may find certain tasks take up too much time and aren’t worth the trouble. Optimizing your processes with big data makes the whole company more effective.

Big Data for Customer Acquisition and Retention

​Another way to apply big data for your business is to focus on your customer relationships. There are analytics tools for customer relationship management ​(CRM) which can help your company to earn more repeat business from your best customers. AI-driven ​tools can prioritize requests from high-value clients, evaluate the mood of your phone and email conversations, and even highlight opportunities for upselling.

Going Digital in the Aerospace Industry

To take advantage of big data in your business, you’ll need to implement the right hardware and ​software solutions. Your goal ​should be to go fully digital, to have data on all of your operations so that you can make smart decisions based on objective facts, not subjective feelings.

​By working ​with an expert in ​digital transformation for the aerospace manufacturing ​industry, you can speed up your transformation and see a return on your investment in less time. ​Contact SAAB RDS to schedule a meeting with one of our aerospace consultants to learn more.