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Why Aerospace Companies Must Embrace Digital Transformation

Apr 18, 2022

Aerospace companies of all sizes need to modernize to meet the challenges of tomorrow. While large airlines have completed digital transformations, many smaller ones have not. In addition, parts suppliers and subcontractors are often far behind in their efforts to go digital. The more advanced your company’s technology is, the more you’ll be able to work with bigger players, and even become one yourself. What will your company be able to do when it goes digital?

One of the most important tools that you’ll gain access to is artificial intelligence. AI has numerous benefits for the aerospace industry. Although some of these benefits apply to all kinds of companies, there are several that are unique to the aerospace industry. Leaders in the industry have already unlocked these valuable tools: will you?

Digital Transformation in Aerospace

Why Aerospace Companies Must Embrace Digital Transformation

What It Means to Go Digital

We need to clarify what a digital transformation actually means. Many business owners assume that if everyone is working on computers, they must be a fully digital company. If that were the case, most companies would have been considered digital a long time ago. There’s more to digital business than just doing work on computers. How you manage your data and how you collaborate with your team is a massive component.  

A fully digitized company not only does their work on computers but also collects data about every process in the organization. This data needs to be gathered and organized into common locations, such as cloud storage or a company server. Only once this has happened is it possible to use AI. Consider how this would work with an aerospace company.

Data Collection

Your company needs to start tracking data even before you close a sale. How many potential clients did your sales staff contact? What response did you get? How much value has your company obtained per client? What demands has each client imposed on your company? This data can later guide your sales activities and help you project material and labor needs for future endeavors.

After closing a deal, you’ll need to track your staff’s work on the client’s job. How much time is spent on designing parts to satisfy the client’s specifications? How many prototypes and revisions did it take to reach a final product? How does your work compare to that of other companies in the industry? The data you collect to answer these questions will eventually fuel your artificial intelligence system.

Business Data Analysis

Once you have collected data regarding your business processes, you can leverage AI to provide insights into your company’s activity. For instance, you might determine how many hours your business dedicates to each phase of product development. Perhaps you notice that one area is taking up too much time and you look for ways to optimize your processes. You may find that certain jobs merit a higher price due to the increased labor involved.

Likewise, comparing your company to industry benchmarks will give you a better idea of your performance relative to your competitors. The insights provided by AI will help you streamline your company and make it more efficient. But there are other benefits that AI offers that will help you become an aerospace industry leader, not just an efficient company.

Artificial Intelligence Opens Up Possibilities

Aviation is a complex field, and nowhere else are the stakes higher. Given the safety requirements in the industry, every manufacturer involved is held to an extremely high standard. This makes it more difficult to increase margins since your business inherently has to spend more time developing products and ensuring consistent quality. AI can make those tasks easier and even help you achieve higher marks.

In particular, there are three ways that AI provides benefits to aviation manufacturers and related enterprises. First, it can speed up the development of new components and systems. Second, it can help you keep your operations running at full capacity with less downtime thanks to preventative maintenance. Finally, AI can help your company navigate complex situations, no matter how unexpected they are. 

R&D and AI

R&D in aviation calls for numerous iterations and extensive experimentation. With increased pressure to reduce carbon emissions, aircraft manufacturers are always looking for opportunities to cut weight. However, tight margins mean that large passenger volumes are still a must. These competing influences make R&D even more difficult for aircraft manufacturers and their subcontractors. AI can accelerate this process by simulating compositions and recommending designs to engineers. While no simulation is perfect, these AI-generated ideas provide a reliable starting point.

We’re even beginning to see great leaps forward in quantum computing. Quantum computers are great at finding the “needle in the haystack.” They can take a variety of variables and find an optimal solution without testing hypotheses one at a time. Quantum computing is already helping materials scientists to discover new compounds that could resolve many of today’s aero science challenges. Airbus is already using it to improve aerodynamics, for instance.

Preventative Maintenance

Once you’ve successfully designed a component, you need to be able to produce it efficiently. However, every piece of equipment degrades over time, requiring regular maintenance to remain efficient and operational. As a result, most manufacturers rely on routine maintenance schedules. However, this method is rather inefficient compared to what you can do after a digital transformation.

By collecting data from your machines using sensors, you can track their performance and identify machines that are close to failure. Instead of performing maintenance at regular intervals without any justification besides what’s in the manual, you can target your maintenance at machines that actually need it. You can avoid shutdowns since you’ll be one step ahead of your machines. This improves margins and uptime and keeps your customers happy.

Responding to Crises

Artificial intelligence can identify escape routes and alternatives to some of the most complex situations the world can present. The same technology that companies utilize when trying to identify new opportunities can be used to find workarounds for unexpected crises. Events like the recent invasion of Ukraine reveal how AI can overcome even the worst circumstances. Sanctions have cut off companies from their usual customers and closed airspace has limited airlines’ ability to fly.

However, AI has overcome these problems by finding alternative routes for planes that still allow for profit. Cargo companies have quickly rerouted by using AI-driven analysis to find efficient routes around Russian airspace. Passenger planes likewise have found solutions. The ability of AI to accelerate development has also proven useful. Manufacturers that can no longer deal with sanctioned companies have found alternative customers with similar needs, and they’ve been able to bring products to market quickly thanks to AI.

What It Takes to Get Started

Implementing AI and completing a digital transformation requires significant effort. It’s not something you can simply add to your company overnight. It requires a thorough examination of your company’s existing processes to determine how to capture data. Machines may need sensors to be installed in order to collect data for preventative maintenance. Data management is another concern. Centralizing data and keeping it organized is a challenge when you start to gather it in greater quantities.

Fortunately, the up-front cost of such a transformation is not prohibitive. You don’t need to spend thousands on expensive server equipment if you rely on cloud computing and storage. Rather than buy all new machines, retrofitting your current equipment with sensors is more affordable. Process evaluations can be done in months and you may only need to make minor adjustments. The reward for putting in this time and effort is manifold. However, the sooner you start, the better the results.

The Time Is Now

Companies that have the ability to respond to crises and adapt to changing circumstances will survive, while others will fail. The global pandemic eliminated many analog businesses that hadn’t completely transitioned to digital workflows. Remote work was a challenge, not an asset, for those companies. Meanwhile, fully digital businesses carried on as if hardly anything had happened. New global events are filtering out even more companies. To stand the test of time, you need to start your transition now.

As every company’s needs are different, it’s important to customize your solutions. Bring in experts that understand your industry and how to transform businesses into fully digital enterprises. Contact SAAB RDS to learn more about how we can help your company march forward into a digital future.