Future of Digitalised Aerospace Industry

Bruno Cervia, VP R&D, Deputy CEO, Pilatus Aircraft Ltd

Bruno Cervia, VP R&D, Deputy CEO, Pilatus Aircraft Ltd

How has the aerospace manufacturing landscape evolved over the last 20 years in light of your experience, and how has the recent COVID-19 pandemic impacted it?

When talking about the advancements of the aerospace manufacturing space over the last couple of decades, we can’t deny the impact of the automotive industry on the aerospace landscape in terms of innovations. Most of the advancements in today’s aerospace sector are indeed inspired by how the automotive industry has implemented technological developments and streamlined its production processes.

If we take the past decade into account, we can see that automation technology has been massively dominating the aerospace industry. During the earlier stage of its adoption, automation was limited to only specific processes like CAD modelling, where the aircraft designing was carried out more efficiently. But now, almost every engineering process in the industry is being automated. In addition, it has expanded the production of CNC (computer numerical control, i.e., the automated control of machining tools using a computer) machining for the manufacturing of aircraft parts. 3D printing is another technology that has been further augmenting the CNC machining processes. We know that in the CNC machine process, precision is of high importance. Technologies like automation and 3D printing ensure precision and significantly accelerate the production cycle of the manufacturing process.

Overall, I would say all these modern technologies, including automation and 3D printing, are helping the aerospace sector to reduce errors, reduce production time and costs, and improve efficiency.

"Technologies like automation and 3D printing ensure precision and significantly accelerate the production cycle of the manufacturing process.”

Now, let’s talk about the supply chain side of this industry. There have been immense developments where technological adoptions are offering better ways to improve supply chain efficiency. 

But after the crisis of COVID-19, the sector has been facing major difficulties. Since the pandemic has forced people to maintain social distancing and work from their own homes,it has led to a shortage of products, or at the least, a drop in the quality of products. 

The focus has thus been on how to optimise and increase the robustness of the supply chain ever since.

Another point that I would like to stress is customer experience. Building a solid connection with the customers has become a crucial factor in today’s world. Having effective communication with your customers can help improve the services, product developments, and maintenance, and it can also offer significant insights into how to improve efficiency.  

Finally, one of the major developments in the aerospace industry is the emergence of sustainable fuels. This industry has been trying its best to reduce its carbon emissions. 

the challenge is these alternative fuels are not competent enough to substitute traditional aviation fuels completely. Hence, studies and researches are being conducted on these alternative fuels, and hopefully, with the help of the government entities, we can successfully eliminate the risk of traditional fuels.

What are your thoughts about these alternative sustainable fuels and technologies like electrification and hybrid vehicles? 

As I mentioned before, alternative fuels are the future. Numerous studies are being conducted where some are confidential and private. Nonetheless, the need for substitute fuels is much needed. In that matter, I would say electrification is an exhilarating development. However, the key hurdle in the implementation of electrified vehicles is the current energy storage limitation. Most of the market available lithium-ion batteries offer storage capacities of only up to 200 Watts. Even though this might work out for smaller vehicles like electric cycles or scooters—or in some cases, even cars—200 Watts is very low power to drive an aeroplane. 

The alternative to electrification, i.e., the use of hydrogen fuel cells, comes with its own set of challenges as well. Transportation of hydrogen cells requires complex logistics, and hence, it needs a lot of tooling. Not just that! In most cases, hydrogen needs to be stored securely, which might not be possible in countries where they don’t have enough development. At the same time, producing clean hydrogen is also one of the issues that need to be tackled. Currently, there are not many countries that can offer the amount of energy needed to generate hydrogen. We have to find means to produce clean hydrogen, and I think it will take more time and years to materialise it. But as and when we address and mitigate these limitations, electrification can be a breakthrough in the aerospace industry.

What  are some of your advices to the coming generation of the aerospace industry? 

Like any other industry, aerospace also gives its primary focus to its customers. In fact, it is because the customers, OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturers) like us exist. My advice for new entrepreneurs will, therefore, be to serve your customer well. We should be able to understand the current and future requirements of the customers and equip ourselves to meet their demands. So as a leader, you should possess the skill to listen to your customer and predict future trends. This way, you will be able to fulfil your customers’ needs whether it is the acceptance of a new product or the improvements they expect from us.

On the other hand, I would like to focus on the importance of a collaborative working environment, and that’s what all the ventures in this landscape should follow. It is crucial that there is active and clear communication within the team. The goal and focus should align, and the team should work as an entity. There should also be clear communication with your customers, key suppliers, and other stakeholders involved. In this regard, being humble can take you a long way in this business. You need to possess the attributes of the right soft skills to effectively convey your message to everyone. This gives a chance for you to learn from everyone and teach them your insights too. Such an attitude will certainly contribute to the progress of your business as well. The complexity of this industry requires that sort of cooperation for a smoother workflow.

 

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