Why digital technology has become the aircraft industry’s favourite theme
Each year I look forward to attending the International Paris Air Show. The 2017 (and 52nd) show, more than exceeded my expectations.
First of all, the Paris Air Show yielded several billion Euros worth of business for air framers and engine makers, making these four days more lucrative than many expected with 150 billion of orders. Our customers received a raft of orders and memoranda of understanding: Boeing overtook Airbus for the first time since 2012; Airbus won one of the biggest order with an order for 100 A320neo; and CFM, the joint venture between Safran and GE, received 2,000 CFM56 and LEAP engines orders.
In fact, the buzz around the show reflected the continuing growth in the industry. Air passenger traffic grew by 6.5% in 2016, continuing the more than 5% annual growth we have seen each year over the past ten years.
The show also confirmed another development: the growing importance of digital technologies in aeronautics production, which has now become the favourite theme of all industry leaders. The presence of Atos with Siemens illustrates this, bringing real hope of productivity gains for customers facing many problems with delays and budgetary slippage over the last decade.
Profound changes taking off
The profound changes we see right across the transport industry were clearly visible at the show: more intense competition, new customer passenger expectations around comfort and services and growing differentiation between high-end and low-cost offerings. The impact of expanding environmental constraints was also visible, along with the ever-present and fundamental issue of safety. These changes are having an acute effect throughout the industry, both in the air and on the ground. They are impacting everyone, from tour operators, airports and travel companies to manufacturers and their subcontractors.
Let’s take a closer look at the four major challenges these changes are driving for aircraft manufacturers and the role digital technologies play in addressing each: competitiveness and innovation; flexibility in production; the development of services; and the protection of their manufacturing assets.
Competitiveness and innovation
The ferocity of competition was visible with aircraft manufacturers competing on cost and their ability to differentiate themselves through constant innovation. You could see how they have been slashing development timescales in recent years to achieve both these things.
The key role collaborative platforms and High-Performance Computing (HPC) play was visible. Together these technologies are improving timescales, accuracy and efficiency during the design development and modelling phases.
In fact, digital technologies are playing an important role throughout the entire innovation process. At the air show, we witnessed how HPC, IoT, big data analytics and powerful algorithms are reducing fuel consumption, ensuring compliance with environmental and safety regulations, addressing management and maintenance requirements, increasing comfort and modularity and more. We also saw how digital technologies are critical to offering new services to travellers, such as onboard connectivity or infotainment, and cutting cost (by as much as 30% by rationalising infrastructure and production).
The aeronautical industry is characterised by sudden changes in workload, both up and down, in both its civil and its military fields. During the air show we witness how, by computerising production, companies can adapt rapidly and cost-efficiently to this extreme variability. They are creating fully automated production units based on the Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data, adopting predictive maintenance to maximise machine availability, and implemented platforms to strengthen collaboration throughout their supply chains. What’s more, they are also exploring the enormous opportunities offered by additive manufacturing for increasing the flexibility and responsiveness of manufacturing processes.
The show also reflected one of the main strategic priorities in the aircraft industry: utilising data to enhance high added-value services. We also saw how companies are using (detailed flight) data to revolutionise their maintenance activities and how data is influencing manufacturers’ fundamental business models.
Data is, without a doubt, an inexhaustible source of innovation. That innovation might involve learning from Big Data or artificial intelligence, or offering valuable information to third parties. Companies we spoke to were, however, concerned about becoming overwhelmed by the sheer volume and complexity of their data, or by the emergence of new uses of that information.
Protecting the manufacturing legacy
Finally, the sheer interest in the show reflected how strategic the aeronautics industry is to our economies. At the same time, the atmosphere reflected its sensitivity. After all, the companies involved often have both civil and military operations. My discussions only confirmed that constant, sophisticated threats (that could potentially be backed by state resources) mean securing IT assets is a major concern for companies.
The sector is looking to push the boundaries of cyber security technologies – from encryption, identity and access control to data leak detection. SOCs (Security Operations Centres) allow companies to stay at the forefront of new solutions while complying closely with regulations.
Time to act
The International Paris Air Show provided a great platform for exploring how technologies are helping aircraft manufacturers address their four major challenges: competitiveness and innovation; flexibility in production; the development of services; and the protection of their manufacturing assets.
Atos and Siemens have clearly shown their common ambition, giving a strong signal through the international development of the Aeronautics and Defense business with its focus on our common go-to-market around Atos Codex, MindSphere, IT/OT Convergence and Cybersecurity.
Are you leveraging digital technologies to not only address delays and budgetary slippage, but also to take advantage of the profound changes in the air? Now is the time to act.