How Advanced Technology and Automation is Improving Aerospace Manufacturing’s Flight Path

December 19, 2019 by Midlothian Economic Development

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Automation and other technological advances are fast-paced, ever-changing, and deeply impactful to our economy. It is no different in the aerospace manufacturing industry. There have been more innovations within the field in the last five years than the last fifty before that. 

These advancements include AI-based design strategies, additive manufacturing, 3D printing, automated assembly line, collaborative robotics, advanced materials, and more. 

The amazing feats of this advanced technology aside, how is it improving aerospace manufacturing and what are the real benefits the industry is experiencing? 

Below we explore how advanced technology and automation is positively impacting this aerospace manufacturing: 

Nurturing Innovation

In the past, aerospace manufacturers operated in a very distinct way — with all of their operations based on tried-and-true processes, supported by physics and stuck with certain limitations on materials, systems, and designs. However, with the recent advancements in technology and automation, that has changed. 

Astounding innovations such as collaborative robotic (cobot) technology, space propulsion, and additive manufactured parts have propelled industry manufacturers to re-think old processes and explore completely new systems, procedures, and strategies. This is a significant step forward for the industry and it spurs positive changes that help the industry grow and meet demand.  

Additionally, many manufacturers in the sector are creating new innovation “labs” and “hubs” which bring together different divisions of a business. The positive changes based on technology that are created in these groups are helping companies stay ahead of the curve as well as be prepared for future advancements. The industry no longer sticks to “what has always worked” and adopted this ever-changing technology. 

Smaller Manufacturers Are Flourishing

Small to medium-sized aerospace manufacturers have been flourishing due to the innovative technologies that are being developed regularly. Not only can smaller companies adopt new technologies quicker, but they can also become extremely specialized in what they supply. 

This has allowed large aerospace companies to increase their outsourcing to and create partnerships with niche suppliers who will help expand their supply chain.

Increased Production Efficiency and Productivity

After a record-breaking year for aerospace manufacturing in 2018, the industry experienced a small descent throughout the larger portion of 2019. An aerospace industry 2019 outlook completed by Deloitte found that the decline was partially due to production-related issues, more specifically the industry’s inability to meet the increasing demand for aircrafts. 

Seeing this, the industry quickly made strides throughout the past year to become more efficient and increase production productivity. These efforts mainly centered around adopting the emerging advanced technologies that industry leaders had previously resisted. The success of these efforts is evident, with October achieving the highest month on record for aircraft orders. 

ADS chief executive, Paul Everitt said, “The big increase in orders seen in October signals a return of confidence to the market  as airlines invest in modern [and advanced technologies].” 

The incorporation of advanced automation such as assembly line robotics and safety and quality testing has increased the productivity of aerospace manufacturing allowing the industry to increase its output of orders while keeping within code. Additionally, the integration of technology such as 3D printing, e-commerce, augmented reality, and structural health monitoring has condensed the time operations take. 

Cost Risk Reduction 

With increased automation in aircraft production, there are many ways manufacturers can now mitigate risk. Due to aircraft manufacturing being such a substantial and sizeable endeavor, one of the biggest risks is cost. 

With advanced automation, aerospace designers and engineers can now craft their parts with new, efficient procedures in mind and steer clear of avoidable costs. For example, parts engineers on non-automated machinery can have GD&T (geometric dimensioning and tolerancing) requirements that increase the price of the robotic solution when later transitioning to an automated process. 

Additionally, with automation getting the job done more efficiently, it saves time which minimizes labor costs. 

Automation also helps with lean manufacturing, which is a productive strategy with the goal of satisfying customers at the lowest possible cost. Lean manufacturing removes and/or minimizes non-value work activity from the manufacturing process and streamlines all procedures. Automation naturally does this and fits right into this manufacturing strategy.

Taking Off

It’s clear that automation and other advanced technologies are completely revolutionizing the inner-workings of aerospace manufacturing companies — and for the better. 

With automated production lines and testing that create a level of efficiency the industry has never experienced before, aerospace manufacturing is predicted to not only meet, but exceed, demand in 2020 and be well set up for a prosperous future. 

 

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