The digital revolution in this industry really begins from the end customer’s perspective!
For years, the introduction and growth of platforms to be used by end customers/passengers has been based on transparency about cost, routes, global alternatives, and required travel time. This was a prerequisite and starting point to increase the growth rate of low cost carriers and for questioning the traditional business model of legacy airlines. The revolution is over in that segment; new business models will come, but we find ourselves in a post-revolution era…
Things look different in aerospace production, where we really have to wonder when this industry will even pass the 3rd industrial revolution. Other than a few select examples, the aircraft production is less automated than most other industries. Final assembly lines are dominated by manual work, and so are main areas of parts production and sub-assemblies.
The upcoming introduction of robots at Airbus and Boeing makes sense, with monthly production rates for some aircraft above 50 units. But we still have a long way to go before we see the first fully automated airframe produced.
However, there are good opportunities to take ideas and learnings from Industry 4.0 and use them in aircraft production. In particular, the use of tools for customer-specific options could be reduced by software-driven solutions and intelligent implementation of laser pointing mechanisms. Although 3 D printing offers huge potentials to provide more customer-specific solutions by managing these options and the complexity by applying Industry 4.0 solutions, we are still at the very beginning.
When it comes to the implementation of Industry 3.0 (automation) and Industry 4.0 (digitalization), the level of maturity is not homogeneous throughout the supply chain.
From my perspective, the highest level is achieved within the Tier-1 area of system components (engines, air conditioning and avionics) with a repetitive service business along the product life cycle. The maturity decreases downwards (Tier-2, Tier-3 suppliers) and is at a medium level for the OEMs
The aerospace industry always needs a lead project or program to drive innovation to a certain level; Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 are very good examples for driving the use of carbon fiber and increasing cabin/passenger comfort to the next level, and this is now being transferred into other programs. The implementation of Industry 3.0 and 4.0 levers requires a program approach as well. The next generation of single-aisle aircraft (following A320neo and B737Max) is a perfect fit, due to high volumes, a large number of customers, and their use in a very competitive airline environment.
(Author: Michael Santo, h&z Managing Partner)