The aerospace industry is no stranger to rapid change, commercial flight emerged only decades after powered flight was made possible and humans were sent beyond our planet only as few more after that. The impact of 2020 and unparalleled global flight restrictions will be the start of the next generation of commercial flight. It gave the industry a chance to reset and evaluate how things have been done and more importantly how things can be done better. While there are companies looking into new product concepts and next generation aircraft, nearly every company is looking at how to build them faster, safer and more efficient with agile practices and model-based systems engineering (MBSE).
This same trend of digitalization is playing out across nearly every industry and companies that already had a good digital strategy in place were able to adapt and minimize the costs the pandemic brought. It happened in manufacturing, public transportation and even some schools used digital strategies to understand how returning might unfold. But this is just one application of a digital approach, it will be more important for aerospace OEMs moving into the future because of a digital approach’s ability to overcome and optimize.
The industry staples, OEMs that have been innovating for decades, are beginning to see the pressures of not only working in a highly globalized supply chain, but building more complex aircraft and trying to build them faster than the start-ups that don’t have to follow legacy processes. The pandemic and stay at home orders have pulled the veil back on many of the norms of development, most notably in the form of supplier relationships. Instead of sitting an engineering team down to discuss the requirements for a design and pouring over documents until an understanding is reached, all of the technical information can be packed into the digital twin of the product and discussed via video conferencing. This is especially useful when working with multiple suppliers sprawled around the world.
But what do all these pressures and learnings mean for the industry going forward? Well, about the same as the outlook from last year in terms of what, though the timeline to digitalization has been accelerated greatly. Companies are still making the switch to agile workflows and the adoption of MBSE to go beyond the document-based processes that halted activities during the pandemic. They are looking to not just manage the complexity of their work but use it to their advantage. An aircraft is not a collection of disparate components it is a large interconnected system and changing one aspect can have unexpected ramifications.
As large OEMs fight to retain their dominance against start-ups offer more and greater services, the growth of the interconnects will overcome the ability to track them through something like Excel effectively. The information might fit within the file restrictions, but finding what you need when you need it will become too much work compared to updating the workflow to a digital and connected one. Image wanting to completely redesign a wing assembly, not only are the physical integrations needed, but the software and electronic ones. What about the models that have already been created, how do they need to change to reflect the new design?
These are the questions an agile MBSE approach wants to solve for OEMs. How can I get my plane to market faster while dealing with new regulations, new customer demands and new competition? By integrating processes on top of a digital environment the time lost between connects is avoided and errors are caught earlier in development. But for more information on how agile practices and MBSE are predicted to change the aerospace industry, engineering.com has an excellent article on the topic, with input from Siemens Software’s VP of Aerospace and Defense – Dale Tutt.
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