Thought Leadership

2023 in review – Inside the digital transformation of aerospace

By Quinn Foster

My first full year in the Thought Leadership team as its writer on aerospace and defense (A&D) has been a very educational experience. It has been a privilege to learn more about the A&D industry from experts like Todd Tuthill, Vice President of A&D for Siemens Digital Industries Software, and gain insight on its most significant challenges and technologies to inform blogs, articles, and podcasts.

The A&D industry has a lot going for it as it enters 2024. There are too many technological innovations being developed to cover in this blog alone. However, industry-wide challenges such as product complexity and a workforce shortage threaten to hinder this progress, which is why a digital transformation is underway to raise the industry into clearer skies.

What’s on the horizon

As stated before, there are many technological developments being pursued throughout the A&D industry right now, too many to recount in this one blog. Suffice to say, the skies and stars are bound to look very different in the next few decades, with urban air mobility vehicles soaring above city skylines and more advanced spacecraft bringing astronauts to the Moon and eventually to Mars.

One of the more noteworthy—and challenging—developments being pursued in the industry, however, has been sustainable aviation. While a smaller contributor to climate emissions than other industries, efforts are still rightfully being made to reduce the amount of emissions the aviation industry releases into the atmosphere. These efforts include more feasible, shorter term solutions such as sustainable aviation fuel and new airframe designs like the blended wing body, as well as more difficult technologies that can have a huge impact down the line, such as hydrogen propulsion. Bringing these sustainable ideas into reality will be one of the most difficult endeavors in the industry, but the prospects of cleaner skies are worth the effort.

Cloudy skies ahead

These innovations are exciting and worthy of pursuit, but the industry is struggling against significant obstacles that can hinder their development.

One that has been steadily growing over the decades is product complexity. Aircraft and spacecraft are already incredibly complex products, with mechanics, thermodynamics, electronics, and other systems interacting with each other on a scale not seen in most other industries. Designing these engineering domains is already challenging due to the document-based systems engineering still common in the industry, which results in each domain being designed in isolation from each other. Introducing new digital technologies and other innovations such as hydrogen propulsion will only add to the complexity and make design more difficult.

Another heavy challenge that has been frequently addressed by Todd Tuthill in the Talking Aerospace Today podcast is an industry-wide workforce shortage. The A&D industry is in the middle of a shortage of engineers numbering in the thousands across the globe, with one out of every ten positions going unfilled. If nothing is done, this number is predicted to become one out of every five positions. In short, while the industry is working on all these exciting innovations, it may find itself lacking the engineers to bring them into fruition.

Digital transformation takes the lead

To overcome these obstacles, the A&D industry is looking toward a digital transformation of its engineering processes. Fortunately, many companies have already started their digital transformation journeys, finding efficient methods to store data and increase traceability between engineering domains. Of course, there is always room to go even further.

The five stages of digital transformation maturity Todd outlines in the podcast, configuration, connection, automation, generative design, and closed-loop optimization, offer ways to address the challenges of today and beyond. Most companies pursuing digital transformation are already somewhere on the first two stages. By choosing to invest further, however, they can work toward not just connecting their engineering processes, but also automating difficult tasks with artificial intelligence and machine learning. This would not replace engineers, but rather multiply their impact and revolutionize aerospace design as a whole.

While there may be significant challenges facing the A&D industry, the reality is that the industry is in a very good place. Digital transformation can provide the means to circumvent these obstacles, allowing companies to pursue all these exciting developments and bring the industry into a bright future. I am looking forward to seeing how the A&D industry evolves as it enters 2024.

Siemens Digital Industries Software helps organizations of all sizes digitally transform using software, hardware and services from the Siemens Xcelerator business platform. Siemens’ software and the comprehensive digital twin enable companies to optimize their design, engineering and manufacturing processes to turn today’s ideas into the sustainable products of the future. From chips to entire systems, from product to process, across all industries. Siemens Digital Industries Software – Accelerating transformation.

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