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Home>INDUSTRY FOCUSES>Aerospace>Ask not what your planet can do for you.....

Ask not what your planet can do for you.....

04 February 2013

Aerospace, defence and security companies should expand into emerging adjacent markets, the E3DS conference, held in London in November, heard when Andy Pye went along to find out more

We all know that the world is beset with a number of pressing challenges that impact society. The World Economic Forum publishes an annual assessment of global trends, issues of concern and a so-called ‘taxonomy of risk’. The Global Risk Network was established in 2004 and tracks the evolution of a set of risks in five areas over a 10-year time frame. The five areas are: Economics, Geopolitics, Environment, Society, Technology. 

In 2009 the set of risks totalled 36, up from 31 in the 2008 taxonomy. Each year the risk set is assessed using quantitative and qualitative means in terms of likelihood and severity to come up with a ‘Risk Landscape’ of risks to watch in the short to medium term. These include high likelihood and high severity risks, but also low likelihood and high severity risks that constitute ‘outliers’, the impact of which would be significant in the unlikely event that they occur. 

Because of the intertwined nature of these challenges, and the effect all have on security, solutions can no longer be left to governments alone, or even to supra-national bodies. The task to find solutions to these challenges is universal and requires new and integrated approaches. 

Managers and R&D specialists from the aerospace, defence and security (ADS) sector met in London in November to explore emerging adjacent markets – energy, environment and climate; food and water security; and natural disaster protection and response. Sponsored by EADS, Finmeccanica, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and Saab, the event was the third in a series – and the first in the UK – organised by British consultancy Dynamixx, in association with business information and analytics provider IHS.

Can five of the largest aerospace and defence manufacturers unite to find solutions to some of the world’s most serious issues, including the impending energy crisis and our continuing environmental impact? Though you would expect Lockheed Martin, Saab, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and Finmeccanica to be focused on competing against each other for upcoming contracts, it would seem that they have set their differences aside in the pursuit of a greater purpose.

Would ADS companies be able to move beyond their ‘comfort zone’, where governments fund most of their R&D, and their business model is based on responding to well-defined defence requirements? 

One incentive is that the underlying infrastructure markets are valued at around $40 trillion up to 2035 and underpinned by energy, environment, clean tech, sustainable city and transport networks, healthcare and security.

All five have signed a statement indicating their intent to combine knowledge, experience and resources, in order to solve some of the world’s most pressing needs. Projects include the creation of sustainable alternative energy, more effective humanitarian relief and increasingly environmentally sound population landscapes.

ADS companies have already expanded into such areas as healthcare, IT and maritime and border security, but they have plenty to offer in the realms of energy, environment, infrastructure and communications, speakers argued.

"ADS companies are accustomed to operating on a global scale that matches the global nature of many of mankind’s key challenges,” noted Dyamixx CEO, Nick Cook. "Aerospace companies ­– via their traditional role as providers of defence and security solutions – have developed a profound, but largely untapped understanding of climate and weather through the spacecraft, aircraft, ships, submarines, vehicles and sensors they have built for their government customers. 

The industry must adopt technologies from related industries in order to retain and enhance its international competitive position

"Much of the science and technology underwriting these systems is a resource that can help provide solutions for climate, weather, energy, environment, natural disaster, resource scarcity and other complex challenges. Indeed, these companies have already built many of the sensors, satellites and technologies that have bought us the knowledge and the weather forecasts we experience daily today.”

The ability of the ADS sector to innovate is as strong as ever – it has spent the past two decades designing methods and systems that can make complex networks of equipment operate as a single entity, including cameras, radar, computers, radios, data links and the platforms themselves (ships, land systems, aircraft and spacecraft). 

They have perfected ways to handle and analyse vast amounts of digital information as a single homogenous entity that can be presented visually in a meaningful way to an operator sitting in front of a desktop, laptop, tablet or phone. But its place in the public consciousness has diminished since the heady days of the space race and the Cold War. 

Role of automation

What of the supplier base to the big ADS companies? How might they be affected? And what specifically of the role of automation? The UK Government has recently released a report entitled ‘UK Growth through Aerospace Manufacturing - the Strategic Role of Aerospace Manufacturing relative to the AAD KTN Technology Roadmaps’. This review is intended to provide informed opinion on the foreseen needs and opportunities for capability in future advanced manufacturing within the UK. How would this need to be amended to take account of any changes in direction of ADS companies?

Research investment to-date has focused on assembling large civil aircraft structures. This work, the report notes, needs to be complemented by developing automation techniques for the manufacture and assembly of small to medium sized, composite and metal components. A collaborative approach between robotics manufacturers, suppliers, universities and industry is required to establish capabilities for handling components up to 3m by 3m with medium to complex curvatures.

Future aircraft assembly methods for the civil and military sectors will be significantly different. Variation in rate, size of airframe, use of new materials, reduced fly-away cost and such, are driving innovation in assembly methods. The industry must adopt technologies from related industries in order to retain and enhance its international competitive position, particularly against the emerging countries with ambitions to commercialise their own aerospace technologies. Thus far, very few automated robotic assembly systems have been installed in UK aerospace companies and those tend to be dedicated installations.

The introduction of small robotic and man-portable systems could offer significant productivity advantages for original equipment production and in-service support activities. These systems can be configured using standard robotic equipment and have the necessary functional capability to accommodate high variety combined with low to medium production rates. 

Through-life digital engineering

Many of today’s aerospace products are now controlled by digital threads, all the way through design, development, manufacture, and in service. Such digital data is becoming readily available and imminently usable to assist many aspects of an aircraft’s development and traceability. For example, in manufacturing they can integrate design and manufacturing parametric models, aid the design of automation, assist the development and control of facilities and validate inspection methods. This will result in true design for manufacture, reduced variation, increased quality, improved product/facility knowledge and increased repeatability. These will subsequently significantly reduce manufacturing costs and increase overall competitiveness.

Key Points

  • Five of the largest ADS players have signed a statement indicating their intent to combine knowledge, experience and resources, in order to solve some of the world’s most pressing needs
  • Many of today’s aerospace products are now controlled by digital threads, all the way through design, development, manufacture, and in service