Aerospace manufacturers can unlock the power of smart manufacturing and digitally transform by leveraging the power of data.
The Aerospace and Defense (A&D) industry is unique, as it combines complex precision manufacturing with a very large number of manual processes. Many of these manual activities are automated in other industries. For example, in the automobile industry, up to 90 percent of drilling is automated1, while aerospace manufacturers still rely on manual hole-making. By not leveraging digital technologies across enterprise-wide operations, aerospace manufacturers are leaving considerable value on the table.
Industry 4.0 technologies and the smart factory are the future of the A&D industry, the key to competitiveness and differentiation. Smart factory solutions modernize the entire gamut of manufacturing operations, from shop floor to top floor, while facilitating seamless cross-plant integration. In addition, they significantly increase the degree of automation, thereby maximizing machine availability, productivity, and capacity utilization – which are of great relevance to an asset-, resource- and labor-intensive business, such as aerospace.
A variety of technologies and solutions go into the making of a smart factory, such as Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), robotics, Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality (AR/VR) and blockchain, all bound by a common thread of data, analytics, and insight.
Data is effectively the lifeblood of smart manufacturing. By analyzing data collected from sensors embedded in equipment and workstations, it is possible to spot patterns that may be missed in manual inspection. Because everything is connected, shop floor personnel have complete visibility into production operations, including bottlenecks, inefficiencies, maintenance requirements and equipment failure. Digitally lagging A&D companies still using traditional maintenance, repair and overhaul methods can improve asset utilization and uptime by deploying advanced analytics to monitor equipment health in real-time and identify failing components well in advance. What’s more, they can install digital dashboards to visualize data across production operations that employees can also access remotely on their smartphones or tablets and take immediate action in case of a problem. On the top floor, senior management can use smart factory data to compare the performance of similar tasks across a single, or even multiple, aircraft assembly units.
Apart from visualizing data, a smart factory can virtualize assets and even processes using AR, VR and digital twin solutions. AR and VR facilitate due diligence services at plants for installation of sensors and wireless networks, enabling condition monitoring of machines and shop floor integration. They also simplify intricate assembly line tasks, leading to flawless execution and reduction in turnaround time.
A digital twin – which also leverages AR/VR – seamlessly integrates wireless communication, information, and operational, technologies to optimize processes, ensure consistent quality, and maximize throughput. It allows production flows to be traced in real-time so bottlenecks can be identified and resolved quickly across sub-systems, including waste and energy management. It is also possible to create a digital twin of a physical object, such as an entire aircraft or its parts, and then carry out an in-depth analysis. This visibility improves understanding of the product’s performance, which can in turn, enhance design, predict service requirements, etc.
Leveraging a digital twin solution by Infosys, a leading global aircraft manufacturer cut down the number of test flights by integrating engine vibration data under various conditions. The solution not only reduced the delay in the delivery of aircraft but also cut down the cost per test flight by proactively identifying the issues that could crop up.
The transformation from conventional to smart manufacturing can yield large and tangible benefits to A&D companies.
A global aircraft engine manufacturer had a huge order backlog of nearly 10,000 engines piled up in 60-odd plants worldwide. The company partnered with Infosys to implement a ‘Connect Factory’ solution. Leveraging an operational efficiency and condition monitoring system to track, detect and analyse the root cause for process deviations and equipment idle time, the aircraft company improved OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) by 20 percent, productivity by 15 percent, and customer delivery adherence by a massive 75 percent.
That being said, the value of a smart factory goes beyond operational excellence or competitive advantage. Predictive analytics, IoT, automation and digital twins can not only improve manufacturing and asset utilization but can also support the creation of new business models. To capitalize on these opportunities to the fullest, A&D organizations must take a holistic, enterprise-wide approach from the beginning, deploying these technologies in as many operations as possible.
Rakesh is Vice President of Automotive, Aerospace, and Defense at Infosys. He has over 22 years of experience, driving technology-enabled business transformation programs for large corporations across the globe and helping them define and build next-generation IT capabilities. Rakesh holds a bachelor’s degree in production engineering and an MBA in Operations Management.