The aircraft order backlog is at its historical peak of more than 14,000 – about 38,000 aircraft are expected to be produced globally over the next 20 years, according to Deloitte. Volume civil aircraft manufacture is very complicated and the primes have had well documented difficulties with faulty engine programmes and software failures. They have to balance technology changes while pushing for ‘Rate 60’, a production rate of 60 completed aircraft per month. Meanwhile, changes in international trade agreements are likely to disrupt the global supply chain and increase costs. Big trends affecting the global aerospace industry include: lightweighting and carbon emissions reduction, hybrid propulsion and electrification, Factory 2050: smart manufacturing and regional and urban transportation solutions, including drones.
The global industry has to manufacture more aircraft, quicker. Suppliers must keep up. This means adopting new, better technologies across the board – new materials, 5-axis machine tools, intelligent tooling, digital twins, augmented and virtual reality and training.
Suppliers have to step up planning and scheduling to optimise their capex and eliminate bottlenecks.
The environment is an aviation industry issue
Aircraft create huge carbon emissions and are very visible, attracting a disproportionate amount of attention. They need to do more on pollution and be seen to do more.
Lightweighting of materials including higher composite material content and lighter but strong titanium alloys is one solution and hybrid-electric propulsion is a growing trend. This complexity puts more demand on manufacturing, which needs the best operations software to manage the complexity and higher volumes.
The higher complexity of producing aircraft with multiple materials and new propulsion systems in high volume in no way reduces the need to apply the highest safety standards in manufacturing.
Parts validation and certification is being helped by digital technologies, saving time by measuring and valuing parts within the manufacturing process rather than always at the end of line.
SMEs must aim high to be prime suppliers
To make validated parts in sufficient volume for the rates that aerospace primes need, small and medium sized firms need to invest in people, capex and processes.
SMEs need technology, like modern MES systems and digital systems monitoring, to make the step to mid-sized champions and supply primes globally.
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