Growth of smaller satellites, advanced air mobility, reusability of rockets, and commercial space vehicles, is driving new aerospace manufacturing needs. Consistent with a history of early adoption, aerospace companies are exploring, advancing, and developing emerging technology. Despite reduced travel and a downturn in revenue during the last two years, many companies continued to innovate by expanding advanced manufacturing capabilities. Investment has focused on integration of digitalization, advanced materials, and leveraging data to achieve sustainability and agility.
Digital technologies are the leading trend including design software, digital twins, modeling and simulation, artificial intelligence, machine learning, big data, and additive manufacturing, along with related cybersecurity. The ability to design and test in the digital space allows manufacturers to quickly develop new components and entire vehicles to meet demanding needs all before incurring the time and expense of manufacturing a single piece. With the goal of connecting everyone in the value chain on one digital platform, aerospace manufacturers are looking to streamline processes and optimize their digital activities.
Sustainability, another critical trend, is enabled by the use of digitalization. The capabilities of additive manufacturing allow aerospace companies to implement complex designs that use less material for improved buy-to-fly and strength-to-weight ratios, achieve lighter and more fuel-efficient designs that meet mechanical requirements, and enable remote/distributed production. All of these can make the entire process greener, reduce the carbon footprint, and make the process more efficient.
Advanced materials are also supporting sustainability. Newer composite materials like fiber metal laminates, magnesium alloys, high performance polymers, as well as multi-functional materials that have structural, electrical, and thermal properties are advancing new types of smaller, lighter vehicles that are more sustainable.
Materials are tied back to digitalization through sensors. Significant advances in non-destructive evaluation (NDE) sensors for structural health monitoring (SHM) means they are able to monitor large areas of structures including fiber optics, active ultrasonics, and passive acoustics. Together with hardware and software developments, NDE SHMs are able to analyze and communicate performance data to further improve the manufacturing and maintenance processes.
Beyond gathering sensor data, digital platforms integrate processes and people through the product lifecycle. All of the data gathered becomes big data when artificial intelligence, machine learning, and other analysis tools turn data into actionable information. Complex design, processes, and systems can be achieved with an integrated digital platform.
With all of the digital activities, cybersecurity tools and processes are critical. Use of blockchain technologies has created more secure communication and file sharing. Using the multiple “ledger” aspect of blockchain, secures the chain of ownership and protects IP. Focus now is on even greater security using quantum technologies. GE Research’s Forge Lab unveiled a quantum-safe blockchain network in 2019. With quantum calculation and algorithm speeds, quantum key distribution (QKD) can build on blockchain, allowing two parties exchanging data to detect whether a third party is attempting to intercept their data for even more security than blockchain alone.
Bringing all of these together addresses arguably the greatest manufacturing challenge aerospace manufacturing has faced in the last two years: supply chain disruptions. By connecting the entire supply chain on the same, secure platform, manufacturers will have visibility throughout to enable agility to adjust quickly. New components can be quickly designed, validated, and made production ready, using digital twins with modeling and simulation. Additive manufacturing can enable distributed manufacturing, creating production closer to the need, bypassing border closures and shipping challenges. Big data can provide the information needed to plan and tackle daily changes throughout the value chain.
For aerospace manufacturing, the future is clearly digital. To find more information for your digital transformation, visit: AdditiveManufacturing.com/events/