Major innovations and trends in the aerospace industry
Corporate Vice President Global Head of Aviation, Space, Rail
The Aerospace industry has been around for more than 100 years and yet it is still one of the sectors which is constantly developing new technologies. In the last few years, the industry was mainly driven by digitization, automation, and improved maintenance. Like most other industries aerospace has been affected by the COVID-19 crisis and as yet we are still to discover by how much and to what extent it will be affected in the long run. Nevertheless, there are also major trends and innovations that will be shaping the industry or are already doing so. From automation, to new solutions for materials and even urban air mobility. There are several exciting trends that will not only shape the industry, but daily life for everyone.
In recent years, the industry is slowly shifting to automation. Although automation and digitization are already used in the aerospace industry, there is still a huge potential to further automate and digitize processes. Compared to other major industries, aerospace manufacturing is still relatively manual. According to the “Hope on the horizon” study conducted by Roland Berger the underlying drivers for a growth in the market are ”world economics (GDP), world population, flight volume, political influences & legislative factors, utilization & load factor, oil price” and to be able to produce cost-efficiencies - automation is necessary. While these are a few of the driving factors, COVID-19 also plays a role in driving automation in aerospace further and faster. It is a major factor to keep the contact between employees to a minimum
When it comes to materials for aircraft - the trend is to make them lightweight. This can be done enhanced chemical solutions for bonding and protection of composite structures, the development of new materials linked to changed guidelines as well as through 3D printing. Regulations might change the qualities materials need to offer. For example, the Fire-Retardancy requirements have now changed to Fire Retardancy, Smoke Density and Toxicity (FST) requirements. FST requirements are more demanding than the standard FR requirements. We see a growing priority of items like Hex-chrome free, or non-chrome solutions in bonding and corrosion protection or anti-microbial/anti-viral lasting solutions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Changing the use of materials won’t usually lead to a visible change when it comes to the look of a plane from the outside, but it will support the development of planes on the inside.
Urban air mobility is one of the trends in the aerospace industry which will be most visible for all of us. These innovations of air transport include air taxis, air metros or simply drones for the final stage of package deliveries, emergency services and more.
According to Airbus, there are already projects underway in 17 European cities, let alone the rest of the world. While the major players in the industry dip into the urban air mobility market, the playing field has been opened up to over 100 independent start-ups who are developing their own different models.
It’s a very exciting field, and before it’s possible to introduce urban air mobility in everyday life, there are still a lot of major challenges to consider. These include setting up a redefined traffic management system and reducing the noise levels of these air transportation devices to meet Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) guidelines. And again, COVID-19 had an impact on funding for start-ups, which will slow down the development of new air transport ideas slightly.
In my opinion, the aerospace industry is facing some major changes and very exciting times. The ones I have outlined here are only three of the main trends. It will be interesting to see how automation will shape the industry and how long it will take for urban air mobility to be part of our daily lives.