It’s no secret that the aerospace industry is in a state of change. With new technologies and processes being developed all the time, the sector is having to adapt to stay ahead of the curve.
One area that is seeing particularly significant change is automation. From maintenance tasks to designing parts, automation is being used to run every aspect of an aircraft’s life cycle.
According to a research report titled “Aerospace Robotics Market Robot Type (Traditional Robots, Collaborative Robots), Component (Controllers, Arm Processor, Sensors, Drive, End Effectors), Payload, Application, Region (North America, Europe, Asia Pacific, RoW), is estimated to be USD 2.9 billion in 2021 and is projected to reach USD 4.9 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 11.4% from 2021 to 2026.”
Automation is a concept that has been around for a long time, but it has only recently become integral to the design and production processes of the aerospace industry. Henry Ford’s Model T car ushered in the age of mass production with simple assembly lines that built cars at an incredible rate.
The industrial revolution was a period of rapid growth, and automation as part of that. By linking humans and machines, workers were freed up to focus on the production process.
However, just like other industries, aerospace hasn’t remained static with respect to what goes into creating a good product. To manufacture an aircraft successfully, many different tasks must be completed along the way.
The clock is ticking on how long it is taking to build an aircraft to its expected lifespan, but there are still key areas that can be sped up or streamlined in order to make the process faster and more efficient.
What is Aerospace Robotics
The term “robotics” refers to the study of mechanical systems that can autonomously carry out a series of actions. In an industry like aerospace, automation is going beyond simple assembly lines to encompass everything from the design and production process all the way through to warranty inspection
What does it mean for an aircraft to be designed and built using robotics? This will change the way in which it is built and how it has to be maintained over its lifespan. Manufacturing processes are increasingly being automated at all stages of the aerospace value chain in order to increase efficiency and reduce costs, which leads to lower pricing for customers.
According to Allied Market Research, the global aerospace artificial intelligence market was worth $373.6 million in 2020 and is predicted to be worth $5.82 billion by 2028, growing at a CAGR of 43.4% between 2021 and 2028.
The Importance of Automation in the Aerospace Industry
The aviation industry is still increasing the functionality and lowering the cost of each aircraft it produces. This means the price of making new aircraft is rocketing, but that brings a host of additional costs such as maintenance, airworthiness certification, and even certification to fly
A key driver for aerospace robotics is the production and maintenance of aircraft. Many different tasks are involved in the design, manufacture, and operation of an aircraft. These are not just mechanical processes, but digital ones as well – lots of data has to be captured, digitalized, and processed in order to ensure a successful lifecycle for a new aircraft.
Advancements in Automation for Aerospace
A key factor in the aerospace industry is its high reliance on electronics and computing technologies. The complexity of a modern aircraft means that it is difficult for one person to oversee every aspect of its creation and maintenance.
This leads to a reliance on computers and assistance from other human workers – in some cases, this can be as simple as having someone working in addition to a computer during the design process, but increasingly it is required for communication with machines that are undertaking sophisticated tasks.
Autonomous robots are already working in aerospace facilities around the world, but there’s still a long way to go before they can operate independently of humans. It’s also important to remember that robotics is just one branch of the wider automation industry, and it’s at the center of a number of new technologies that have been developed specifically to support the aerospace industry.
According to Visiongain, the Intelligent Automation in Aerospace & Defense market will be worth $860.3 million in 2020.
The way in which robotic components are integrated into an aircraft is changing, with digital and human-machine interfaces being used for controlling robots. These systems offer safety advantages, as well as give workers a better understanding of what is going on in those automated environments around them.
The Impact of Automation on Aerospace Manufacturers
The aerospace sector has become highly reliant on computer systems and robotics to solve many of its problems. The advancements that it has seen in automation technology are making a huge difference to how efficiently aircraft can be created, maintained, and repaired.
It’s also increasingly being used in data capture and management processes, which means that the amount of work left for humans is reduced. This will allow aircraft assembly lines to run more quickly, but it will also allow the industry to focus on other areas where automation can be applied.
For example, the operation of an aircraft throughout its life cycle is still reliant on human operators guiding it through the skies above us. However, in the future, the management of an aircraft’s operational life will be taken over by automated systems that are capable of making key decisions on its activities.
Benefits of Automation in Aerospace
According to the most recent Emergent Research report, the global Robotic Process Automation (RPA) in the aerospace market reached USD 7.35 billion in 2021 and is predicted to exhibit a revenue CAGR of 27.8% over the forecast period.
For decades, people have been anticipating that the entire world was going to be automated. We’ve all heard about how we’ll be walking around a computer-generated world, and how robots will take the jobs away from humans.
While technological advancement has indeed made many tasks easier and more efficient, there are still plenty of tasks that robots cannot perform (and probably never could). Industries like aerospace will continue to rely on human workers to keep the machines moving, there are plenty of benefits to automation in aerospace.
1. Cost Savings
The cost involved with automation can be a bit of an issue, but there are some significant cost savings to be realized from implementing new technologies. Even something small that reduces the number of man-hours needed per project will add up to a considerable amount over time. In situations where you need to take cost out of the equation, automation technologies are a viable option.
2. Accuracy in Tasks
Robots can do tasks that humans simply cannot do. Finding access in difficult places, hazardous environments or even deep space is where robots really excel. In situations like this accuracy and attention to detail is needed and robots have no problem with that type of work.
Another reason why the aerospace industry relies so heavily on automation technologies is that it is often the only way for certain tasks to be completed efficiently and reliably. There are times when an un-automated process might take a lot longer and cannot be carried out by hand, either due to the location or because of physical limitations.
4. Quality Assurance and Control
In theory, with more automation in place, there should be a quality assurance and control protocol as well as better consistency in products, which will lead to better customer satisfaction. When you’re building billions of dollars worth of aircraft every year, even a slight quality assurance issue can create havoc on your schedule and budget.
5. Reduced Worker Fatigue
In the aerospace industry, there are long periods of time when machines are being run in order to produce parts for a larger project. This can be rigorous and exhaustive work and is why you see a lot of older workers in these positions. Automation allows younger, stronger, and more capable employees to do this work so that they have more energy throughout the day.
6. Commercial Opportunities
Industries like aerospace have a unique relationship with automation because they rely on it so heavily, but there are also commercial opportunities available to them as well. Because technology can be expensive, you need to have a lot of profit potential before making the investment.
7. Improved Quality/Safety
The primary benefit of automation is that it can improve quality and safety. It does so by reducing human error and taking care of tasks that are too dangerous for a human to do alone. Automation also evens out the workload so that there are no extra burdens placed on workers, which will increase their quality of life as well as help them remain productive throughout the day.
8. Easy Scalability
As technology advances in various areas, it becomes easier to scale out automation technologies across other industries as well. In aerospace, the technology is so advanced and specialized that it becomes almost a necessity to use automation technologies. In other industries, automation can still improve efficiency and reduce labor costs even if it is not used as heavily.
As you can see from this list, there are plenty of benefits to automation in aerospace. It’s not for everyone, but it can provide a significant competitive advantage for those willing to take the financial and human risk involved with implementing new technologies.
5 Challenges of Automation in Aerospace
The Global Intelligent Automation in Aerospace and Defense market is predicted to grow at a substantial rate during the years 2022 and 2026. In 2021, the market is developing at a consistent rate and with the increasing reception of techniques by central members, the market is supposed to ascend over the projected horizon.
The benefits of automation in aerospace are clear and there are many advantages to the use of robotics, artificial intelligence, and other modern technologies. However, there is also a lot to consider when implementing these systems. Before you rush out and purchase a robot to produce parts for your next aircraft project, there are a lot of questions that you should ask yourself first:
1. Are We Prepared for It
One of the primary challenges with automation in aerospace is simply whether or not your workforce is ready for it. Many workers have been doing the same type of work their entire careers, which means that their skill set doesn’t match up with what’s required by newer technologies. Automation can lead to a potential drop in production capabilities and an overall reduction in quality.
2. How Much Will It Cost
Automation will involve a significant outlay of money. You need to consider the cost of purchasing and installing systems, as well as the ongoing costs for ownership and maintenance.
If you have employees whose time is already being used in other areas of the business, taking some of that time away from them to make them more productive when it comes to automating tasks may not be worth it.
3. How Will It Affect Our Workforce
With the cost and time involved with robotics, many companies are going to rely heavily on their existing workforce, whether they have the training or not. If you have a workforce that is used to being micromanaged, automation may be a challenge. There’s often less flexibility built into automated systems than there is in humans, which can create conflict if your employees are used to doing things a certain way.
4. Can We Recover
One of the biggest challenges with automation is that it takes a long time for the system to be developed and implemented. Once you make the decision to move forward, there’s no turning back. You need to be prepared for a lengthy project in order to overcome the challenges and make a successful budget and schedule projections.
5. Is Our Organization Ready for It
When it comes to automating parts for aircraft, you don’t just want your mechanics to be able to hand off the maintenance to a robot. You also need employees with enough technical knowledge and ability in other areas of the business so that they can manage the installation process, troubleshoot issues, and maintain your technology investment over time.
The Future of Automation in Aerospace
The reality is, that no one knows what all the changes to automation in aerospace will mean for the sector. The use of robotics is being increasingly harnessed in different ways throughout the industry. This means that there’s a real chance that the products and services that are offered by those who use them will continue to improve.
There are still plenty of areas where human intervention is required to ensure that a product or service meets certain levels of quality and durability. However, in parts of the process where high-level automation is being used, it’s likely that humans will be working alongside those systems, rather than directly alongside them.
Descartes Systems Group, the global leader in connecting logistics-intensive businesses in commerce, has assisted Farsound Aviation, a leading service provider to the global aerospace industry, in increasing profitability by automating compliance with UK/EU customs regulations using the Descartes e-customs filing solution.
This means that aviation manufacturers are likely to continue to face a rapid rate of change. It may not be able to keep up with the ever-increasing pace of technology, but this also means that there is a great deal of scope for innovation and adaptation as well.
The future of automated aircraft manufacturing is likely to be a lot different from anything we can currently imagine, but one thing is certain: the industry will continue to thrive as long as there are people and machines working together, in harmony – just like any good relationship.