The aerospace industry took one of the biggest hits of COVID-19 with revenues declining, debts mounting, and mass layoffs happening worldwide.
By April 2020, a month after most countries locked their borders, demand virtually evaporated as international passenger capacity fell by -91%. Countries in Europe and Asia Pacific regions are the most affected. Closer to home, the ADS Group revealed that commercial aircraft orders and deliveries in the UK also saw its lowest numbers at a 94% decrease from numbers back in July 2019.
The International Air Transport Association calls 2020 “the worst year in the history of aviation,” as the air transport industry is expected to lose $84.3 billion (£65.79 billion) or a net profit margin of -20.1%.
With industry experts predicting that passenger decline will continue post-pandemic, how can the aerospace and defence (A&D) industry revive their ailing sector?
Course Correction and Big Vision for Digital Transformation
At this point, every company will have been affected by the pandemic. Moving to the digital space is not a nice-to-have, it has become a necessity. We all recognise the need to embrace digital transformation as a means to overcome the changes to our business.
For the A&D industry, starting digital transformation now requires course correction and big vision. However, I recognise that this path is and will be rife with challenges.
As I write this article, I am reminded of an influential management training video from John Cleese on the importance of making and embracing mistakes. While it came out many years ago, it still feels relevant today and is one of the reasons why I like the agile mindset, especially in the context of aerospace.
Simply put, if you know where you need to go rather than assume you have a fixed path to get there, it would be better to start with something now and course correct on the way.
I believe that digital technology has the potential to transform every aspect of the aerospace and defence value chain. And in times of uncertainty, a mobile technology approach to innovation is essential to achieve staying-power through resilience.
Why The A&D Industry Needs Mobile Technology
Mobile is a great catalyst to rapidly realise aspects of your roadmap and vision. Apps are not monoliths, which makes it possible to develop different ones that all work with the same back-end infrastructure. This will then allow you to set a grand vision and start to develop it with agility and rapidity, with much room for course correction along the way.
I’ve said before that digital transformation is the present and the future, and it remains true to this day. We are already seeing businesses move towards the digital realm for several reasons:
- COVID-19 — Perhaps the biggest catalyst for change these days, the pandemic has pushed businesses to realise that navigating this crisis entails the quick adaptation to technology, especially since coronavirus drove the usage and spend of consumers on mobile apps to record highs.
- Sustainability — Although we are in the middle of a pandemic, the need to make things more sustainable has never faded. In fact, in the A&D sector, we see businesses running the race for creating carbon-free flights.
- New available technologies — Mobile apps can now accommodate several combinations of the latest technologies, including AR, VR, AI, 5G technologies, and the Internet of Things.
- Keeping the competitive edge — As is the nature of running a business, competition will become even more cutthroat, as those who can quickly adapt will easily outrun those who can’t or refuse to. Disruption will continue, and investing in digital solutions is one of the best ways to respond to this new demand.
- Cost savings — With digital solutions, businesses in the aerospace sector can see drastic cost savings in lieu of ‘smart’ equipment helping them with maintenance and data processing. Our project with Rolls-Royce, for instance, is a mobile app that can detect foreign object debris (FOD) found across airbases of the US Marine Corp (USMC). Foreign object damage costs enterprises more than $100 million (£78 million) per year, and this app can help cut down repair costs and engine damage.
- More efficient supply chain — Digital solutions can also improve supply chain management in the aerospace sector, as it allows for more collaboration and transparency among all parties involved in a given project. There are several digital solutions that can be done to meet this goal, including better inventory management and data processing to understand the real cost of production.
Barriers to Digital Transformation
Digital transformation, especially for a sector with a long-established way of working like aerospace, can understandably be met with pushback from decision-makers. These objections often stem from:
- Fear — Taking people out of their comfort zones can rattle anyone. In a pandemic, however, I believe that our capability to adapt will and should come out; otherwise, we run the risk of falling behind.
- Job security — Job loss is often an issue that comes up when digital solutions enter the field. Some positions might become redundant, but new positions will be created. After all, technology still needs a human touch.
- Culture and internal politics — If the company’s culture does not welcome change and/or is rife with politicking, these can be very strong barriers that can impede digital transformation.
- Cost — Technologies, of course, will cost companies a significant investment. Making a business case to invest in this can be quite a challenge, especially if the factors above also come into play.
The good news, however, is that a mobile solution can assuage decision-makers’ worries and make them feel that their investment is worth it, as they can easily test the app themselves. It’s non-threatening and familiar given that everyone owns a smartphone. And with an agile approach, any flaws in the system can be easily spotted and remedied.
How to Transition to a Digital-Led Aerospace Business
Once you have gotten your team’s buy-in, transitioning to using more digital solutions can then be achieved. There are so many ways mobile technologies can be employed in a business and improve its performance, but I believe innovations should be structured around:
1. Mobile as a catalyst for change
Mobile technologies can best stimulate and enable cultural change and digital transformation. With mobile devices so ubiquitous, the introduction of an app will not make users feel like they are trying something outside their comfort zones.
Some of the innovative mobile strategies our team has worked on include the use of:
- GPS and sensor input — I mentioned our work with Rolls-Royce earlier. This mobile technology, awarded by the United States Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and funded by the USMC, was designed to reduce serious engine damage and make the process more efficient. Instead of manually tracking FODs on airfields, the app uses GPS and sensors to take photos of the debris, then sends it to a central database to be scheduled for clearing.
- Augmented reality — In collaboration with the National Gallery and the University of Exeter, we were able to create Hidden Florence 3D: San Pier Maggiore, an AR-powered app that recreates what the church looked like during its Renaissance glory, whether the user is at home or at the National Gallery in London.
- Haptic technologies — The Lost Palace brilliantly combined binaural 3D sound, bespoke devices, and haptic technology. In collaboration with Historic Royal Palaces, we created an immersive experience for visitors who want to tour the lost palace of Whitehall before it burned to the ground 300 years ago.
- Image recognition — Our work with artist Marcus Lyon brought to life Somos Brasil, an immersive app that uses image recognition to create a multisensory experience for its users. While running the app, visitors can point their device on one of Marcus’ portraits which will then trigger an audio interview of the person in the photo.
- Remote control — Mobile apps can also be used for practical purposes similar to the ControlZAPP app we developed with Danlers. This app can remotely control the lighting in a room, set it up, and programme it through a smartphone.
All of these technologies and approaches are readily transferable to the A&D sector.
2. Co-creation with key performance stakeholders
Collaboration has always been at the core of our work here at Calvium, and it is the key ingredient to the success of our projects. We have worked with prestigious organisations, councils and universities in the UK and overseas, allowing us to expand our experience with creating digital solutions in a wide array of niches.
A study from Katharina Jarmail at the University of Economics and Business in Vienna showed that meaningful collaboration requires the investment of time and effort to create mutual understanding, the creation of a process that allows for facilitation, and the willingness to implement changes.
Especially now that we are living with uncertainty, to survive and thrive entails embracing a multidisciplinary approach to expand our knowledge base and establish a new way of doing business. Navigating this ‘new normal’ that we’re living in requires collaboration and our team has successfully done this through:
- Adopting a collaborative approach to research to give you a realistic view of the lived experiences of the target audience
- A shared understanding of the project management among all team members to create a smooth-sailing process, be it for communication or creating deliverables
- Choosing the right partners whose specialisms can push the project forward and those who are open to multi-agency teamwork
- Treating community members as partners in design and development, as these people are, at the end of the day, the primary users of the app.
3. Agile approach
Here at Calvium, we favour the agile approach when working on projects, especially in the aerospace industry. This methodology allows us to develop an app rapidly, create and test solutions with real users, and create multiple iterations as the process is refined with every cycle of use.
Our process follows these three steps:
- Discovery — We collaborate closely with our clients to understand the nature of their business and what their digital needs are. We also determine any challenges we need to face early on like needing to comply with any legislation or restrictions. The most important part of this stage is identifying user personas and stories (e.g. needs, wants, problems) as this is crucial to creating a user-centred design.
- Agile design and development — This phase involves creating rapid prototypes and testing each one with our end users. We take our best concepts, refine it according to user feedback, then test them again until the results are satisfactory. Due to its agile nature, we can create prototypes within a few months. Once we are satisfied that the prototype has reached the project’s parameters, then we prepare to go live.
- Delivery — During the Delivery phase, we prepare the app for distribution, whether it’s for public consumption or private use. We continue to work closely with our clients and the IT team involved in back-end delivery to make the process as smooth sailing as possible. We then gradually increase the number of users testing our app, whilst maintaining the security and quality of the digital solution.
Even before the world plunged into a pandemic, we have been seeing the aerospace industry increasingly adopt an agile approach, as its adaptability and capability to create early iterations and identify risks early on have led to successful innovations with fewer chances of project failure. Below are a few of these examples:
British multinational defence technology company QinetiQ believes in harnessing the digital thread—all the data produced from conception to product creation—to improve how their military customers conduct tests and evaluations.
To make this possible, embracing digital engineering is crucial to capture evaluation data that is then shared as a “single authoritative source of truth.” With a digitally-enabled T&E Enterprise, this digital thread can reduce risks and cost, enhance warfighters’ capability, and create a product ahead of schedule.
Leading the race in creating a more sustainable mode of transportation, Rolls-Royce is building an all-electric aircraft to reduce the environmental impact of their manufacturing activities and services.
Called the ACCEL project, the multinational engineering company aims to have zero-emission planes that can fly with speeds of 300+ MPH (480+ KMH) this year as part of their net-zero carbon goal by 2050. The entire programme is set to be carbon neutral through the use of verified carbon finance projects.
GKN Aerospace now owns the 110,000 sq. ft. Global Technology Centre in Bristol. This will be the company’s new technology hub in the UK, aimed to create more sustainable aerospace innovations, including advanced composites, additive manufacturing, assembly, and industry 4.0 processes.
When it opens in the second half of 2021, 300 engineers are expected to be on-site. As of this writing, tools to create Wing of Tomorrow aircrafts are already in place.
BAE Systems, together with 40 blue chip and SME companies and academic institutions, has developed an intelligent digital factory for military aircraft production. Their new 4.0, multi-million-pound factory based in Lancashire aims to push the envelope when creating fighter aircraft Tempest.
With advanced manufacturing technologies, the aircraft system can now make use of automated robots, virtual reality, and augmented reality to smoothen the process, reduce costs, and improve speed and precision—truly, the future of combat air.
Digital Transformation Now
As I said earlier, big vision and course correction along the way are needed for digital transformation. This is the present and the future of the A&D industry, which may understandably cause worry among decision-makers, especially since it’s new and outside how innovations are traditionally done.
The beauty of an agile mindset, however, is that it allows us to identify risks and mistakes early in the process and rectify them before significant investments are made. The ‘new normal’ necessitates quick adoption; otherwise, staying afloat may not be possible for much longer, as consumer behaviour is changing right before our eyes.
If your business is in the A&D sector and you want to keep up with the rise of digital solutions, Calvium can help you create one that will fit the needs of your organisation. Give us a call today and let’s figure out how we can help you.