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Author's profile photo Thomas Pohl

Digital technology changing processes as well as products in aerospace and defense industry

Across the value chain aerospace and defense (A&D), companies are discovering the power of digital change.

Leveraging new technology A&D companies find that changes to business processes have significant impact. For one, digital changes allow them to improve efficiencies and reduce downtime. The changes let them discover new opportunities that can be turned into profitable services.

Many people think of digital transformation in A&D as focused on the products themselves. It’s about smart planes. The reality is, digital transformation has a place throughout the A&D company.

The digital transformation has several drivers. For one, machines and people are hyperconnected today. Another reason is the Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to smart objects equipped with sensors, software and connectivity. These devices can collect, store and send data.

Combined with advances in automation and artificial intelligence, these digital tools are bringing new business models and processes to companies throughout the A&D industry. Let’s look at a few examples within different value chain areas.


New visualization technology gives a much better understanding of product design throughout the company. Google-like search tools applied to geometries create real efficiency. Part designs can be reused. The number of design variants can be lowered.

The IoT allows devices to collect and share more data both in the manufacturing process as well as in service usage. This data in turn can be used to improve future designs.

Finally, regulations spanning multiple countries require intelligent support. These tools can identify to relevant regulatory requirements to ensure that designs are compliant, particularly on global products. In addition, these systems can generate automatic compliance reports.

Manufacturing and Quality

Today, A&D companies face increasing pressure to reduce cost and align production with growing demand. These pressure points have forced continuous improvements to manufacturing processes and quality.

With advanced automation and integration of shop floor processes, more data can be tracked, stored, and analyzed in real time. This information can be used to optimize products, processes and compliance adherence.

Collectively these improvements offer significant potential to improve throughput. With more efficient manufacturing, significant backlogs begin to lessen.

Shop floor managers have more tools at their disposal, too.

Data received during the manufacturing process can be reported in real time in dashboards. Analytics programs can run simulations, offer recommendations and make predictions on performance. New insights are available for supervisors, letting companies revolutionize how shop floors are run. These tools provide better information, a wider scope of information, and more granular information than ever before.

On the quality side, predictive and root-cause analysis programs will aid OEMs. Companies will understand sources of non-conformance and machine failures earlier and more accurately. These new analytical tools will help make early adjustments to products and process definitions. These steps will in turn reduce waste and production cost and stabilize the production flow.

Supply chain management and collaboration

One of the most powerful aspects of the digital transformation is the ability to collaborate with suppliers and customers in new ways.

For example, control towers with early warning systems using real-time alerts can detect material flow deviations. These alerts reduce supplier risks affecting production master plans and schedules.

Digital B2B collaboration tools allow for better integration. When these tools are used in the supply chain planning process there’s more opportunity for closer integration. These collaborations can lead to improvements in scheduling, delivery coordination and change management.

Today, data comes in two forms. There’s structured data which is stored in database fields, rows and columns. There’s also unstructured data, such as text, emails and multimedia. Both types of supplier data can be analyzed with embedded network intelligence programs. These analyses can assess the health of the whole network and predict future risks. Unexpected and expensive costs are minimized.

Customer services and Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO)

Maintenance planning is shifting from preventive to predictive. This shift is informed by the vast amounts of data coming from equipment sensors and advanced analytics.

Field service technicians today can be equipped with mobile and wearable devices. With 3D product visualization, real-time contextual data and virtual collaboration, problems will be solved faster than ever before.

Financial impact

The financial impact of these changes is meaningful. Our estimates are that an airline that can increase airtime for a 70-plane fleet by 70 hours a week can save $150 million a year. Other estimates show that the use of 3D printing technology can save the industry $3.4 billion per year in MRO material and logistical costs.


Not only does this innovation make financial sense, it is likely to become the norm very fast. A recent survey showed that 53 percent of aerospace companies believe digital technologies will reduce manufacturing delays. A full 100 percent of those surveyed see digital technology as a means to change MRO support.

The reality is that the demand for air travel is significant and growing. A Boeing study estimated that more than 38,000 new airplanes are needed in the next 20 years to meet the demand for passengers and cargo. Yet the industry is facing record backlogs.

At the same time, there is continuous pressure on the industry to provide for better fuel efficiency and reduced emissions.


Digital can address the issues of the present and the future. For OEMs, the potential is significant. Differentiation, market share and profit will come to those companies that can best leverage the power of new digital tools.

For more information on Digital Transformation in the A&D industry, click here

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