• Adit Shah

COVID-19: Engineering and Manufacturing (Part 2)

Engineering and manufacturing for aerospace and space sectors is suffering a lot due to this pandemic – job cuts, furlough, bailouts, you name it. In such a dire situation, what could possibly be positive? Nothing obvious. What was normal 6 months ago will likely no longer be normal once restrictions end and even the economy picks up. If we look at what the new normal might be, we might find some potential positive effects of this situation.


Let’s get started.


BENEFIT #1 – A more efficient manufacturing supply chain

During down-turns such as the COVID-19 pandemic, consolidation of smaller tier 2 and 3 suppliers would be expected, as companies either merge their capabilities to survive, or get bought out by bigger suppliers or OEMs (usually at a discount). A more consolidated supply chain typically means dealing with less number of suppliers for a wider variety of products and services, or bringing the skills and products in-house. Both of these lead to simpler transactions, which translates to quicker (aka more efficient) transactions.


BENEFIT #2 – More resilient supply chains

Sourcing locally and creating more regional supply chains has been talked about by the aerospace/aviation media. While it may make sense and is good for the local economy, converting from the existing complex global supply chain into a regional one is not easy. It also may not always be possible due to some proprietary materials/parts not available from local suppliers. Significant investment goes into building up a supply chain, including building trust and a good business relationship with the suppliers. Moving to a more regional supply chain may make sense when doing design modifications of aircraft, for example, but there’s always things to be considered – do they have resources? can they access the raw materials needed? Is it run by a credible team and not unpaid interns? The ability to deliver on time, on cost, and on quality is what matters in the end.


More complex but robust supply chains are likely to emerge which are more resilient to downturns.

BENEFIT #3 – More efficient manufacturing

“Industry 4.0”, “Digitisation”, “Robotics and Automation” and others buzz words have been discussed for a while now, but uptake in aerospace has been slow. In some sense, under the context of remote working and keeping operations open, a lot of work places have been forced to adopt more digital technologies. In a 2019 survey done by Deloitte 84% of aerospace executives were considering leveraging new technologies related to Industry 4.0. If the same questions were to be asked today, implementing new technologies will probably be the last thing they’d focus on. But really, this pandemic has started a digital change in small and large companies alike. It’s likely that once companies stop focusing on merely staying afloat, being more digital and implementing new technologies will be higher priority.


These new technologies are fantastic for increasing efficiencies if implemented and managed properly.


BENEFIT #4 – Chance to upskill industry personnel

With the shift towards digitisation, organisations that are able to implement new digital and automation technologies will mean their employees will get training and skills necessary to provide value for their employers. This has already been going on with companies like Airbus having their employees trained in data science and digitisation, for example. With the situation we are in and the availability of online courses which aren’t too expensive, this is a huge incentive for employees and workers to re-train and ‘upskill’ either with courses paid by employers or themselves.


Higher skilled workers + New Technology = Higher pays and productivity.


Trend was there, but COVID-19 might just accelerate it.


BENEFIT#5 – Uptake of modern engineering tools

Aerospace and space have been at the forefront of engineering design. However due to design legacies, especially in long running aircraft programmes such as the A320 family, new engineering design and management tools don’t always find their way into design houses very quickly. But with digitisation quickly coming to the forefront in this industry, it is easier to build more integrated and automated systems and processes for engineering design as well as management. Engineering tools such as Valispace has the potential to enable a more modern approach to aerospace and space product development, and can reduce a significant amount of manual integration and design related issues that more documentation based design have.


TL;DR

Benefits due to COVID-19 would be due to an increased willingness to use digital technologies (a trend the already existed), re-skilling where possible, and consolidation in some cases – end result would be increasing productivity and efficiency overall.


Go here for Part 3.