Volume 01 | Issue 09 | August 04, 2020
Supply Chain Adoption of Industry 4.0; Where Do Hybrids Fit?

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Digital Threads, IoT Sensors Driving Aerospace Supply Chain Adoption of Industry 4.0
Image: Pratt & Whitney

Globally, aerospace manufacturers and suppliers
are at different stages of embracing the concept of using a digital data thread to constantly improve the way aircraft systems and components are designed, developed and logistically managed over their product lifecycle under a concept known as Industry 4.0.

What is Industry 4.0?
  • According to Deloitte, Industry 4.0 is the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” or the “creation of a digital manufacturing enterprise that is not only interconnected but also communicates, analyzes, and uses information to drive further intelligent action back in the physical world.”

  • Suppliers can embrace more Industry 4.0-style digital data threads that constantly improve all workflows and KPIs by deploying the tools and infrastructure necessary to enable such concepts.

  • Examples of such infrastructure and tools include edge computing analytics and algorithms, RFID tags and Bluetooth sensors attached to machines and the use of digital transformation to eliminate supply chain engineering, inspecting, scheduling and quality data sharing bottlenecks.
Some barriers do exist to full aerospace supply chain adoption of Industry 4.0. Lower level suppliers for example can find it challenging to justify spending on some of the digital transformation projects being deployed at tier 1 and 2 manufacturers.
  • Kanfit Ltd., an Israel-based manufacturer of ready-to-fly composites, metals and hybrid aero structures is an example of mid-level aerospace supplier that recently started its digital transformation path and has continued on it through the pandemic.

  • “As a supplier to the industry, digitalization is a must, all the large OEMs are going there,” said Shachar Fine, executive vice president of Kanfit. “One of the challenges we face with digitalization is each OEM has its own system, as a supplier we need a system that can deal with all of them. That’s one of the biggest challenges we face is integrating with a lot of systems.

  • A recent white paper published by IFS, “Enabling A&D Manufacturing Transformation,” notes that the deployment of intelligent assets inside of aerospace factories can generate many terabytes of data and that “simply extracting this data—let alone mining it to truly inform business decisions and better take advantage of aftermarket service revenue—is something A&D manufacturing is still trying to master.”
Don Kinard, a senior fellow for Lockheed Martin Aeronautics: “Lockheed Martin looks at Industry 4.0 as the fourth industrial revolution, we look at it as the revolution of data, we’re trying to integrate data from floor systems from ERP, PLM and MES systems to figure out how we take all that data in all our systems and use it.”

Read more on how Industry 4.0 is boosting efficiency in aerospace supply chains.
Are Hybrid-Electric Systems a ‘Bridge’ to Electric Aviation?
Image: Eric Bartsch / VerdeGo Aero

Sustainable aviation leaders are divided
on whether hybrid-electric aircraft technologies are likely to play a major role in the aviation market over the next few decades.

In the Nordic region, where governments have some of the world’s most aggressive clean aviation targets, few are talking about hybrids, viewing them as “not enough” of an answer. Airbus and Rolls Royce prematurely ended their E-Fan X partnership with a similar public justification.
  • Government agencies and aerospace industry players in northern Europe formed the Nordic Network for Electric Aviation, or NEA, to accelerate the introduction of electric airplanes and lower carbon emissions. The group has given out ?375,000 in grants so far.

  • With a goal of reaching zero emissions generated from domestic aviation by 2040, the Norwegian government plans to waive landing fees for electric airplanes until 2025, subsidize some routes and offer free charging to help shift short-haul flights to electric.
  • Västerås, Sweden-based OSM Aviation Academy, which supplies pilots to the commercial aviation industry, placed an order for 60 eFlyer 2 aircraft in 2019. ElFly, an electric airline startup based in Norway, ordered 18 eFlyer 2 and 4 aircraft.
Eric Lithun, CEO of ElFly: “I wouldn’t invest in a hybrid. I wouldn’t put my money there.”

But there’s no getting around the specific energy and energy density issues faced by battery-electric aircraft. Hybrid systems, however, face the substantial systems engineering challenge of adding weight and complexity yet resulting in a benefit.
  • Florida-based VerdeGo Aero is working on diesel piston hybrid-electric powertrains, rather than turbine engines that have a poor power-to-weight ratio when scaled down.

  • CEO Eric Bartsch says VerdeGo’s system, scalable up to 1 MW of peak power, is 40 percent cheaper to operate, emit 35 percent less CO2, and ten decibels quieter than a turbine hybrid-electric system.

  • Contrasted with current battery technologies that offer energy density in the mid-200s, VerdeGo’s system offers over 700 watt-hours per kilogram.
Bartsch agreed that in the long term, hybrid systems are a bridge to batteries — as battery-electric powertrains are a simpler solution — but sees substantial opportunity for hybrid aircraft until then.

Bartsch: “That transition phase is a lot longer than I think most people appreciate. When we look at the current state of batteries versus hybrids, the energy density challenges are substantial. But even if those are solved, we have significant challenges with cycle life time, calendar life time, charge rate, charging infrastructure and even the cost of operations … [because] the consumable components inside a battery powertrain, being the replacement batteries, drive up the cost.”

Read more on the challenges and applications for hybrid-electric propulsion.
U.S. Air Force Wants ‘Logistics At the Edge’
Hobbling supply chains is an easier way for adversaries to counter U.S. military forces than head-to-head combat.

Recognizing this, Air Force acquisition chief Will Roper is envisioning the service fielding "logistics at the edge" capabilities to include manufacturing parts for aircraft at forward operating locations.

Highlights from AFWERX’s 2020 Base of the Future event, where 370 proposals were submitted for prototyping contracts:
  • The service wants to avoid requiring big airplanes — and therefore big runways — to re-supply in austere environments.

  • Roper’s questions: “Are we waiting for that airplane part to come in so we can fix a plane on the ground, or are we printing that part on site? Are we making things locally so we're not dependent on those supply chains? Are we able to reroute and do local logistics and maintenance at the edge?”

  • Roper: “Changing the calculus for what we can do at the edge, whether being able to do more locally, being more autonomous or being more resilient [is important]. We have to be able to put a base in a box and take it with us...A lot of what we'll need to do in future bases will need to be palletized.”
Read more on how the Air Force wants to improve base and supply chains resiliency.
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