https://cdn.mtdcnc.global/cnc/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/16173224/18-19-Rolls-Royce-Ultrafan-engine-960x500.jpg
    Aerospace

    Support in difficult times: Aerospace industry looks to the future

    • By MTDCNC
    • July 16, 2020
    • 6 minute read

    A few months ago, Airbus and Boeing were working day and night to increase production to reduce a record order backlog. Today the picture is different. Dr Simon Weeks, Chief Technology Officer at the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), tells MTD that new opportunities for world-class subbies will open up as primes insist on even higher KPIs, and firms can still apply for many aerospace programmes, some with funding. By Will Stirling

    What is the outlook for civil aerospace manufacturing since the Covid-19 crisis?

    In the peak of the crisis flying reduced by more than 90%. The knock-on to manufacturing has been rapid. Propulsion has been hit especially hard because the power-by-the-hour model means they’re only paid when aircraft fly. There is an immediate reaction in the supply chain because of collapsed demand for both new parts and spares, as there is very little maintenance activity. We can assume there will be a high number of orders cancelled.

    When can we expect the industry to recover?

    It will probably take two years for orders to recover to 90% of the highest level in recent years. The market has been growing around 4.5% per year on average; when will growth recover back to this level – my estimate would be in five-years. People will remain cautious or fearful of travelling, so this will be a slow recovery.

    Will airlines operate their older aircraft for longer?

    The driver for replacing old stock was fuel efficiency. There is a lower incentive to replace aircraft when the fuel price is so low. In some cases, airlines are retiring their older aircraft, such as Boeing 767 and 757 fleets, meaning new aircraft could be needed if demand returns. But when the capacity won’t be there, some airlines unfortunately will not survive.

    What positives can aerospace subcontractors look forward to in the next 24 months?

    The OEM ‘majors’ want to make their supply chains more competitive. We are hearing they are putting pressure on their supply chains to save costs. As ever, it’s about the focus on quality, cost and delivery. You need to be good at all three and invest in opportunities. There will be a price squeeze but this will create opportunities for those that can respond – for the best companies you could say there will be more opportunities as existing suppliers struggle.

    The ATI supports companies investing in technology to help them transform, we have found the companies that do this have received enormous benefits. An example is Spirit AeroSystems in Prestwick. From an ATI and government-funded programme, it developed a low-cost composite manufacturing technology and won the spoiler contract for Airbus A320s. They set up a new production line and a modern, automated composites facility. There are other stories like that, and we want companies to talk to us to help achieve their ambitions.

    How does Covid-19 and lower orders effect these programmes?

    There will still be aircraft orders to justify technology investment, yes. Orders will fall, but if you have a long horizon they will return. Suppliers need to be nimble and committed. Technology is a very important lever to transform your business in both the physical and digital space. The UK has been slow compared to other countries, and it is critical that companies up their game. For small companies it is really hard to understand which digital technologies can benefit their business, but there are people to help them navigate this, such as the Catapult centres and ATI – we’ll do our best to help anybody.

    What aerospace programmes are suitable for SMEs?

    I chair a programme called NATEP. That has been very important in getting smaller companies into some aerospace programmes. We have monthly funding calls too. We look to form groups or clusters of companies with a range of capabilities that could access a project – with others they can make a stronger offer. We’ve helped build those clusters.

    The future: What new technologies and materials should engineering companies plan
    for the future aerospace market?

    The composite content of future aircraft is rapidly growing, for light weighting. The Boeing 777x has all-composite wings, as does the Airbus A350. Future models will have mainly composite wings but also fuselage panels, pylons and structures. If you are already supplying parts to wings and fuselages consider whether some components, like fastenings and brackets, could be made from composites too. It is difficult to substantially change in-service aircraft, but for planes like the A320 in production, some of these parts will be replaced in the current cycle. Cabin interiors are replaced three times in the life of one aircraft, so look at interior mouldings and fittings, and also seating.

    The Wing of Tomorrow is a group of programmes run by Airbus, GKN Aerospace and ATI for developing the next generation of wings. Much is around ‘productionising’ technology, increasing the production rate and automating manufacture and assembly. There are opportunities here not just for components in wings but for companies that make automation equipment, and for building suitable integrated automation solutions.

    There is also a lot of interest in urban aviation and shorter range flying that will potentially use electric propulsion systems. The technology is a little way off – programmes are running now, but it will be perhaps five years – but it is coming. Here, the businesses will look more like high end automotive firms than traditional aviation, a luxury segment. There are details of this in our strategy. A battery powered aircraft made by ZeroAvia flew from Cranfield University in June, which is working towards a hydrogen fuel cell powered system. Rolls-Royce has an electric aircraft demonstrator called ACCEL.

    What about more UK content – is that rising, given the economic circumstances?

    We are working with Airbus colleagues, and separately with Rolls-Royce, to work out how they can bring more UK suppliers into these programmes. Rolls has a huge efficient engine programme, UltraFan, that we are supporting, looking at how we can develop a bigger UK supply base. For both programmes, the ultimate market application will probably be further out now than was planned for.

    Cheaper aviation fuel to some extent defers the pressure on airlines to acquire better engines, but companies like Rolls-Royce will flow down the latest technology into new products to enhance them despite the current climate, so UltraFan will sustain.

    How can firms learn about new aerospace supplier opportunities?

    There is a new ATI report on cabin interiors. The UK produces a high proportion of global cabin seating market. Suppliers should talk to companies like Safran and Collins Aerospace, two of the market leaders. There are over 300 projects on ATI’s books, so SMEs must look these up.

    https://cdn.mtdcnc.global/cnc/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/16173224/18-19-Rolls-Royce-Ultrafan-engine-960x500.jpg

    Support in difficult times: Aerospace industry looks to the future

    A few months ago, Airbus and Boeing were working day and night to increase production to reduce a record order backlog. Today the picture is different. Dr Simon Weeks, Chief Technology Officer at the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI), tells MTD that new opportunities for world-class subbies will open up as primes insist on even higher KPIs, and firms can still apply for many aerospace programmes, some with funding. By Will Stirling

    What is the outlook for civil aerospace manufacturing since the Covid-19 crisis?

    In the peak of the crisis flying reduced by more than 90%. The knock-on to manufacturing has been rapid. Propulsion has been hit especially hard because the power-by-the-hour model means they’re only paid when aircraft fly. There is an immediate reaction in the supply chain because of collapsed demand for both new parts and spares, as there is very little maintenance activity. We can assume there will be a high number of orders cancelled.

    When can we expect the industry to recover?

    It will probably take two years for orders to recover to 90% of the highest level in recent years. The market has been growing around 4.5% per year on average; when will growth recover back to this level – my estimate would be in five-years. People will remain cautious or fearful of travelling, so this will be a slow recovery.

    Will airlines operate their older aircraft for longer?

    The driver for replacing old stock was fuel efficiency. There is a lower incentive to replace aircraft when the fuel price is so low. In some cases, airlines are retiring their older aircraft, such as Boeing 767 and 757 fleets, meaning new aircraft could be needed if demand returns. But when the capacity won’t be there, some airlines unfortunately will not survive.

    What positives can aerospace subcontractors look forward to in the next 24 months?

    The OEM ‘majors’ want to make their supply chains more competitive. We are hearing they are putting pressure on their supply chains to save costs. As ever, it’s about the focus on quality, cost and delivery. You need to be good at all three and invest in opportunities. There will be a price squeeze but this will create opportunities for those that can respond – for the best companies you could say there will be more opportunities as existing suppliers struggle.

    The ATI supports companies investing in technology to help them transform, we have found the companies that do this have received enormous benefits. An example is Spirit AeroSystems in Prestwick. From an ATI and government-funded programme, it developed a low-cost composite manufacturing technology and won the spoiler contract for Airbus A320s. They set up a new production line and a modern, automated composites facility. There are other stories like that, and we want companies to talk to us to help achieve their ambitions.

    How does Covid-19 and lower orders effect these programmes?

    There will still be aircraft orders to justify technology investment, yes. Orders will fall, but if you have a long horizon they will return. Suppliers need to be nimble and committed. Technology is a very important lever to transform your business in both the physical and digital space. The UK has been slow compared to other countries, and it is critical that companies up their game. For small companies it is really hard to understand which digital technologies can benefit their business, but there are people to help them navigate this, such as the Catapult centres and ATI – we’ll do our best to help anybody.

    What aerospace programmes are suitable for SMEs?

    I chair a programme called NATEP. That has been very important in getting smaller companies into some aerospace programmes. We have monthly funding calls too. We look to form groups or clusters of companies with a range of capabilities that could access a project – with others they can make a stronger offer. We’ve helped build those clusters.

    The future: What new technologies and materials should engineering companies plan
    for the future aerospace market?

    The composite content of future aircraft is rapidly growing, for light weighting. The Boeing 777x has all-composite wings, as does the Airbus A350. Future models will have mainly composite wings but also fuselage panels, pylons and structures. If you are already supplying parts to wings and fuselages consider whether some components, like fastenings and brackets, could be made from composites too. It is difficult to substantially change in-service aircraft, but for planes like the A320 in production, some of these parts will be replaced in the current cycle. Cabin interiors are replaced three times in the life of one aircraft, so look at interior mouldings and fittings, and also seating.

    The Wing of Tomorrow is a group of programmes run by Airbus, GKN Aerospace and ATI for developing the next generation of wings. Much is around ‘productionising’ technology, increasing the production rate and automating manufacture and assembly. There are opportunities here not just for components in wings but for companies that make automation equipment, and for building suitable integrated automation solutions.

    There is also a lot of interest in urban aviation and shorter range flying that will potentially use electric propulsion systems. The technology is a little way off – programmes are running now, but it will be perhaps five years – but it is coming. Here, the businesses will look more like high end automotive firms than traditional aviation, a luxury segment. There are details of this in our strategy. A battery powered aircraft made by ZeroAvia flew from Cranfield University in June, which is working towards a hydrogen fuel cell powered system. Rolls-Royce has an electric aircraft demonstrator called ACCEL.

    What about more UK content – is that rising, given the economic circumstances?

    We are working with Airbus colleagues, and separately with Rolls-Royce, to work out how they can bring more UK suppliers into these programmes. Rolls has a huge efficient engine programme, UltraFan, that we are supporting, looking at how we can develop a bigger UK supply base. For both programmes, the ultimate market application will probably be further out now than was planned for.

    Cheaper aviation fuel to some extent defers the pressure on airlines to acquire better engines, but companies like Rolls-Royce will flow down the latest technology into new products to enhance them despite the current climate, so UltraFan will sustain.

    How can firms learn about new aerospace supplier opportunities?

    There is a new ATI report on cabin interiors. The UK produces a high proportion of global cabin seating market. Suppliers should talk to companies like Safran and Collins Aerospace, two of the market leaders. There are over 300 projects on ATI’s books, so SMEs must look these up.