It is clear that the aerospace industry is currently in an uplift phase, with many aircraft deals announced recently, an additional £3.3 billion contributed towards the UK economy. However, concerns have been raised around current manufacturing processes and the ability to support this growth as well as the growing concern about the skills gap within the manufacturing and engineering sectors. Many industry experts express that digitalisation is the only way to meet the demand and support the 5.1% expected growth of the aerospace industry over the next decade. This article will explore the issues holding back the aerospace industry and how digitalisation and innovation will help to drive growth.
A variety of factors are contributing to the growing skills gap in the UK, with the average age of the skilled workforce increasing and the lack of commitment to the industry through education programmes, there is a growing concern over the number of skilled operators entering the industry. This concern is shared by the majority of the industry, with 59% of aerospace companies stating they worry the lack of skilled workers poses a risk to the future of their business. It is also becoming increasingly difficult to recruit skilled staff, with 32% of jobs being classed as ‘hard to fill’ and 48% of aerospace businesses reporting difficulties in recruiting. It is predicted that 56,000 engineering technicians will be required to meet demand in 2024, a number the government aims to fill by introducing engineering to students at a younger age in a captivating manner.
Despite the concern around skills, the digitalisation of manufacturing processes is an area in which the aerospace industry is showing growing interest. Processes such as 3D scanning and printing and automation help to improve the efficiency and productivity of manufacturing systems, improving output to meet the growing demand. 3D printing helps to remove the limitations of production, giving manufacturers the ability to produce specific and detailed components all the way through to production-ready parts. These processes generally help to reduce material and labour costs, as well as improve accuracy in components. The involvement of digital technology is also expected to help with recruitment, with software and hardware engineers looking to work with this state-of-the-art technology.
Incorporating digital technology also allows for customisation within the industry, giving manufacturers the ability to easily provide custom component production based on customer’s unique requirements. The processes offer speed and longevity without risking safety, a paramount factor in the aerospace industry. The development cycle has seen a boost in efficiency, with the ability to produce prototypes and parts quickly increase output, it also allows quality assurance and testing processes to be carried out sooner, ensuring safety requirements are met at all times. It is clear the aerospace manufacturers are making every effort to meet the growing demand of the industry, adapting traditional supply chain processes through digitalisation.
MSM is keeping well abreast of technology development through its bespoke forming simulation software of high pressure hydroforming processes for complex fabrications, but also in the use of 3D printing to “fast make” in-house tooling and fixtures.