Given how ubiquitous flying is today, we often forget that humans have really only been able to fly in a practical sense for about 70-years. In this short period of time, we have seen remarkable leaps in technology, not the least of which being wireless internet at 35,000-feet. The aviation industry is poised for another great leap forward driven by industry leaders like Boeing and Lockheed Martin, who by embracing technologies like virtual reality, 3D-printing, and next-gen manufacturing and supply-chain management, are going to continue powering the aerospace industry’s long tradition of innovation and pioneering spirit.
Virtual and Augmented Reality
Boeing’s venture capital offshoot, HorizonX, has invested heavily in C360 Technologies, a virtual reality startup based out of Pittsburgh that also works on augmented reality platforms and 360-degree videos. According to Geekwire, such a heavy investment in virtual reality indicates that Boeing is moving toward autonomous air crafts. Representatives from Boeing said they will use C360’s virtual and augmented reality programs “to improve autonomous systems.” Boeing’s decision to bring a virtual reality firm into the fold is a perfect example of the pioneering spirit required to succeed in the aviation industry. Until now, C360 has no experience in aviation. For the most part, the company has worked with professional sports organizations and cable providers to help capture camera angles that allow audiences watching at home to see the games in new ways. Their newest challenge will require them to use their skills to help a self-flying plane see and understand its surroundings in ways that rival the aircraft’s human counterparts.
Building Faster and Smarter
Fellow Aerospace & Defense juggernaut Lockheed Martin is taking the necessary steps to stay on the cutting-edge as well, but is focusing on the manufacturing end of their business model as a means to increase output and cut costs. They recently announced the construction of a “$350 million facility,” right outside of Denver that enables them to manufacture satellites in a modern and streamlined way. CNN Tech notes the satellites must be tested “in a special thermal vacuum chamber that simulates the unforgiving conditions in space.” This facility is a major improvement for Lockheed, as it can now produce and test their satellites in the same location, which saves a surprising amount of time and cost. Lockheed is also changing the way they will manufacture their satellites, as this new facility will boast a fleet of 3D-printers that will share the burden of manufacturing parts with traditional methods, according to The Washington Post.
Focusing on Avionics
For those of you not familiar with aerospace industry terminology, “avionics” are the electronic gadgets that manage the litany of systems and functions that air crafts must perform in order to fly. Being the shrewd business persons they are, the leaders of Boeing are launching a new venture that will focus on the development of avionics technology. Avionics Today reports the move isn’t just to manufacture more avionics for their own use, but to develop “systems that are targeted for entry into service in the next decade.” Boeing wants to look forward with its new avionics program, and it’s likely their partnership with C360 could factor into this new brand strategy, as virtual reality would make sense as the next big thing in avionics technology. Further, this decision shrinks Boeing’s supply chain and also builds stronger core competencies among its work force. Currently, Boeing does not create all of the avionics used in their air crafts, they outsource much of the design to outside companies, such as Honeywell. Moving the operation internally not only saves money and time when it comes to servicing the technology, it also allows their engineers to better acquaint themselves with the systems. Making avionics a larger part of the engineers core competencies will stimulate innovation among the team, hopefully leading them to develop superior technologies that work better with their air crafts.
At first glance, much of these developments may not seem instrumental, but, these small-steps have tremendous implications and will likely be the impetuses behind the next generation of flight that will make our current capabilities look primitive. Dassault Systèmes’ Aerospace & Defense team looks forward to seeing what comes from these decisions and hope to contribute to the process any way we can.