The global aircraft and aircraft parts manufacturing and repair & maintenance market is expected to grow from around $571 billion in 2019 to $679 billion in 2021 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.0%. The aircraft and aircraft parts manufacturing and repair & maintenance industry is benefiting from technological advances such as 3D printing, robotics, and blockchain technology.
Additive manufacturing is continuously evolving and manufacturers are now using 3D printing technology to produce parts for aircraft and aircraft engines. 3D printing creates a three-dimensional physical object using a digital design. 3D-printed parts are 25% lighter, simpler, and offer more design features than conventional parts. This enables manufacturers to create high performance aircraft engines and parts. GE Aviation has introduced 3D-printed parts in its aircraft engines. In 2016, Airbus unveiled the first aircraft made using 3D printing technology. Boeing has also planned to use 3D-printed titanium parts in the construction of its 787 Dreamliner jets; this is expected to save about $3 million in manufacturing costs.
Robotics and drones unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are widely used by players in the aircraft manufacturing market. UAVs are aircrafts without a human pilot and are operated by a remote control. These help in automated inspections by capturing images, comparing them against the respective 3D models (digital twins), and reporting any damage which requires further inspection or repairs. UAVs also help companies to shorten inspections by several hours and the inspection work can be done more accurately and safely. Companies that are actively making civil UAVs include DJI, Parrot and 3DRobotics.
Modern aircraft engines generate huge amount of heat capable of melting and in other ways damaging the materials of which they are made. They therefore require frequent checking and maintenance work. This involves the aircraft spending time in a hangar, which leads to heavy costs in terms of both, manpower and downtime to the airline or defense operation. Now, miniscule robots are being developed that will be able to inspect deep inside the engines, and ultimately carry out needed repairs. Eventually, this process can be carried out while manpower waits at the gates of an airport or between military sorties.
Digital technologies such as blockchain are being adopted by aircraft manufacturing companies to monitor performance of aircraft parts and systems as the manufacturing process is highly specialized and complex. Blockchain is a data structure used to establish a digital archive or record blocks of data which can be accessed across a network of computers. For instance, Boeing has implemented IoT (internet of things)-driven blockchain to collect details about every component part. This helps to predict maintenance events, optimize production operations and extend the life cycle of parts. Airbus has identified blockchain applications in the areas of supply chain tracking, procurement support and revenue sharing.