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Aerospace Manufacturing: A Need to Innovate, But No One to Do the Work

Written by: Darryl Piening, Strategic Account Manager

Like many industries, the aerospace and defense (A&D) sector is facing increased pressure to continuously innovate and increase airplane_icon.pngproductivity, while also reducing labor and operating costs. Achieving all these targets requires a large, specialized workforce. A&D executives are feeling the pressure to simultaneously produce innovative products, control costs, and plan for future growth to stay ahead of this increasingly competitive market.

Pressure to Innovate

As has been the case in most industries, aerospace and defense is feeling the effects of an increasingly global economy. According to PwC’s 2015 lightbulb_icon.jpgAerospace Manufacturing Attractiveness Rankings, globalization has led to higher demand for commercial fleets outside the US, Asia in particular. While A&D companies are eager to fill this demand, it has brought on increased pressure to create “greener, smarter” products that are both innovative and cost-effective. A&D companies are looking to innovative new processes to help them compete both in the US and abroad.

A recent survey by the Aerospace Industries Association indicates that the A&D industry’s highest priority is creating competitive advantage through new, innovative products and services. While the industry has a history of technological innovation, aerospace and defense companies suddenly find themselves competing with likes of Silicon Valley for both business and talent. In many cases, the glitz of tech giants like Google, LinkedIn, and Facebook wins over the talent that A&D companies need to stay competitive.

Rising Labor Costs

The manufacturing workforce, once so dependable, is beginning to disappear. According to a 2015 report from Deloitte, the manufacturing industry is expected to experience a deficit of more than 2 million workers over the next decade. In the specialized world of aerospace manufacturing, this decline is a result of both veterans retiring and promising young talent choosing other sectors over A&D.worker_icon.jpg

With such high manufacturing turnover, A&D companies are constantly allocating funds to the education of their workforces. In the AIA survey mentioned above, 38% of A&D executives listed “training, retaining, or hiring skilled program managers to run complex, outcome-based programs” as having the biggest impact on the growth of their business in the next 1 to 3 years.

Another survey, this one by IBM, found that 39 percent of aerospace companies believe the labor shortage is having an “extreme” effect on their growth. The labor shortage is especially concerning to A&D executives facing program surges without enough employees to handle the extra work. With such a specialized workforce and a shrinking pool of manufacturing labor, it’s no wonder the A&D industry is already feeling the pressure to find the talent it needs to turn out innovative products.

Enter: Automation

The A&D industry finds itself in an interesting predicament: needing to produce innovative products to stay competitive, but lacking the talent needed to do so. To resolve this dilemma, A&D companies are increasingly turning to automation, especially vision guided vehicles (VGVs), which autonomously navigate their surroundings.

Whereas humans are unpredictable–taking breaks and making mistakes–their robotic coworkers are anything but. As many A&D companies have found, VGVs guarantee a workforce that shows up every day, consistently GT10_icon_black.pngexecuting on the company’s materials handling needs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

For United Technologies Corporation (UTC), investment in Seegrid’s vision guided vehicles meant important flexibility gains. “VGVs from Seegrid have out of the box functionality and can be safely deployed across our operations without the need for any reengineering or infrastructure upgrades,” said Michael Thompson II, Lean Transformation Leader at UTC. As A&D operations change and expand, companies like UTC depend on the flexibility of VGVs, deploying vehicles to another line or facility and putting them to work with simple in-house re-training.

In the face of increased global competitiveness, the pressure to innovate is on. Given this pressure and the industry’s disappearing labor force, A&D executives are turning to automation to ensure the consistent productivity of their facilities. By automating their processes with technologies like Seegrid’s VGVs, A&D companies are able to focus their efforts on creating innovative products that promote growth and keep them far ahead of the competition.

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