‘Greener aerospace’ key to Covid-19 recovery

Creating a greener aerospace sector is key to the industry recovering from Covid-19, according to new research from Protolabs.

greener aerospace
Advanced manufacturing techniques are likely to create a more flexible product range

The second part of Protolabs’ Horizon Shift report, which involved aerospace business leaders from across Europe, found 77% of respondents expecting environmental credibility to become a key differentiator moving forward, whilst 72% indicated that new materials will be the driving force in lowering emissions.

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Nearly two thirds (65%) believe investment in emissions reducing innovation should continue, and 42% are transforming supply chains as part of the drive to cut down CO2 output.

Senior executives from Composite Technology Center, Schiebel Group and Tecnam were among 80 senior leaders interviewed to understand how this market was looking to recover from the impact of Covid-19.

“The two crises of climate change and the Covid-19 lockdowns are changing the face of the aerospace industry,” said Bjoern Klaas, Vice President and Managing Director of Protolabs Europe.

“New types of aircraft, business models and supply chains will emerge. Survival is not going to be about a fast transition, but about building up resilience for the long-term and, part of that, is producing the next generation of aircraft: improved aerodynamics, lighter, more fuel-efficient and less polluting.”

He continued: “91% of business leaders admit that cutting CO2 is having some form of impact on how they run their companies and, the good news for the European aerospace sector, is that it appears they’ve decided to embrace the pressure by transforming supply chains and developing new technologies and materials.”

“Earlier this year, Airbus reconfirmed its commitment to decarbonisation and leading the development of a more sustainable global aerospace industry – this is a commitment that will filter through its supply chain.”

The Horizon Shift report explores the challenges facing the supply chain and the operational improvements the sector is taking to overcome these.

Top of the list of concerns for companies over the next two years was environmental compliance, followed by inflexibility/long supply chain delays (69%) and length of certification process (60%). Volatility in raw material costs and availability (57%) was a key issue also.

The research found that firms expect to adjust their use of advanced manufacturing techniques to create a more flexible product range (63%), and deliver parts/aircraft quicker (58%).

3D printing’s transformation into a production technology was also discussed with companies talking of processing materials at a greater speed, with less waste, and even compressing multiple components into a single lighter 3D printed part.

Bjoern said: “Companies that are experiencing financial pressures in the aftermath of Covid-19 are now focusing on quick wins and speed to market. One way to plan ahead is to create additional revenue streams, but this requires supply chain optimisation and increased speed to market.

“In the longer-term, our survey shows that they will look to hire talent, implement new technologies, use new materials and expand their manufacturing capabilities. They might see some unexpected positive outcomes from the crisis: flexibility from upgraded manufacturing supply chains and processes giving the ability to cater to consumer and social pressures with more environmentally friendly aircraft.”