Visualising the future

AMNov19Features - lanner1
AMNov19Features - lanner1

Aerospace Manufacturing hears from process modelling and simulation software specialists, Lanner about how digital twins are transforming the aerospace sector.


Much of the work produced within the world of aerospace manufacturing is increasingly visionary, enabling new boundaries to be continuously pushed and new pioneering ways of working to be achieved.

But the end result involves far more than just simply turning a vision into reality, as pioneering as the vision may be. As with all sectors, the aerospace industry is being shaped not only by its innovations but the digital era, where AI, automation and IoT are playing their part in redefining what’s possible.

In fact, it’s no secret how 21st century tech is being used to drive innovation industry-wide, from Embraer’s 100% electric propulsion aircraft and NASA’s Spanwise Adaptive Wing technology that incorporates a new type of alloy that can bend and fold, to Airbus’ solar aircraft that stayed in flight for 28 days when it was tested last year.

But with these advances comes plenty of unknowns, relating to cost, efficiency, effectiveness and more, and it’s how aerospace manufacturers are using tech to manage these ‘unknowns’ that’s making all the difference.

One such technology is the digital twin; virtual models that duplicate the characteristics of their physical assets, devices, systems, locations and people. The aerospace industry is increasingly using digital twins connected to their real-world counterparts to monitor and control assets leading to better customer experiences or new ‘as-a-service’ business models. But there is another level of digital twin that is increasingly seeing strategic adoption – one that models the operations, processes and policies of the business.

The process-level digital twin allows aerospace manufacturers to roll their current operations forward in time, helping them to understand their future performance, what risks exist and, crucially, what steps can be taken to mitigate them.

When success within the aerospace market relies upon implementing robust planning strategies and having agile reactions to external factors, digital twins of business operations can provide the insight and foresight necessary to keep ahead of the game.

Crystal ball clarity

Predictive digital twins use simulation technology to provide a comprehensive overview of future operations, including all resources, from personnel to stock levels and fleet management.

As a result, organisations can efficiently optimise their resources, balance performance with costs, ensuring forecast targets are met, as well as delivery deadlines. Predictive simulation can also support future forecasting and planning, enabling realistic KPIs to be understood, based on robustly tested data, often increasing revenues and improving delivery in the process.

OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture between Airbus and OneWeb

A case in point – no more manufacturing guesswork for OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture between Airbus and OneWeb. Its mission is to mass-produce a satellite constellation that will provide high-speed internet access worldwide.

Satellites have traditionally always been manufactured manually on a small scale. However, OneWeb Satellite’s vision is to produce hundreds of satellites a year - an output that has never been seen on this scale before. To do this, a factory was commissioned to deliver the high production rate, while accounting for the complex assembly process and supply chain by taking advantage of new Industry 4.0 technologies.

Predictive digital twin experts, Lanner, a company of Royal HaskoningDHV, provided the digital tools OneWeb Satellites needed to help them plan their satellite production and underpin their Industry 4.0 strategy. They particularly wanted assurance that the systems they were looking to implement would enable them to deliver their satellites on time.

Lanner’s WITNESS Horizon software was used to model the future production operations to ensure the satellites’ products would be produced and delivered for their launch dates. OneWeb Satellites’ predictive digital twin provided them with the insight to understand how production, automation, quality assurance and supply chain factors would all impact their throughput. And it also meant they could account for a learning curve, as the first satellites would take them longer to make than the 400th one.

OneWeb Satellites have gone on to use WITNESS Horizon to design two factories; one in Toulouse and the other in Florida. During this time hundreds of scenarios have been run, with OneWeb Satellites being provided with absolute clarity on their forward schedule and assembly requirements. They can also accurately calculate the right level of buffer stock for on-time delivery too. Keen to build upon this initial success, OneWeb Satellites is looking to integrate WITNESS into their real-time operational decision making, which will enable them to tap into the benefits of their Industry 4.0 strategy and streamline production as demand undoubtedly grows.

Seeing the future

These days, having a vision and turning it into reality is only half the equation. As ideas become more sophisticated and are fused with digital tech capabilities, foresight is everything when bringing an idea to fruition and successfully maintaining it.

OneWeb Satellites has used Lanner’s WITNESS Horizon to design its Toulouse and Florida factories

Ultimately, digital twins bridge the gap between ideas and reality and allow for testing in virtual scenarios, which provides a level of clarity that has never been achieved before, as well as presenting unique opportunities to remove inaccurate guesswork from operational decisions. Consequently, this removes the potential for mitigating errors to negatively impact vital stages of the manufacturing process.

With the combination of the innovative visions of aerospace manufacturers and the commercial proposition of state-of-the-art predictive simulation software, digital twins have the ability to drive product revolution into the future and generate genuine, observable change.



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