Over the past few years, the aerospace industry has seen countless innovations coming to fruition with many more on the horizon.
Here are six emerging aerospace technologies you’ll want to know about:
1. Zero-Fuel Aircraft
The idea of a zero-fuel aircraft has gained a lot of traction recently in both civil and commercial sectors. The concept can be used in agriculture, aerial photography, 3D mapping, wildlife protection, and the provision of internet access in remote places. But how does it work?
According to Avimanyu Basu, a lead analyst at Technavio for aerospace research:
“Zero-fuel aircraft use photovoltaic panels to utilize solar energy to provide necessary thrust to the engines. The Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered prototype had nano carbon fiber reinforced structural components to reduce the overall weight of the body,”
The recent surge in interest has put pressure on global aerospace and defense industries to create a long-term development strategy for the zero-fuel aircraft concept and drive market growth.
2. Structural Health Monitoring
Advanced health management systems - such as monitoring, prognostics and self-healing - are being developed to enhance our ability to analyze and determine the status of an aircraft. This technology has already been used by Boeing and Airbus, and was previously used onboard an Air France jet that crashed in 2009 to notify headquarters of electrical problems.
3. Advanced Space Propulsion Technologies
A new, plasma-based rocket propulsion technology known as the VASIMR® rocket (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket) has been in development by NASA, along with the Department of Energy and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, for several years now. This new technology is expected to reduce fuel consumption and enable long-term space missions in the future.
Although both NASA and the engineer developing the VASIMR propulsion system have faced criticism recently, new breakthroughs have been made that hint toward a looming payoff.
4. Advanced Materials
Advances in material science have hinted toward huge benefits for aircraft manufacturers. New materials like graphene and carbon nanotubes are helping to make airplane wings more efficient by reducing weight and fuel consumption.
Using these new materials, scientists at MIT and NASA have developed a “morphing” wing that could also lead to more efficient manufacturing processes due to a system of tiny, lightweight subunits that can be assembled by small, specialized robots.
5. Smart Automation and Blockchain
Manufacturing aircraft parts is a highly specialized and complicated process. However, new technologies and processes are making it faster and simpler. Take the airbus “factory of the future,” for example. Technicians are able to scan the metal surface with a tablet or smart glass and determine what the correct sized bolt that needs to be used is and how much torque is required. Based on this information, a robotic arm will perform the work.
Aerospace and defense companies are also starting to explore the digital realm, as well. Technologies such as blockchain are helping to improve transparency and automate transactions among supply chain partners.
6. 3D Printing
Companies that have had trouble keeping up with production deadlines have turned to 3D printing as a solution in recent years. Take Airbus, for example. This company has started using 3D printing to manufacture over 1,000 different parts for its A350. This trend is expected to keep growing.
Spare parts that need to be replaced on a regular basis, such as door handles, will be the first targets. Next, the tools that are used to create aircraft parts will also be printed. This will cut back on time, cost and weight.
The Future is Here
Innovative technologies and manufacturing processes are being developed on a seemingly constant basis and small to medium sized manufacturers are reaping the benefits as aerospace companies look for niche suppliers to help expand their supply chain.
More and more joint ventures and outsourcing are expected to occur in the next five to ten years as these emerging markets start to compete on a global scale.