6 minute read 26 Apr 2019
A engineer using a tablet

How digital technologies are transforming aerospace and defense

By Randall Miller

EY Global Advanced Manufacturing & Mobility Leader

Passionate about manufacturing, mobility and disruption. Champion for women and diversity & inclusiveness in the Advanced Manufacturing & Mobility industries.

6 minute read 26 Apr 2019

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  • A and D Edge Digitalization in aerospace and defence (pdf)

Companies have immense focus on using advanced manufacturing techniques to reduce costs and improve productivity.

Digital is transforming the world. As advanced technologies become cheaper and gain more exposure, new areas are being penetrated where the physical and digital worlds increasingly overlap and blend together. Enterprises embrace these emerging technologies not only to digitize their operations, but also to participate in the flexible and constantly engaging business ecosystem.

The aerospace and defense (A&D) industry has been among the early adopters of digital technologies. A&D players have been using robotics and automation in their assembly lines since the last two to three decades. However, the evolution of new digital technologies and their adoption have never been at a faster pace than that at which digital is disrupting the A&D ecosystem today.

Companies have immense focus on using advanced manufacturing techniques to reduce costs and improve productivity. The enormous amount of data captured through sensors and advanced analytic techniques have opened up a view into insights around operations, product performance and customers that were never explored before.

A&D companies are under constant pressure to maximize profitability and improve operational efficiency. Operating in an uncertain world, they need to continuously adapt to business disruptions. Digital brings in a new level of interconnectivity, which challenges organizations to think differently about risk and resilience while embracing opportunities through driving innovation.

Here are the technologies opening up new areas of improvement within A&D.

3D printing

OEMs and their suppliers use 3D printing technology to customize aircraft and defense equipment for multiple customers. They deploy large 3D printers to manufacture durable parts from heavy metals such as titanium, and tungsten with minimal wastage. These automated printers offer great precision and low maintenance to OEMs and decrease their supplier pool volume and dependency.

Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence and machine learning enable suppliers to continuously monitor and analyze large volumes of data related to machines to identify anomalies and predict breakdowns. Creation of “digital twin” — a virtual replica of the machine in the cloud — enables them to optimize operations for various outcomes.

Cognitive insights enable OEMs to improve efficiencies and design better products. Progressively, OEMs use artificial intelligence and machine learning to make autonomous systems, which would be self-sufficient in making flight operational and battlefield decisions on their own.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality and virtual reality technologies are disrupting the maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) business by providing engineers more information about critical parts and visibility to maintenance activities.

Augmented reality technologies can create advanced simulations for pilot and defense personnel to gain significant experience through using virtual A&D systems before even physically handling those.

An Australian aerospace company designed a wearable-assisted system that leverages augmented reality to connect on-the-ground technicians with experts anywhere in the world to solve maintenance challenges in real time. The wearable system will reduce repair down time of grounded aircraft as it removes the need for specialists to travel.


Blockchain enables OEMs to monitor and collaborate with thousands of suppliers and customers for successful production and delivery of A&D systems. Service providers for governments can use blockchain to secure their transaction records and protect sensitive information from being mishandled or tampered with.

Cloud, mobile and analytics

Cloud, mobile and analytics enable suppliers to act efficiently and connect with OEMs suppliers to optimize the supply chain. OEMs use data analytics to provide predictive maintenance, track performance and also optimize shop floor processes. MRO operators use advanced analytics tools to improve work schedule planning and optimize maintenance procedures.


By adhering to standards and protocols, suppliers can create an infrastructure to prevent leakage of proprietary data and ensure compliance and cybersecurity. A&D OEMs also monitor the cybersecurity capabilities of their suppliers to ensure an environment of trust.
Service providers for governments along with leading OEMs are eyeing opportunities to scale up their cybersecurity capabilities and provide cybersecurity solutions to the governments.

Internet of Things (IoT) and sensors

IoT and sensors enable collection and analysis of vast amount of operational data from shop floor assets and critical A&D components. This data is leveraged to track and predict maintenance needs of critical assets and prevent unscheduled maintenance stoppages.

IoT and sensors enable MRO operators to avoid time-consuming disassemblies during inspections and make targeted maintenance decisions. Furthermore, with OEMs eyeing larger share in MRO operations, IoT is enabling them to build intelligence into components and devices used in MRO processes using complex and sensitive flight data.

Distributed intelligence of sensor-connected assets helps production managers make the right decisions on the shop floor. Monitoring and analysis of critical parts can be used to improve machine productivity and reliability.

A US-based aircraft engine manufacturer has over 5,000 sensors installed on the aircraft powered by its next-generation engines. These sensors are connected using IoT and generate up to 10 GB of data per second. The engine manufacturers can use this data to predict engine life, improve fuel efficiency, and reduce noise and emissions.

Five major forces fueling digital transformation in A&D

1. Enhancing customer experience and involvement.

A&D companies must ensure that all their business decisions are aligned to the key strategies and changing needs of their key customers. They should closely collaborate with customers in R&D and product development and use technology-enabled simulation to facilitate better procurement decisions.

2. Redefining products and services.

Product and service portfolios should be aligned to the industry trends. Companies should offer services with their products, focusing on long-term service agreements. Technology should drive collaboration and conceptualization. Value-add solutions, enabled by data captured through sensors, should be provided.

3. Digitalizing business operations.

Use an omni-channel strategy to sell products and services, as well as smart contracts that leverage the blockchain. Offer cloud-based solutions providing decision support. Data analytics can be deployed in demand planning, inventory management, predictive maintenance product quality and customer satisfaction.

4. Developing workforce of the future.

Companies must develop an agile workforce that is capable enough to adapt the emerging digital technologies.

5. Building a value chain ecosystem.

The A&D value chain of the future will be an effective collaboration between manufacturers, suppliers and customers. Driven by technology and customization, 3D printing will reshape the A&D supply chain. Suppliers will collaborate in product development, planning and services. And new revenue-risk sharing models will incentivize suppliers to bring in product innovation.


A&D companies can no longer afford to focus solely on manufacturing and delivering products. They need to be holistic solution providers for their customers with high focus on innovation and agility to quickly adapt to changing preferences.

About this article

By Randall Miller

EY Global Advanced Manufacturing & Mobility Leader

Passionate about manufacturing, mobility and disruption. Champion for women and diversity & inclusiveness in the Advanced Manufacturing & Mobility industries.