Covid Could Speed Industry 4.0 Transformation

 - July 21, 2020, 3:27 PM
As part of its Industry 4.0 digital transformation, engine maker Pratt & Whitney launched a connected factory pilot project at Pratt & Whitney Component Solutions in Singapore. The program expects to improve order fulfillment time up to 30 percent, reduce machine idle time up to 30 percent and reduce energy consumption by up to 10 percent. (Photo: Pratt & Whitney)

For the aviation industry, the Covid pandemic has taken place in the midst of what some refer to as Industry 4.0: the ongoing transformation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices combined with the latest smart technology.

How businesses experience the so-called digitization revolution varies from company to company. Speaking in the Supply Chain 4.0 webinar as part of FIA Connect Tuesday, Pratt & Whitney COO Shane Eddy addressed some of the challenges and benefits his company has experienced during the crisis, which has seen demand on the commercial application side decrease between 40 and 50 percent depending on the sector and the region. With the downturn, the focus on cost has been much more intense.

“This lower investment in today’s Covid environment...is even more important for us,” said Eddy. Through digitization, the Connecticut-based engine maker has managed to adapt to the new realities with lean automated and connected production cells. “The data accumulated from these machines these days is unprecedented,” Eddy said. “So all the ingredients are there for a full digital value stream.” The adoption of new technology has allowed the company to serve demand with a much smaller industrial footprint than would have been possible a decade ago.

He noted that the use of automation and robots assist in challenging processes such as fitting large engines together, particularly parts with tight tolerances. Such automation has contributed to increased yields, improved on-time delivery, and cost performance improvements as well as better safety. “By connecting machines, people, networks, and data to drive visibility, efficiency, quality, and predictability on the shop floor, we’ve seen a step-change in the productivity of our factories,” said Eddy, adding the manufacturer has already offset hundreds of millions of dollars of investment that it would have otherwise required.

For Ben Adams, president of South Korea-based Hanwha Aerospace’s U.S. division, the journey towards digitization has resulted in 30 percent growth for the company each year for the past several years. Adams was formerly president and CEO of U.S.-based aircraft engine component manufacturer EDAC Technologies, which Hanwha purchased last year and whose integration Adams described as a transition from a job shop to a high production manufacturing facility. 

As the companies continue to integrate, he describes them as a tale of two geographies. While the U.S. facility was engaged primarily in manufacturing and research and development activities, its focus centered more on the point of creation and less on automation. The location relied heavily on machine-side sensors monitoring their health and manufacturing accuracy.

When he visited the new parent company’s facility in Changwon, South Korea, which opened in 2018, he found it to be more advanced than the U.S. operation, with a “tremendous amount” of RFID technology and automation. “I think what they’ve done from an automation standpoint is commendable and successful,” said Adams, adding that the company will work to share best practices among its divisions. “I think we’ve implemented some good product in machine health monitoring systems here in the U.S. that will also benefit our teams in Asia.”

The digital transformation, which some companies viewed as a somewhat esoteric concept, has quickly taken on new urgency amid the upheavals felt by the industry, according to Rob Heys, a senior business development manager with customer relationship management software provider Salesforce. Digitization becomes particularly crucial with the current drop in commercial aircraft deliveries resonating through the supply chain. Under such circumstances, Hayes said there must be more collaborative partnerships between OEMs and system integrators and suppliers through, for example, leveraging technology to create collaborative environments, where companies can share information such as change notes across the entire supply chain in real-time. 

Eddy reported that Pratt & Whitney now uses a dedicated portal to enable two-way data exchange with its suppliers, enabling them to share scheduling information. What excites him now, he said, is the ability for the company to use model-based engineering design and flow the models directly through to the supplier’s factory, which has proved particularly beneficial to Pratt & Whitney's joint venture with Hanwha in Singapore.

On the supplier side, Adams said having the capability to receive model-based definition allows the company to speed  estimating process, fixture design, and capital acquisition. One of the biggest challenges Adams sees in supporting Pratt & Whitney and other OEMs resides in continually refining the customer interface to allow them greater visibility to the process and enhance communication.