With commercial aviation a market that is rapidly growing globally, aviation components supplier Aerosud Aviation MD Johan Steyn says there is a need to stay abreast of technological advancements if South Africa is to remain competitive in aviation manufacturing.
Owing to this, he notes that, through the Commercial Aviation Manufacturing Association of South Africa (Camasa), South African developers can expand the level of technology that is ready to be used by the international market.
“ . . . the aerospace and defence sectors are high-technology areas and ideally suited to act as catalysts for the showcasing of new technologies. We believe that we should stimulate a wider understanding of new technology and demonstrate technology readiness levels by focusing on ‘clever products’ and ‘clever processes’.”
Steyn further points out that there is a need to demonstrate the full supply cycle, from suppliers of technology and software to users in the sector.
Alluding to this, consulting company i2B strategy consultant Dr Harry Teifel says that, given the aviation sector’s manageable size and lower degree of competitive tension than, for example, the automotive sector, at tier 2 and 3 levels, it offers an ideal opportunity to serve as an platform to build an Industry 4.0 blueprint for South Africa.
“There is significant evidence showing that many of the international original- equipment manufacturers based in South Africa are investing heavily in bringing their local operations to global advanced manufacturing and/or Industry 4.0 standards by inter alia deploying advanced product life-cycle management applications, robotics and virtual reality and augmented reality (AR) solutions.”
He explains that this promises to bring an ‘exciting’ infusion of global best practice to South Africa and it is hoped that this will also lead to the advancement of other sectors.
Teifel further mentions that companies, such as Aerosud, have identified exciting possibilities to link AR to its operations to ensure the optimal execution of complicated multistage and high-quality welding activities, which link robotics to human activity.
“Currently in production is a specialised robotic welding solution that is necessary to stay competitive and grow the capacity required by the A320 programme as it accelerates to a monthly production rate of 60 and beyond in 2019. These parts go on every A320 and A350 wing structure assembly,” explains Steyn.
Aerosud is building and supplying aircraft components to Airbus A320 and A350 commercial planes. The parts are built in South Africa and then shipped to Airbus manufacturing facilities worldwide.
Adding this solution to the production line has enabled Aerosud to produce a world-class solution using artificial intelligence and robotic and process control.
“We are also integrating laser automation on a new project that we are starting on the A350 – a different solution that includes AR. This will help to support the production process and sequencing, which is critical, and will probably be implemented using AR goggles from third-party manufacturers,” Steyn points out.
Moreover, Teifel mentions that there are “immense” opportunities for companies globally, including those in South Africa, to develop by optimally leveraging technology and clever industrial policy measures in a win-win manner.
“Fortunately, organisations, such as Aerosud, Camasa and the Manufacturing Circle, have identified these opportunities and are actively exploring and implementing solutions that will hopefully allow for a win-win relationship between people and disruptive technologies to be fostered – and, in the process, help South Africa and its economy.”
Steyn explains that new technologies available for manufacturers in the aviation and aerospace industries have been demonstrated by the company at events such as the Vision 2030 Summit, held in June this year, in Johannesburg, Gauteng.
“We need to demonstrate the full supply cycle from suppliers of technologies, platforms and software through to the users, companies and sectors in the aviation industry. Therefore, through Camasa, we aim to expand the level of technology readiness in the commercial aviation manufacturing sector,” he highlights.
Although the initiative promises positive outcomes, Steyn says governments, company leaders and general workers are cautious of adapting to the new technology, owing to misinformation regarding job-loss implications.
As a result, “decision-makers are not looking at the massive opportunities presented and necessitated by new technology, which need to be introduced if we want to stay relevant globally”, he states.
Nevertheless, he points out that the new technology will need trained operators, which is why the company is training artisans, with plans to expand training further next year.
“We are, however, hoping that we can initiate a partnership with Industry 4.0- interested players in the aviation and advanced manufacturing sectors to introduce cross-sectoral collaboration in the form of training. Using these new skills and new technologies, and partnering with tertiary institutions, we will focus on forming a technology incubation for the sector,” Steyn enthuses.
He concludes that the artisan training comprises a standard one-year theoretical and two-year on-the-job training.