The production rate for the B737 or the A320 airplane families is around 50 aircraft per month. This is far from the standard rates in the auto industry. The auto industry can produce 1 vehicle per minute. Aircraft manufacturers can’t achieve these rates since they are much less automated than their auto peers. It makes sense. It’s a small series manufacturing business. In the aerospace industry, craftsmanship abounds.
Smart tools will, above all, help manufactures to become more responsive.
Therefore, I don’t foresee full automation in the aerospace industry – at least on the assembly lines. Not in the near future.
But the Factory of the Future is on its way – even for the aerospace industry. A new generation of robots is coming. They are cheaper and smarter. They will be working with people rather than replacing them. They will fetch tools and parts, move stuff around, clean up messes and provide safety measures for technicians.
A virtual world will also step in. Technicians will work with laser technology that will project the latest revision of plans over their workbenches. Smart goggles will be used to provide work instructions. Old hardcopy assembling instructions will soon be gone. Even virtual parts will be shown through augmented reality to assist the technician in the assembly process.
Automated warehouse systems, RFID tracking systems, gamification, tablets, 3D printing, nanotechnology… the list seems endless.
Smart tools will, above all, help manufactures to become more responsive. The aerospace industry provides a highly customized product. Meeting customer’s demands is critical. This industry requires flexibility. Smart tools will provide the ability to ramp up and scale down production in shorter timeframes.
We should not be afraid of these changes. Technology will be giving workers a hand. The Factory of the Future requires highly skilled labor. The old industry model of relocating manufacturing in low-cost labor regions is reaching its end.