Suzanne Benoît is Presidenta of Aéro Montréal.
“More than 80% of aerospace executives expect their employees to be working with artificial intelligence (AI) systems in the coming years”.
Aéro Montréal has been working for companies and institutions in Québec’s aerospace sector since 2006. What are the main challenges that have been overcome during these years, and what are the ones to come?
The aerospace sector is facing increasingly globalised competition; this is prompting us to establish various strategies to ensure the competitiveness of our SMEs.
One of the biggest challenges we have faced is transforming the supply chain:
- Transformation of the supply chain. Our companies are working less and less directly with an OEM. They need to conduct business with Tier 1 and 2 companies that are selling more complete subsets to OEMs. This has led our SMEs to review their business development strategies and to work with new customers, using new methods.
In a context of fierce competition, innovation has always been the main challenge. I would like to answer your third question about the challenges ahead. Small and Medium Sized enterprises play an important role in the aerospace industry. What are the main challenges they will face in the sector in the coming future?
- Internationalization/mergers/collaborations. Our SMEs must achieve a greater critical mass to work with Tier 1 and 2 companies. To do so, they need to work more closely with other companies, often located abroad, to offer more complete subsets to integrators. Increasing a company’s critical mass involves mergers/acquisitions.
- Embrace the 4.0 shift and the transition to digital. This is a mandatory step for any SME wishing to innovate and grow.
- Diversify customer base and markets. Our SMEs can no longer be dependent on a single customer. To continue to exist when an aircraft program ends, they must be present in other growing markets, including drones, MRO and defence.
- Overcome the labour shortage. This is currently the biggest challenge of any company. With 37,000 jobs to be filled within 10 years, the Québec aerospace industry needs to implement campaigns to attract foreign labour and interest young Quebecers in pursuing careers in aerospace.
To answer the second part of your question, it is essential that the cluster remains highly effective because our role is to support our SMEs by putting in place programs and initiatives to help them with their growth strategy.
Created in 2006, Aéro Montréal is a strategic think tank that groups together all major decision makers in Québec’s aerospace sector, including companies, educational and research institutions, as well as associations and unions. The cluster has set up working groups aligned with the challenges facing the industry, and is ensuring that they offer concrete solutions to the issues raised by the industry.
It is also important to maintain a strong cluster because we are developing many international agreements with clusters located abroad. These allow us to facilitate interactions between our companies and those located abroad which may have complementary needs.
Innovation. Our vision is to become the most innovative cluster in the world by 2022. This culture of innovation is deeply rooted in our companies and is imperative for success.
Aéro Montréal recently launched a major study on the potential synergies between AI and aerospace in Montréal. What are the main conclusions of this study?
The shift to artificial intelligence (AI) in aerospace is relatively new. Companies in our industry are just starting to implement a variety of AI-related solutions.
Artificial intelligence will be emerging within aerospace companies, particularly through augmented reality, connected tools and robotics. More than 80% of aerospace executives expect their employees to be working with artificial intelligence (AI) systems in the coming years.
However, to adopt these new technologies, our companies need to join forces and work together. This is why we are encouraging our SMEs to develop collaborations, particularly with companies from other industrial sectors related to that of artificial intelligence.
The arrival of AI will also have a significant impact on the workforce. In the next 10 years, it is estimated that 50% of jobs will be transformed with the arrival of AI. Training centres will need to adapt their teaching programs.
Montréal has also had a clear competitive advantage in AI since the implementation in its region of the SCALE AI cluster. Its goal is to increase economic development through the rapid adoption and integration of artificial intelligence in supply chains.
The aerospace industry is one of Québec’s main export drivers. What are the strengths of Québec’s aerospace industry and what are the objectives to be achieved in the coming years?
More than 80% of Québec aerospace production is exported outside Canada. Our ecosystem offers highly varied strengths. Here are the main ones:
- Considerable diversity. We have companies that can manufacture virtually every component of an airplane. We also host 6 OEMs (Airbus, Bombardier, Mitsubishi, CAE, Pratt & Whitney Canada and Bell) in our region and nearly 200 SMEs.
- Concentration. 98% of the companies that make up our cluster are located within a 30 km radius of Montréal, which facilitates collaboration between our SMEs.
- Government assistance. Our two levels of government are very attentive to our needs and support our companies. They do so by providing financial support for initiatives and programs designed by the cluster to meet the specific needs of our industry.
- A specialised workforce and a network of six universities offering a concentration of joint master’s programs specialised in aerospace, and two vocational schools specialised in aeronautics.
- A culture of innovation. More than 70% of Canadian aerospace R&D is performed in Québec. Our companies are investing heavily in innovation to remain among the most successful in the world.
In Aéro Montréal there are currently different working groups. What are the main ongoing projects you are involved in with some of the groups?
Aéro Montréal is mobilizing around 8 working groups:
- Next generation workforce
- Unmanned aerial vehicles
- Defence and security
- Intelligence and innovation strategies
- Green and smart supply chain
- Branding and promotion
These working groups are composed of industry professionals and are driving many initiatives, including:
MACH – Foster collaboration and innovation within the supply chain and improve the performance and competitiveness of suppliers.
- 5 active cohorts and nearly 60 committed suppliers
- More than 600 completed projects
- More than $6.6 million invested in projects
MACH FAB 4.0 – Foster the implementation of digital technologies and advanced manufacturing within participating SMEs.
- A $19 M project, including $9.5 M in public funds
- 21 ongoing projects and 6 completed projects
StartAéro 360° – Foster the integration and commercialization of disruptive technologies in the aerospace supply chain.
- A $4.3 M project, including $3 M of public funds
- Supporting 30 SMEs over 3 years
Accelerator 360° – Support growth and foster collaboration among SMEs in international markets by helping with commercialization within global supply chains.
- A $7.2 M project, including $5 M of public funds
- Supporting 35 SMEs
AeroPortal – Present careers and trades in the aerospace industry and centralise information and job postings in the sector to make them available to the general public and job seekers.
- Nearly 20,000 Facebook subscribers and more than 1,000 candidates in the job pool
- Nearly 900 job vacancies posted since the launch of the portal in 2016