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Aerospace industry adaptation

Posted 21 June 2018 · Add Comment

Neil Cayley, Lead Consultant at Jonathan Lee Contract Recruitment, explores current issues affecting the aerospace industry and explains why adaption is vital to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

The fourth industrial revolution (4IR) or Industry 4.0, is the hottest topic in manufacturing right now, with the adoption of technology such as robotics, automation, artificial intelligence and remote monitoring of production lines rapidly gathering pace. It’s all about bringing together digital and physical networks  - capturing more data and using it to enable higher levels of industrial communication between products and machines, improvements to productivity and automation of production lines.

For the aerospace industry it can be a particularly steep learning curve due to the complexity and length of many project life cycles and the intense planning and skills required. However those that have invested so far are already seeing the benefits with a research project for BAE Systems, enabling robots to accurately machine holes in composite aircraft components, already maturing into production and on track to save BAE millions of pounds in the coming years.[1]

Meggitt’s Closed Loop Adaptive Assembly Workbench (CLAAW) is another great example. It uses sensors to record work and feedback into the system to enable greater efficiency and productivity[2] and its success has been one of the reasons cited for Meggitt’s planned development of a new £130m ‘supersite’ in the Midlands by 2019. Even those who think they don’t have the time and money for 4IR can still implement small measures quickly and at low cost which could have a considerable impact – for example, the introduction of sensors to collect data which can be used to make changes that could transform productivity within weeks.

Fully understanding all elements required in the application of 4IR is complex. Many manufacturers will not have the necessary skill-set in-house and require specialists with substantial experience in system integration, an in-depth knowledge of automation and robotics and/or a proven background in process implementation. Couple that with the highly specialist nature of the aerospace industry and it can make the right person very hard to find. However, 4IR is happening and those within the aerospace industry who can adapt most quickly, will continue to be relevant and competitive in a post-Brexit world.



The Brexit gap
The UK is well respected in the aerospace sector and has always been a key part of the global market, It is one of the most productive and fast-growing UK industry sectors, directly employing 114,000 people in the UK. A House of Commons report published in March 2018 stated that “UK aerospace is well-established and competitive and it has continued to perform strongly since the vote to leave the EU. Nonetheless, it cannot afford to be complacent about global competition”[3].

With Britain’s date to leave the EU now less than a year away (March 2019), the need to futureproof in order to retain this position is more important than ever As a country, the UK must continue to invest to remain  appealing to the global market. The expansion of Heathrow will play a key part in this, providing the UK with a global hub that will enable an increase in imports and growth of exports, as well as creating a significant number of new jobs.

Although the Government has worked hard to turn the tide on the shortage of people taking up engineering qualifications with a big push to get students involved in STEM subjects, there is currently an ageing workforce due to retire in the next decade and talent from other European countries has played a key part in providing resource for the industry. The Government has recognised this, and has committed to seeking a deal on immigration that enables the sector to access the full range of skills it requires, and ensure that the arrangements for intracompany transfers and posted workers are flexible, rapid and unbureaucratic[4].

Skills shortages
The highly specialised nature of the aerospace industry coupled with the impact of 4IR and Brexit mean that finding and attaining workers with particularly abstract or obscure skills can be a challenge. Talent is in high demand and can be very difficult to find, especially with businesses competing with one another in the market to secure these skills.Taking a more agile approach, such as the use of a contractor, could be a solution to secure the right type of talent – enabling the recruitment of a high value specialist resource to help futureproof a business but also negating the need to hire permanent staff for shorter term projects.

With the current shortage of skilled workers potentially one of the most constraining factors for the aerospace industry, companies may also want to tap into this flexible, trained and experienced workforce to help bridge the skills gap and bring in a specialist to implement a particular technology or process. Their experience can make a difference within a relatively short space of time, at the same time as transferring knowledge and capabilities to the existing workforce.

Identification of people with transferable skills from other markets is often overlooked in the aerospace sector. Looking at other industries with similar products, processes and environments can uncover missed opportunities to source much-needed talent. In particular, candidates from the oil and gas, nuclear and automotive industries can be a great fit in many instances. With the aerospace industry constantly evolving and facing new challenges such as electrification, boosting engine efficiency and even space technology, looking to parallel industries for the right skills is even more important.


1 www.amrc.co.uk/files/document/40/1475594812_IMG_BAE_Case_Study_DEV2.pdf

2 www.themanufacturer.com/articles/meggitt-braking-good-building-great/

3 https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmbeis/380/380.pdf

4 https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmbeis/380/380.pdf

 

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