2017 was the first year that Sopra Steria and its subsidiary CIMPA took part in the Paris Air Show. Our demonstrations revolved around digital transformation, which was to be found everywhere during the 6 days at the show.
Sopra Steria, a leader in the digital transformation of the aerospace industry
Our ‘Chalet’ demonstrated to visitors and clients the usefulness of digital tools in the aviation industry. The aim was to show them that digital continuity is key to breaking down the barriers between business divisions, from the design and manufacturing up to in-service support and maintenance, repair and overhaul. As it stands, these divisions often work in silos or digital silos; while there may be large quantities of data available, it remains enclosed within each division and is rarely shared between them. At the end of the design phase, the product is passed on to production, before being taken over by in-service support after delivery. The link between production and design is thus broken; a break-up that is even more divisive when the maintenance is carried out by a company other than the aircraft manufacturer or operator. In short, data is neither transferred nor exploited along the entire aircraft lifecycle. Digital continuity helps unlock all the data’s potential to speed up manufacturing and improve the plane’s operability. The main principle is that every stakeholder who plays a role at any stage of the lifecycle should have access to data that is as complete and relevant as possible.
Our team gave over a dozen demonstrations to show how 3D design tools, combined with digital mock-ups and a digital twin, can facilitate communication between various silos while maintaining each one’s unique view.
A digital mock-up guides design. Once in production, engineering information, as well as data collected throughout the value chain, can be added to aid the in-service support team with ongoing maintenance. In addition to the data originating from previous processes, data also comes from the countless sensors installed inside aircrafts, whose increasing output is the reason behind big data’s growing role.
Digital Twin, IA, big data… digital technology is driving aerospace
Alongside the technology, artificial intelligence can also be employed to facilitate design, manufacturing and other stages further downstream in the lifecycle. It is also making an appearance in other fields such as air traffic simulation. For example, we showed off a chatbot that we provided to the employees of a major player in the aerospace industry. During the design phase, they can use the chatbot when they encounter a problem while using their digital platform. The interactive bot advises them, using natural language, to find the solution to their specific problem. It explains best practices and top tips, and also shows the documentation and solutions for the problem described. If this does not solve their issue, the chatbot will put the user in contact with a specialised advisor.
This solutions helps answer all the most frequently asked questions, freeing up technicians to focus on the most complex questions and improving the support team’s response time.
Another use of artificial intelligence we presented came in the form of a command and control (C2) system, like an Air Traffic Management System. In this case, AI comprises a machine learning tool paired with a multi-agent system that stress tests the system by using real flight history to realistically simulate a large cluster of flights.
During our operator of the future demonstration, we presented a tool that uses Microsoft Hololens to facilitate maintenance. It enables the operator to immerse themselves in the working environment during their training, but also to plan work and perform tasks with all the necessary elements (documentation, drawings, videos, digital mock-ups, etc.) superimposed directly onto the real world, in real time, and linked to the rest of the company’s IT system. For example, cognitive services can allow the operator to vocally ask the system the tightening torque value as if it were a person, and receive a spoken reply as well as an ad-hoc display of the documentation.
At the fair, we couldn’t help but see virtual reality, mixed reality and augmented reality everywhere we looked. The Hololens mixed reality headset was particularly omnipresent, and we observed that all this technology has taken a tight hold on the aviation industry. The virtual reality rooms, hosted by industry players for several years, are now enhanced with virtual reality headsets (such as the likes of HTC Vive), which are much cheaper and, more importantly, more portable. The use of this technology has certainly increased vastly compared since the last show.
The digital twin concept models a factory to simulate and test manufacturing and maintenance processes with a view to optimising them. In a less industrial context, it can also model a product to test and optimise. The addition of virtual reality and the digital mock-up brings a further educational component by allowing operators to acquire the necessary skills and to dive deep into their future work environment without the need to mobilise physical resources. The digital twin was a central and highly vital element of the various demonstrations staged by Sopra Steria and CIMPA.
As for big data, we demonstrated how predictive analysis can be used for the automatic validation of test installations before a test flight, allowing test engineers to focus on the most important issues. We also showed how it can be used to shorten the delivery deadlines of aircraft to clients. The product — based on analysis using predictive algorithms fed with anomaly and fault data observed upstream of the Delivery Center — indicates how many anomalies the production unit is likely to encounter per aircraft, and thus help allocate resources accordingly and plan solutions.
These tools could be beneficial in several fields, and their early adoption by clients is driving the market.
Emerging Trends and needs from the Paris Air Show
Whether it be for manufacturers or other market stakeholders, today’s two hottest topics are manufacturing and in-service support. The traditional aerospace players are increasingly interested in maintenance and exploiting the potential of data through the creation of new aviation services to serve as growth engines. This market carries an ever-growing importance on the world stage as the number of aircraft being delivered continues to multiply. Airbus’s launch of Skywise, the global digital platform for the aviation world, gives a clear signal to the industry.
Thanks to digital continuity, data processing and the associated technology, progress will be extraordinarily quick in these two areas.
All this technology will be swiftly incorporated into the IT systems of our clients. Opening to the cloud is very trendy. Historically, the organisation’s IT system was hosted within the company. Nowadays, it is common to see it being hosted on the cloud or on applications run in the data centers’ of sub-contractors or clients.
On the customer side, on-board connectivity is now a key asset which has started to become more widespread, especially on North-American airlines. For the same price, customers have increasingly high expectations vis-à-vis services, and hyperconnectivity is one of them.
We also received many questions pertaining to the cybersecurity of IT systems and industrial tools. Even though this is not yet a major talking point, it certainly cannot be dismissed. Recent events (such as the WannaCry virus and its impact on industry) and their consequences on manufacturing have brought the topic into the limelight. The boom of the IoT in production chains and on aircraft is a game changer. An aircraft is not longer the relatively isolated unit it once was, which makes such questions ever more pressing.
The Paris Air Lab, a new attraction at the Fair
The Paris Air Lab showcased startups and their expertise. The speech from Airbus CTO and former Google executive Paul Eremenko was insightful. After talking about all the sector’s major themes, he reiterated the importance of digital transformation in the aerospace industry.
The startups presented all had varying levels of maturity. For the more mature, the immediate application of their technology was directly evident, while those less mature exhibited advances that were way ahead of their time. Their presence follows a long-standing trend in the aviation world with large organisations, keen not to miss out on major innovations, taking a deep interest in budding firms. A prime example is the Airbus incubator, Bizlab, which identifies promising startups with a view to acquiring shares or even the whole company, and also allows Airbus employees to develop their ideas and help them become reality.
The 2017 Paris Air Show was an extremely positive experience for Sopra Steria, and gives us every reason to take part in future years. Our clients are advancing rapidly in their digital transition, and have already started to adopt and master certain solutions such as virtual and augmented reality. Our belief is simple: with digital continuity, every piece of technology can facilitate communication between the different aerospace silos (design, manufacturing, support).