Flying through the cloud: Design tools for aviation’s future

Features - Design

The next wave of innovation for product design and manufacturing will come from systems that consolidate data and allow easy, global collaboration.

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February 8, 2021

Photo illustration credit: Dassault Systèmes

Business success is often defined by companies that can first spot new technology, integrate that technology into the organization through the required hardware and training investments, and then use the new technology to differentiate from competitors. From the telegraph, to Ford’s assembly line, to establishing a dot-com presence, businesses with the budget and resources to invest in new technology before their competitors have reaped the benefits.

We’ve reached a tipping point where transformative technologies are coming to market far more frequently, each requiring a much lower investment. This means nimble startups with modest amounts of capital are suddenly comparably equipped to compete with deep-pocketed enterprises. Instead of having an advantage with world-class technology that startups simply can’t afford, established industry leaders are forced to prioritize agility and speed-to-market more than ever before.

The cloud, the storm

The biggest equalizer is the cloud. All industries can see beyond using the cloud to host business tools and are now embracing its power to drive true business transformation. Research and advisory firm Gartner notes the fastest-growing segment of the market is public cloud system infrastructure services, a segment that experienced huge growth in 2019. And, by 2022, 90% of organizations that use cloud infrastructure services will demand platform-as-as-service capabilities from their provider. Driving this increasing appetite for cloud-based platform capabilities is a growing desire to execute digital transformation projects. If the predictions are correct, every aspect of product design and manufacturing is about to undergo a dramatic shift.

While all industries are ripe for cloud- fueled startup disruption, the aviation sector stands out thanks to a few compelling factors brewing to create a perfect storm. Technological breakthroughs in aircraft and propulsion designs have produced prototypes that are exciting, but never seen as commercially practical before the era of digital transformation. And, established aviation leaders are reeling from the global pandemic crippling the travel sector. As the aviation industry re-aligns in the coming years based on new consumer travel demands, industry disruptors may be able to bring their products to market.

David vs. Goliath

Without requiring expensive upfront infrastructure investments, startups and small- and medium-sized businesses can quickly embrace transformative technologies previously available only to the largest competitors, scaling up as needed. This is significant for highly regulated industries with large barriers to entry – such as aviation – where startups have been effectively walled-off for decades. It’s not enough to build a disruptive product, but it must be documented, manufactured, and inspected in ways that are anathema to small organizations.

Now, companies such as Vertical Aerospace and Boom Supersonic can access tools to fulfill stringent regulatory requirements so they can focus on their core business of creating game-changing aircraft. Boom Supersonic is bringing faster-than-sound air travel back to commercial aircraft, using powerful cloud-based design and simulation tools to overcome challenges that 1960s-era design technology could not. Vertical Aerospace is on the verge of launching a winged eVTOL that is significantly quieter than a helicopter, allowing it to travel more freely over areas where noise regulations can restrict aircraft access. Technical challenges such as weight reduction and aerodynamic simulation are offered by world-class design tools available via the cloud in ways that weren’t possible even 10 years ago.

Fast mover advantage

Cloud-based product innovation platforms foster agility and collaboration in small and large organizations. The talent needed to create the next breakthrough product probably isn’t located in the same city as your physical headquarters, and new design concepts and technologies require new ways of collaborating with colleagues. File-based approaches, such as sending email attachments or uploading the latest version of a document to a server, don’t allow a business to move quickly enough.

With a single, central repository of data that gets updated in real-time, teams can collaborate more effectively and boost time to market, or make a quick pivot when circumstances require a new approach. For businesses that rely on a global supply chain, a cloud-based business platform allows internal team members and external stakeholders to have a single source of information. When the product development team makes a change, it’s immediately cascaded throughout the worldwide organization, from the design team, to the manufacturing team, to the packaging team, and to all the external suppliers and distributors.

Another electric aviation pioneer, Eviation Aircraft, selected Dassault Systèmes’ cloud-based innovation platform for its design and simulation solutions and for the inherent collaboration benefits of a cloud-based business. With a global supply chain involving hundreds of sub-contractors, Eviation can streamline its product development process by having its stakeholders working from the same dataset.

The transformative benefits of the cloud are clearly a game-changer to startups, but a company of any size beginning its digital transformation should closely examine the benefits. Define company goals before starting the journey and look at the tools industry leaders are using. The best way to ensure the success of such a massive undertaking is to embrace technology that breaks down information silos, allows teams to leverage talent from anywhere in the world, and converts your supply chain into a value network. Combining the power of a product innovation platform and the cloud is the key to success.

Dassault Systèmes

About the author: David Ziegler is vice president, Aerospace & Defense Industry at Dassault Systèmes. He can be reached at 1.855.696.1125.