Innovate

Flying High: Singapore aerospace industry takes off

Asia Pacific is projected to be the world’s largest aviation market in 20 years, which brings good news for Singapore’s aerospace ambitions. At the recent Singapore Airshow, industry partners shared their latest aviation innovations and how companies of all sizes can take flight in this fast-growing industry.

Getting planes up in the air is no easy feat.

Before a plane is cleared to fly, ground crew need to physically inspect it for surface defects, among other things. Even seemingly minor flaws, such as loose rivets or tiny cracks, can cause the plane to malfunction mid-flight.

 

The thorough nature of plane inspections means that the process can take up to a week, making it cost-consuming. However, this no longer needs to be the case.

 

British engineering giant, Rolls-Royce, is co-creating a collaborative robot with scientists from A*STAR’s Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC) that can complete engine inspections within minutes, while maintaining the same level of reliability and sensitivity as human inspectors.

Designed to be highly adaptable to a variety of real-world variations, the collaborative robot can run 24/7 and be monitored digitally. This eliminates human error and enables more efficient management, planning and review of the plane inspection process.

Regional aerospace hub in the making

 

Collaborative robots are just one of the many new technologies that are being actively researched and developed in Singapore, which has been lauded as ‘the Aerospace City of the Future’ by the UK-based Financial Times.

 

With Asia projected to contribute to 40% of the global fleet in two decades, there’s never been a better time for Singapore to take advantage of this trend and invest in the region’s aerospace industry.

Singapore contributes 10% of global output for the industry’s maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) sector, and is home to over 130 aerospace companies offering an array of services such as airframe maintenance, engine overhaul and avionics system repairs.

Aerospace is a key industry vertical under the Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering (AME) domain of the Singapore Government’s RIE2020 plan.

 

A new aerospace industry transformation map was launched by a multi-agency team in January this year. It targets to create 1,000 jobs by 2020 and generate S$4 billion in value-add to the industry.

 

New innovations help improve capabilities

To further improve Singapore’s aerospace capabilities, the focus will be on value-added projects that will solve industry challenges.

One project tackles heat damage, which happens when planes are exposed to atmospheric conditions such as lightning during flights. Conventional methods to identify heat damage rely on analysing chemical changes on plane surfaces, which may not be accurate. This often results in aircraft parts being replaced unnecessarily, racking up repair costs.

To address this, Boeing is collaborating with scientists at A*STAR’s Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) to develop a laser tool system that can quickly identify heat damage by checking how fast heat dissipates across the panel. The new tool is more user-friendly to plane maintenance crews and is not only substantially cheaper but more efficient – its small size allows multiple tools to be fitted and used at the same time, which reduces the time it takes to analyze heat damage.

Opportunities for smaller players

 

A cost-intensive industry, aerospace is often seen as the domain of large industry players which are able to finance the necessary technology and equipment. However, new opportunities abound for smaller firms who want to participate in Singapore’s aerospace revolution.

 

The A*STAR Aerospace Research Consortium launched in 2008, is a platform to facilitate collaboration efforts between industry leaders and local companies of varying sizes.

This year marks the tenth year of the establishment of the Consortium. Its membership has since grown four-fold, and counts leading aerospace OEMs and MRO companies such as Honeywell, Safran and ST Aerospace among its members.

Towards a digital future

The 5th A*STAR Aerospace Technology Leadership Forum (which took place on 5 February 2018 as part of the Singapore Airshow) gathered experts and executives from aerospace heavyweights such as Airbus, Bombardier, Boeing and Rolls-Royce to discuss key technological trends that are shaping the future of the industry.

These include the role of digitisation in innovating aircraft production, performance and maintenance. For instance, augmented reality (AR) headsets can be used to overlay instructions when crew members inspect the interior of an aircraft, while big data can be used to transform data points utilised by airlines – which may be as many as 20 billion – into useful insights to improve airline performance.

There is also a need to scale and industrialise aerospace technologies to meet market demands, according to the panelists. To successfully scale these technologies, Singapore needs more manufacturing resources to produce them in larger batches.

The increased use of composite materials by newer aircraft lines has also created a need for composite application and repair facilities. This is an opportunity for newer industrial technologies such as 3D printing to be used.

Up, up and away

The sky is the limit for Singapore’s aerospace industry, which enjoys 7% annual growth and an employment growth rate of 4% each year.

With the strong collaboration between industry leaders and local firms, Singapore is in a strong position to capture future opportunities through aviation innovation.

 

Collaborate with A*STAR
Companies interested to collaborate with A*STAR, can find out more at:http://bit.ly/astar_aerospace