Disrupting the aerospace industry
hope you’ve been enjoying our monthly Future of Design Engineering Series of webinars as much as I have. Last month, we had an engaging talk by Charlie Light, Program Manager for the Space Based Nuclear Detonation Detection Program at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Light’s discussion of the aerospace/defense sector was fascinating. Once dominated by large companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman, this sector is beginning to open up to more players. The traditional manufacturers were deep-pocketed customers that had an eye towards maximizing performance in a way that other industries weren’t willing to — and they weren’t willing to take certain risks.
It used to be a fight to get in the proverbial door; it was always big incumbent versus potential disruptor. But that’s changing today. Light said that the barrier to entry has come down, as innovation has allowed certain capabilities to be developed — sometimes with at least a demonstration at a lower price — than they have before. In some fields, the opportunity space for disruptors is as good now as it’s been in a long while.
Where the disruptor can succeed is with a big idea or a significant incremental improvement for a known need. 3D printing of rocket engine parts is a great example of that. In fact, Light thinks that 3D printing across the board is potentially very, very disruptive for a lot of different industries. That’s partly because some aspects of additive manufacturing are new, and some 3D printing abilities are dramatically different than what had been available before. What’s more, there’s not a good understanding yet of what the capabilities and limitations are.
Light said that disruptors can get into the door by saying, “I know there’s an existing need — and I’m going to approach it from a different angle that’s going to give you a fundamentally different cost point or capability.”
For component manufacturers who haven’t worked with aerospace customers before, Light said that the jump is probably smaller than they think. He noted that the aerospace industry for a long time has started with commercial solutions as proof of principle points, and then looked at those to ask, “Is there some degree of assessment I can do to see where this commercial component breaks down?”
He suggested looking at your existing product line and compare it to what’s being delivered to aerospace applications by competitors.
“There’s more cost tolerance in order to get a performance against one of those figures of merit — maybe it’s mass, maybe it’s power consumption, maybe it’s reliability. Aerospace is not monolithic; it has many different applications and a ton of different needs.”
Paul J. Heney – VP, Editorial Director
On Twitter @wtwh_paulheney
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