Why Airborne can help (Composites) Manufacturers riding the Digital Manufacturing Wave vs Fighting the Undertow?

We are in the midst of a huge transformation. Some call it Industry 4.0, Manufacturing 4.0 or e-Factory, others say Connected Factory, Intelligent Manufacturing or in short FoF (The Factory of the Future). In conclusion, the fuzz about all this buzz is that we are entering a new phase of digital manufacturing characterised by complete automation and use of interconnected machines and digital devices. This brings us to the million-dollar question: who will be the ones left behind? Big chance it’s you.

That is, if you choose not to embrace change. The imminent transformation that is upon us, is driven by major technology advancements such as analytics, machine learning, AI, robotics, (I)IoT, material science, 3D printing/additive manufacturing and so forth to evolve into the Factory of the Future.

Why the composites sector is slacking over and above its complexity

Many in the manufacturing industry, especially in the composites sector, have been slow to take action (see Figure 1). Why is this? A rational reason is that organisations will always choose incremental transformation and strengthening core existing capabilities over transformational change. Specifically for the composites manufacturing sector – considered more challenging than other industries –  there are a lot of inherent complexities in composites fabrication. Every aspect of design and manufacturing is complicated due to the wide range and potential combinations of fibres, thermoset and thermoplastic raw materials. But also the multiple tools and moulds, the energy-intensive autoclaves and ovens and extensive documentation requirements in for instance the aerospace sector, make composites fabrication a tricky job.

Don’t be that dinosaur

But in the current time of accelerating change, clinging to old ideas and the comfort of the status-quo will make you a dinosaur overnight. In the current competitive world, you have two possibilities: lose or embrace change and win. However, for many change continues to feel like a bridge too far. To put it in the words of Mark Twain: “The only people who like change are wet babies”. But adapting to change is not just a technique, it is an attitude. Does your organisation have the mentality or DNA to overcome the familiar cultural obstacles and be proactive before new competition takes over?

Airborne can help you ride the digital composites manufacturing wave

With so much riding on the outcome of Industry 4.0 projects, companies need to work hard to overcome the initial challenges and ensure stakeholder buy-in. ROI can be difficult to calculate, while teams will initially only be able to provide limited proof of concept and demonstration of technologies. Therefore, Airborne developed a Digital Composites Sandbox. With it we aim to help big multinational material science players and OEMs scope out their digital composites journey by defining key milestones and key challenges. Via Airborne’s unique combination of skills – letting you benefit of our scale-up agility and our deep and wide composites, software engineering and mechatronics knowhow – we enable our customers to unlock their full potential in digital manufacturing growth and creating a competitive advantage.

Playing your part in the digital movement

How a small Dutch company believes it can play a role in this movement towards digital manufacturing in composites? Well, we have some unfair advantages:

  • Airborne has a unique and extensive (+20 years) knowledge base in composites for high-end markets such as Space, Aeronautics and Marine
  • In fact, Airborne operates at the cross-roads of:
    • Composite knowledge providing a thorough understanding of the delicacy of the composite material design and handling
    • Machine building proven capabilities in designing and building equipment with a focus on machine/composites interface and overall controls, to increase production rates, while reducing manual labour and scrap
    • Digitalisation to transfer composites parts manufacturing processes know-how into processable data for optimisation algorithms, enabling material science to optimise materials for processes and products
    • We developed and implemented ‘digital manufacturing concepts’ and adaptive process control in Airborne Oil & Gas
    • More recently, to drive broader use of advanced materials across multiple industries, SABIC and Airborne have invested in the composites industry’s first automated, digital system for the large-scale manufacturing of laminates made with its continuous fibre reinforced thermoplastic composite (CFRTC) tapes. The Digital Composites Manufacturing line, a partnership between Airborne and SABIC and powered by Siemens and KUKA technologies, is one of the three finalists in the category Industry & Engineering at the 2019 Paris JEC Innovation Awards.
  • Airborne has a building block approach from production cells to integrated lines, digital twin and client portals
  • We have strong partners such as Siemens, SABIC and KUKA
  • We are agile, flexible and think like a start-up. Deploying automated systems gets us access to vast amounts of data. This helps us develop and position ourselves for the end game to come. The key is moving forward but pivoting as needed, and then moving forward again. This nimble approach is challenging for many incumbent companies — but it’s at the heart of how we think digital natives build winning positions.
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Marcus Kremers


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