Tobias Geißinger, Managing Director of umlaut engineering, talks about challenges and opportunities in the aviation industry.
What is the current situation in the aviation industry?
The real challenge at the moment stems from the fact that the coronavirus crisis has seen passenger transport grinding to almost a complete halt – with the exception of flights bringing tourists home from their holidays. As 50 percent of all freight carried has been and still is transported in the holds of passenger aircraft, this too has been left on the ground. This is the reason for the current increase in demand for freight capacity.
What role does umlaut play in this?
The passenger aircraft are all ready to fly, it’s just that they are not fully being used. Our team has therefore developed a solution – we make modifications to these aircraft to enable them to carry freight. As well as using the cargo hold of the aircraft, airlines can then also use the interior section where the passengers would normally sit. We can offer everything from under one roof – from the concept right through to production. We have already registered the design as a protected utility model to protect it from the competition. The solution we have developed allows our customers to get their unused passenger aircraft back in the air again, and we have also opened up potential for a new area of business. This gives airlines the flexibility to make good use of their fleets of aircraft, throughout the coronavirus crisis and beyond.
Are there also other areas of business that are changing at the moment?
COVID-19 has led to medical evacuation by air – known as MedEvac – becoming used much more frequently. Aircraft with medical personnel on board and fitted out with medical equipment are used to transport injured persons from holiday resorts to hospital, for example. Such aircraft can also be fitted with equipment to protect people during a pandemic and to minimise the risk of infection in the aircraft, in particular with regard to COVID-19. We are currently in the process of developing a new MedEvac aircraft, in a development partnership with Embraer.
What role will automation and data analysis play in the aviation industry of the future?
An unbelievable amount of data is generated in the development, construction and operation of an aircraft. We can use this data to gain new insights and to speed up processes. Yet its impact is not yet as great as it could be. In my opinion, this is on account of three key errors. It is often the case that, although companies think in terms of an end-to-end process, they neglect concrete application and problem definition. Their ideas often function in theory but not when it comes to implementation, due to their high level of complexity. Furthermore, the task is often assigned to companies who are indeed software experts but who do not possess any expertise in the field of aviation. Industry-specific knowledge is, however, essential if you want to successfully digitalise processes in aviation. As a result, they fail to make use of a considerable percentage of the potential benefits. And finally, the users in particular are not used to the way of working which is required with these tools. And yet digital tools offer a huge amount of potential which the industry is, for the most part, failing to make use of at the present time. Here at umlaut, we aim to ensure that our customers make better use of this potential. Our newly developed tool LEON (Lean Eradication of Non-Conformities), for example, automates work processes in the area of non-conformities in manufacturing. A non-conformity is a deviation from the defined target condition of a component in manufacturing – for example, if a hole has been drilled in the wrong place.
What can LEON do?
LEON is a type of software that uses machine learning to analyse existing data and make it usable in order to resolve non-conformities faster, as well as avoiding them through the use of data analysis, and allowing better planning by making predictions. In aircraft construction, every non-conformity must be investigated to find out whether it will impair the intended function. And this is something that LEON can do. The use of this tool brings significant benefits in terms of resolving, avoiding and predicting such non-conformities.
An aircraft is made up of thousands or even millions of component parts. Its construction involves an enormous amount of effort and a corresponding level of cost. Yet our software can improve the quality of the production process and save a significant amount of money.
What opportunities arise from such digitised processes?
There is currently no alternative to aircraft as a means of transport when it comes to covering a great distance in a short time. Nevertheless, the aviation sector needs to develop more efficient and better solutions which use less resources. Software solutions can of course be particularly helpful in this area. That's why now is the time to push ahead with digitalisation. The grounding of air traffic has actually brought us a welcome window which we can use to get going with new approaches, for now and for the future – to ensure that we are well-prepared and able to benefit when passenger numbers start to rise again, and production can be quickly ramped up again.