The aerospace and defense (A&D) industry is experiencing tremendous growth; however, that growth can frequently be inhibited by outdated processes, aging technology, and fragmented value chains.

Integrated digital value chains will enable A&D companies to streamline and connect key processes across their design, manufacturing, and service domains. Increased collaboration between business leaders, information technology (IT), and other technology partners is critical in today’s business climate, where success cannot be achieved without accelerating digital transformation.

Three major components of digital transformation in A&D, highlighted with a few recent examples, show how these strategies and tools are being deployed.

Within design, manufacture, and service (DMS), a digital value chain improves product availability and profitability and digitizes business processes for improved collaboration and knowledge sharing. Digital value chains promote learning, improve knowledge sharing capabilities, and better-support decision-making.

Creating an isolated digital value chain brings immediate results while laying the groundwork for long-term growth.



For example, more than 80% of jet engine manufacturing quality issues relate to airfoils. One A&D company has been rejecting jet engine airfoils due to blade imperfections, costing millions in scrap, rework, and downgraded engine sales. Expensive manual inspection did not detect all defects, leading to downstream maintenance and warranty costs.

To digitally transform airfoil inspection, the company combined vast amounts of data with robotic systems to enable automatic pass/fail assessment. Pass rates improved, production rates climbed, and the company saved millions of dollars.

Tying core components of a value chain together creates a digital thread, an integrated overview of key planning and execution domains. A digital thread allows organizations to connect key components – product life-cycle management (PLM), supply chain management (SCM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and customer relationship management (CRM) – drawing more data for actionable insights.

A major A&D manufacturer could create a fully integrated environment where all parties would work from the same information. If the company implements a planning and scheduling engine, an alert management and escalation utility, and a manufacturing intelligence and visual factory information system, it could synchronize its workforce, methods, materials, machines, and data in real-time.

The manufacturer could manage resources and downtime events, solve root-cause problems, and focus more on preventive and predictive – instead of reactive – maintenance while decreasing costs and reducing unplanned work stoppages, resulting in fewer missed shipments.

Unlike a simple CAD wireframe, which will only describe the look and shape of an object, a digital twin is a digital model of a physical asset in the real world that uses sensor data associated with the physical device being replicated.

With a digital twin, it’s possible to visualize, test, and learn in a simulated environment, enabling rapid what-if iterations before embarking on a physical model.

A digital twin provides rich feedback, enabling researchers and engineers to confidently move through various stages of manufacturing with minimal risk and cost.

Today, the needs of A&D organizations go well beyond traditional manufacturing. A&D companies that streamline and connect design, manufacturing, and service using a smart manufacturing approach – including the digital value chain, digital thread, and digital twins – can improve product availability, become more profitable, and develop into intelligent enterprises. Successful organizations will radically increase collaboration between their business leaders, IT, and technology partners to deliver on needed process and technology changes.

About the author: Chris Lennon is DXC Technology’s aerospace & defense chief technologist for the Americas.

In aviation, actuators manage several steering applications by controlling the ailerons, elevators, trims, and rudder. Manufacturers have also developed special aerospace actuators to open and close an aircraft’s cargo doors. Now, airlines are beginning to fit airplanes with electric actuators instead of hydraulic actuators that were used in the past because of better technology and more reliability. Heavy-duty actuators can withstand high pressure and are built strong to prevent damage from debris picked up by the wheels.

Generally, linear actuators use motors to convert energy to movement that can be controlled directly or automatically. Progressive Automation’s actuators apply power to the motor to extend or retract the actuator. Sensors can be integrated to monitor actuator movement, which can then be relayed to a control system that uses the information to perform complex operations such as programmed motion, synchronization, and diagnostics.

Implementing a successful linear motion system starts with selecting the appropriate actuator based on application needs. Manufacturers must account for the necessary characteristics including:

Stroke Length – The distance the actuator travels in one direction. Hydraulic actuators’ stroke length ranges from inches to 20ft. Pneumatic actuators provide a stroke length of less than 1m, and electromechanical actuators work in an unlimited range of stroke lengths.

Extended, retracted length – Based on the stroke, the shortest and longest dimensions of the actuator

Mounting styles – Dual-pivot mounting method allows the actuator to pivot on both sides as it extends or retracts. It allows the application to move on a fixed path while maintaining two free pivot points. Stationary mounting can be applied by having a shaft mounting bracket securing the actuator to an object along the shaft. It is generally used in applications where the linear actuator is needed to push something head on, such as triggering a button or pushing a bellow to compress or inflate.

Feedback – Potentiometer actuator models (Pot) and Hall effect feedback systems can control the speed and position, syncing multiple motors, or creating a suitable position or speed profile

Most of Progressive Automations’ motion control systems are plug-and-play for easy installation and maintainence.

When implementing linear actuators, manufacturers must first check that the actuator fully retracts and extends without any obstructions. Actuators should be mounted securely with the minimal lateral load. Once the actuator is mounted correctly and securely, the user must ensure that there are no sources of electrical interference for the sensors. Additionally, the control system must be compatible with the actuator’s sensors.

Progressive Automations’ support team of engineers and a complete integration process help clients assemble products and ensure they function properly.

A collection of linear actuators include high speed, industrial, miniature, mini tube, and track models. A comprehensive inventory of products ensures unit availability for any application – whether it’s high-force industrial models capable of producing up to 3,000 lb or the PA-14P model with built-in potentiometers. The micro model, the smallest unit Progressive Automations has created, is made for those jobs where limited space is a major factor. Available linear actuators range from 5 lb to 10,000 lb force with strokes from 0.24" to 60.00".

The first step in deciding which actuator to use for your application involves understanding the basic requirements of force, stroke, operating conditions, and voltage. Then examine the control option to determine if the actuators require feedback or any other customization.

About the author: Ajay Arora is the director of Research and Development at Progressive Automations. He can be reached at 800.676.6123 or sales@progressiveautomations.com.

EnduraMax 75i features quieter operation and longer life without the need for brush maintenance, making it suitable for equipment modernizations and new designs.

It has three standard stack lengths with continuous rated power up to 370W, continuous rated torque up to 1.3Nm (190 oz-in), and rated speed up to 5,150rpm. The 12VDC, 24VDC, or 48VDC winding voltage choices make the EM75i suitable for battery- powered applications. Command inputs may be: ±10VDC, 4.0mA to 20mA, or via an optional CANopen or Modbus port. Customized winding designs and voltages, shaft, and mounting options are available.

For many industrial and commercial processes, temperature monitoring ensures operational safety and efficacy. Conventional electric temperature sensors are adequate if replaced often and effectively shielded from electromagnetic interference (EMI). However, they all suffer from the same inherent limitation – they can only measure temperature at a single location. In practice, these sensors are often deployed at a handful of locations, so the overall temperature distribution remains unknown.

Fiber optic sensing system (FOSS) technology, an alternative method to measure temperature, acquires continuous profiles along the entire length of an optical fiber with millimeter spatial resolution. The temperature at thousands of sensing points can be monitored using a single lead cable. Processes that rely on temperature sensors to maintain ambient temperature uniformity or to detect hot spots can benefit considerably from understanding the overall temperature distribution. When performing distributed temperature sensing, four key factors will determine success: fiber temperature sensitivity, coating effects, sensor preparation, and calibration.

FOSS interrogators perform two direct measurements – mechanical strain and temperature. Temperature sensitivity stems from two phenomena: changes in the core refractive index with respect to temperature and thermally induced strain. The fundamental objective behind fiber optic temperature sensing is minimizing the mechanical strain component such that the measured apparent strain is only comprised of effects due to temperature.

Optical fiber must be coated to reduce its fragility and to allow it to be handled without breaking. The coating material also determines the fiber’s performance as a sensor. Stiff polymer coatings, such as polyimide and Ormocer, are widely used for strain sensing applications due to their excellent strain transfer properties across a wide operational temperature range. However, like all polymers, these coatings are hygroscopic in nature and will expand volumetrically as they absorb the air’s moisture. Consequently, humidity-driven coating expansion transfers some strain into the fiber optic core, resulting in an additional humidity-dependent hysteresis. Since relative humidity (RH) is intrinsically dependent on ambient temperature, this effect is undesirable for temperature sensing and limits the accuracy of the sensor. Although a stiff coating is essential for strain sensing, a softer coating material, such as Ormocer-T, is suitable for temperature sensing.

Prior to using a FOSS interrogator for distributed temperature sensing, the fiber must be conditioned and configured. Considerations include:

Thermal conditioning – Fiber must be preconditioned to its expected operating temperature range. At a minimum, it is recommended that a single preconditioning cycle is performed where the fiber is subjected to the maximum and minimum operating temperatures for a few hours.

Packaging – The optical fiber must be completely isolated from mechanical strain when performing distributed temperature sensing. This is typically accomplished by packaging the fiber inside a small tube or capillary. The capillary is adhered to the substrate while the fiber housed inside floats freely. If friction effects are small, the measured apparent strain only includes effects due to temperature and a repeatable calibration curve can be generated.

Installation – Depending on how the fiber is packaged and installed, the thermal expansion/contraction of the capillary material can induce mechanical strain within the fiber via friction effects, resulting in incorrect temperature measurements. Depending on several factors, it is possible to package the entire fiber even if the installation requires turns and bends. Factors include fiber length, number of turns required, bend radius of each turn, capillary material, the capillary’s ID, and temperature range. Generally, only a few turns will be able to be accommodated. Installation configurations should be validated before use.

Overall accuracy of a fiber optic temperature sensor is also highly dependent on the calibration quality. Thermocouples and resistance temperature detectors (RTDs) are the two primary devices employed as reference temperature sensors during calibration. Both devices can be used effectively; however, calibrating with thermocouples is typically less cumbersome because you can measure the temperature at a highly localized point.

Fiber optic sensing technology provides a level of insight into surface and ambient temperature distributions that allows users to thermally map areas of interest in real-time with 1.6mm spatial resolution – impractical to achieve using traditional single-point temperature sensors. Due to its small size, chemical inertness, and immunity to electromagnetic interference, optical fiber can be installed in environments where alternative sensors cannot operate. Processes that rely on maintaining temperature uniformity, such as curing composite parts or thermal management of battery packs, stand to benefit greatly from these capabilities.

In the rocket industry, adequate thermal insulation is critical to the survivability of the rocket and overall mission success. Distributed temperature sensing can optimize the thermal insulation design and reduce weight. Other applications include optimizing the performance and effectiveness of heat exchangers, such as a radiator, by thermally mapping the path of the working fluid. Due to the continuous nature of the measurement, temperature gradient distributions are fully captured, providing engineers greater insight into the underlying physics of their device.

Many applications that currently employ traditional single-point temperature sensors, such as thermocouples, would benefit from having thousands of additional measurement points. The primary reasons that thermocouples are currently deployed in limited quantities is the installation time associated with each sensor, the cumbersome wire bundles, and the associated weight penalty. Fiber optic sensing technology overcomes all three of these issues, enabling engineers to capture information that would otherwise be impractical to gather.

About the author: Ryan Scurlock is an application engineer at Sensuron. He can be reached at info@sensuron.com.

As technology life cycles shrink, advances accelerate exponentially. Technology delivers speedier communications, improved information sharing, streamlined operations, and enhanced global collaboration. For aerospace manufacturers, new technologies enable process improvement and productivity gains, allowing manufacturers and suppliers to conduct business more efficiently.

Unfortunately, technology has a dark side. Sophisticated hardware and software components live everywhere: on the shop floor and in finished products, in the back office and the C-suite. These systems and devices boast increasingly more sophisticated features and capabilities but frequently lack one critical area – security. This is especially true of process control devices, industrial robots, and other network-connected devices, typically referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT).

As a result, we live in an increasingly vulnerable world. The attack surface – or different points where an unauthorized user can try to enter data, extract data, sabotage infrastructure, or disrupt operations – keeps expanding and is subject to sophisticated threats initiated by bad actors and nation states. Impacts of compromise vary, from holding critical data hostage via ransomware, to stealing or altering sensitive data and intellectual property (IP) using stolen credentials, to causing physical damage by issuing malicious commands to process controllers.

The impact of a cyber incident goes beyond the aerospace manufacturer, potentially disrupting customers’ ability to access data, place orders, or receive parts and products. Sometimes, a breach of a manufacturer’s system allows an intruder to access customers’ systems and those of other organizations within the value chain.

When that customer is a government agency, the stakes get even higher. In its recently-published report, “Deliver Uncompromised,” the Mitre Corp. posits that technology drives changes even to the character of war. Adversaries need not engage in traditional, kinetic warfare. Instead, they may opt for asymmetric, blended operations that leverage the cyber domain to attack the supply chain. Adversaries unable to challenge the U.S. in a kinetic battle may be far more capable when waging war from cyberspace.

These cyber threats cause supply chain interruptions that introduce financial and legal implications, degrade the quality and timeliness of parts produced, and affect our country’s ability to project force. A supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link, so buy-side organizations incur risk from any suppliers. And all suppliers contribute to risk factors throughout the supply chain – up to and including the end user.

Because threats continue to become more frequent and sophisticated, organizations, especially those in manufacturing, can no longer close their eyes and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. The extent to which the industry establishes and enforces its own security standards will ultimately affect how aggressively government steps in with its own mandates and regulations.

Government directives pertaining to supply chain cybersecurity already exist. For example, the Department of Defense (DOD) has issued Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS) clause 252.204-7012, requiring all contractors and subcontractors to implement adequate security measures to protect controlled unclassified information. These measures must address the 110 security controls defined by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Special Publication (SP) 800-171. Similarly, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) released National Aerospace Standard (NAS) 9933, which defines critical security controls to better address cyber threats and promote resilience throughout the industry.

Expect government to up the ante going forward. Today, self-attestation and trust form the basis for organizations to demonstrate security maturity and compliance. Independent validation and verification likely represent next steps, along with assignment of a score or level that serves as a qualification prerequisite to bid or participate on government programs. The Mitre report suggests the government revise DOD Instruction 5000.02 to make security a 4th pillar of acquisition planning – equal to cost, schedule, and performance.

Organizations face significant challenges along several vectors. Bringing the necessary people, processes, and systems together to achieve the requisite security improvements perhaps seems most obvious, especially for smaller businesses with limited budgets and information technology (IT) teams. But gathering the information to reflect security status becomes cumbersome because it:

The height of the hurdle rises exponentially. It’s not just about the security posture of the prime contractor for a government contract. Rather, it’s the security posture of the entire supply chain: the prime contractor, its immediate suppliers, its suppliers’ suppliers, and so forth. Understanding and subsequently mitigating supplier risk translates to a multi-tier or N-tier problem. Trying to solve it through manually-intensive methods quickly becomes untenable. Fortunately, software solutions can deal with complex supplier-buyer relationships across the entire supply chain that address scale and assure data security, timeliness, and consistency.

Two types of software applications provide the foundational supplier risk management functionality. Vendor qualification solutions begin with the potential engagement with a supplier. The solutions enable buy-side organizations to define the minimum criteria suppliers must meet to be considered, and to evaluate if suppliers surpass that threshold. Vendor risk management solutions sustain an ongoing presence throughout the buyer/supplier relationship. These solutions offer more performance-focused insight, such as a supplier’s cybersecurity maturity level; compliance with standards and regulations such as conflict minerals, sustainability, or NIST SP 800-171 and NAS 9933 for cybersecurity; and financial viability.

Technological advances make collaboration across the global, multi-tiered supply chain easy. The same advances also bring a level of exposure to the supply chain and the information that flows through it. Bad actors know it and pursue it by raining persistent, sophisticated cyber-based attacks that seek, find, and exploit the weakest link. The DOD, other branches of government, and the aerospace industry are implementing and requiring compliance with strict cybersecurity standards.

New rules for cybersecurity will affect every manufacturing organization as a buyer, a supplier, or both. Software solutions offer N-tier visibility for vendor qualification and vendor risk management and give forward-thinking organizations the means to reduce their vulnerability and improve their cybersecurity maturity and compliance.

Ultimately, it’s not about compliance – it’s about security. Understand the controls in the AIA NAS 9933 and NIST SP 800-171 standards, but implement the necessary policy and security tools to be secure, not merely compliant. Make sure that those who supply to you and those who supply to them are not threats to your own security or to those you serve. Don’t become a victim, and don’t wait for a mandate. Act to ensure your security by understanding and managing supplier risk before it’s too late.

Engineering service provider NobleTek’s software choice plays a big role in keeping customers happy.

Most CNC machine shops face the same problem: the programming office is backed up, so how can we keep machine tools running? Wooster, Ohio-based NobleTek CNC programmer Casey Carson and his colleagues use Vericut toolpath simulation and optimization software from CGTech Inc. in Irvine, California, to ensure smooth operations, preventing late deliveries, lost productivity, and unhappy customers.

Carson has only been with the company a little more than a year, but he’s been using Vericut at various programming and engineering jobs for more than a decade. It wasn’t until he was several years into it, though, that a friend of his introduced him to some of the software’s more advanced features.

“Before that, I’d been using Vericut in the same way that many of our customers do – as a means to avoid crashes,” Carson says. “But, there are lots of little things such as advanced reporting, automation, graphing of the cutting forces, and so on that many people don’t realize are available in the base software. These are tools that any shop can use to make their programs run better and improve overall shop efficiency.”

NobleTek uses a team approach, blending on-site and off-site professionals to meet customers’ project demands. In addition to CNC programming, NobleTek offers robotic programming, composite manufacturing, 3D-design, and data conversion. For Carson and his fellow programmers, a typical day involves taking customer CAD models and providing them with a proven, efficient, and crash-free set of NC toolpaths.

Carson mostly focuses on CATIA programming, while others in the department might use NX, Mastercam, GibbsCAM, or any of several other CAM packages. As a rule, they use whatever software their customer is using to maintain as seamless a handoff as possible. This includes Vericut.

“Most of our customers – the ones I work with anyway – are in the aerospace industry, and I’ve yet to see one that wasn’t using Vericut,” he says. “That’s a good thing, because accurate toolpath simulation is so essential to achieving what was intended when you’re programming the job.”

Before working at NobleTek, Carson discussed the seemingly high cost of Vericut with former employers. His response was straightforward: “It’s a lot cheaper than a new spindle.”

Proving out a part the old-fashioned way – putting it on the machine and stepping through each line of code – is costly, but running Vericut eliminates that hassle and expense.

Even shops that don’t worry about spindle collisions because of skilled programmers can benefit from advanced Vericut features, Carson adds.

“How many cutters do people break? How many parts are scrapped? How many minutes or hours are lost proving out programs because they didn’t have Vericut?” he asks. “Then there are the things like automatic tool lists and setup sheets and all the different reporting capabilities – everything that you need to know about the job is in there, and all of these functions serve to make shops more efficient.”

When asked how often Vericut has “saved his bacon” or that of his customer, he doesn’t have to stop and think about it. “Every day.”

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The ability to bulletproof programs for others is especially important in today’s manufacturing environment, where much of the industry’s tribal knowledge is retiring, and those few coming into the trades are often less skilled. At the same time, parts are becoming more complex, materials more difficult, machine tools faster and more expensive, and production quantities are generally falling.

Throw the increase in robotics and unattended machining into the mix, and it’s imperative that shops find the tools necessary to verify and optimize part programs long before the cutting tool first touches the metal.

“It’s such a small price to pay to find out if something works or doesn’t work,” he says. “Simulation lets me know if I’m tearing my machine up, and Vericut’s Auto- Diff function lets me know if my part’s good. And when I send the program to the customer, they’ll use Vericut to review how I ran the program and ensure that I’m cutting the part the way they wanted. It saves so much time, and so much money for everyone involved.”

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