Airbus consolidates its ecosystem thanks to digital technology

Faced with an explosion in demand for aircraft at the same time as an acceleration in their life cycle, the Airbus Group is undergoing a profound transformation.

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Faced with an explosion in demand for aircraft at the same time as an acceleration in their life cycle, the Airbus Group is undergoing a profound transformation. Valuing data and redesigning processes, production and logistics: digital technologies are the cornerstone of this transformation. This is something to inspire companies of all sizes.

‘Digitalisation is at the heart of our strategy and this development affects all the company’s strata: design offices and manufacturing, products, customer support services and maintenance,’ summarised Guillaume Faury, President of Airbus Commercial Aircraft, during a debate organised by the Paris Air Forum on 21 June 2018.

This change is essential to meet the major air transport challenges of the next 20 years: traffic growth (4.1 billion passengers in 2018, 7.8 billion in 2036) and shorter aircraft life expectancy (31 years in 2012, 26 years in 2017). Airbus has therefore stepped up its initiatives to accelerate its digital transformation.

infographic global passengers

infographic global passengers in three different scenarios

Customer first

Today, Airbus uses Salesforce’s artificial intelligence solution, Einstein, to better understand its customers – the airlines. It is based in particular on the analysis of past behaviours – such as purchase history, or the thread of interactions with customer support, in order to establish predictions and recommendations to optimise UX.

The aeronautics Group has also redesigned its digital communication (with the Coconut program) around a unified platform for managing and publishing the various items of content for its customers, as well as the deployment of business intelligence and e-marketing modules, connections with internal communication media and the implementation of platform governance.

From design office to test flights

Virtual reality is widely used to integrate digital models into production environments, allowing 3D prototypes to be assembled. For some parts, the test time has been reduced from three weeks to three days.

As part of its telemetry applications and test flight management processes, Airbus has also deployed a digital platform that allows structural engineers and other key teams to access test data from server-based environments via a simple web browser. They have the ability to react almost instantly from their remote sites and, as a result, reduce test flight cycles. Manufacturers of certain aircraft parts are also allowed direct access to test data on their components. This allows them to react immediately and quickly correct any problems.

In the cockpit

For its customers (airlines), Airbus offers an electronic cockpit organiser: it is no longer necessary to print and transport paper on-board documentation. At any time during the flight, pilots can query the aircraft to access performance statistics, electronic documentation of flight manuals, weather information, navigation and airport charts. ‘This solution will make them more efficient while simplifying their daily operations,’ said Didier Lux, Executive Vice President of Airbus Customer Service.

In development: maintenance and predictive models

According to Marc Fontaine, Chief Digital Officer of Airbus, ‘Data is the fuel for digital transformation.’ An even more fundamental point, perhaps, when it comes to maintenance; a key point both for flight safety and in the company’s business model. In particular, the Group created a data lake as part of the A350 design, and a data collection system for aircraft maintenance, which made it possible to increase the number of parameters monitored per flight from 400 to 24,000! These initiatives are part of the Skywise program, launched in 2017, which aims to share data with all parties in the Airbus ecosystem value chain, including airlines, to disseminate the benefits of digital technology, starting with the implementation of predictive maintenance.

A reorganisation of the supply chain

In the aerospace and defence industry, 70% to 80% of the value is produced by the supply chain. Airbus manages more than 15,000 suppliers in about 100 countries, representing an annual purchase volume of 49 billion euros (in 2017), and hundreds of thousands of jobs with its subcontractors. The supply chain is complex, as Airbus operates on multiple sites (a total of about 100 sites). ‘Airbus is striving to create a more connected world, so we can optimise supplier management, from evaluation to selection, collaboration and contract development, while reducing risks,’ said Klaus Richter, Purchasing Manager at Airbus.

One of the current challenges is to stabilise the supply chain and guarantee its performance. The GPS coordinates of the packages allow the aircraft manufacturer to locate in real time the spare parts that pass through the Group’s various international warehouses. The sensors can also be used to monitor temperatures, shocks or vibrations.

An ecosystem of job-creating suppliers

The aeronautics and space industry is a major economic driver in two French regions (New Aquitaine and Occitania) in which Airbus has a strong presence: it brings together 1,900 companies, many of which are SMEs, employing 146,000 people (2016 figure). That is 6% of non-agricultural market wage employment, and up to 20% of industrial employment in both regions.

A secure collaborative infrastructure

The same willingness can be found in the area of infrastructure. A private cloud ensures the deployment of new IT platforms that support transformation projects, including applications that connect employees, customers and suppliers. These include administrative management, CRM, sales, e-business, collaboration and CAD/CAM tools.

Collaborative work is part of the company’s DNA. Since 2008, Airbus has been associated with Dassault Aviation, EADS, Safran and Thales in BoostAeroSpace, which became a joint venture in 2011. The objective: create a common portal with standardised and interoperable services for all partners in the extended enterprise. In other words, with this European aeronautics digital hub, the aim is to create the aviation industry’s sectoral cloud to ‘increase competitiveness and innovation for the European aeronautics and defence industry’. In practice, it is a question of providing industrialists of all sizes, including SMEs, with a secure shared collaborative platform.

Airbus, an inspiring model for SMEs

Airbus has been able to integrate digital technology into its entire value chain. This challenge, which is difficult to achieve, has been achieved through a 360° strategic approach that takes into account aircraft design production maintenance, logistics, internal processes and infrastructure, customers and suppliers.

This approach is equally relevant for small and medium-sized enterprises. Indeed, whatever the size of an organisation, the fundamentals of digital transformation are almost universal. Thus, a digital transformation strategy can be broken down into six steps:

  1. Analyse the evolution of customer needs in the field of digital uses.
  2. Identify elements that can be automated in existing processes.
  3. Identify the potential of technologies, based on the strategic issues related to digital transformation.
  4. Map the ecosystem to capitalise on possible alliances and partnerships of a ‘win-win’ type.
  5. Study how the existing information system could be modernised to improve performance and reduce costs.
  6. Imagine what new products or services could be launched and how they will be distributed to consumers.
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