2023 will be a year of innovation and consideration for the aerospace industry.

Based on the developments that our engineers are observing across the aviation landscape, five of the top aerospace trends to keep an eye on for 2023 are:

1. Sustainability

There is no escaping that the biggest existential challenge that aviation has faced in decades is the impact burning jet fuel has on the planet.  

The pressure is growing for the aerospace industry to reduce its carbon footprint, from both climate-conscious passengers and nations determined to be less dependent on oil.

So, the race is truly on and this year we expect to see significant advancement in a number of technologies. Starting with more mainstream adoption of alternative fuels such as methanol and bio-ethanol which will work with the current fleets but reduce dependence on fossil fuels to cut down carbon emissions.

But the much bigger engineering challenges surround the move to zero emission aircraft, be that solar, hydrogen or electric. All of these technologies offer enormous potential environmental benefits, but all have significant engineering challenges to overcome.  

With great challenge comes great opportunity and this is where we expect to see some of the most exciting innovations this year.

2. Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)

Weight is one of the most important factors that affects everything in aerospace. Reducing weight improves efficiency by reducing fuel burn, which makes aircraft cheaper to run and more sustainable. So, it would not be a ‘top five’ list without a top weight-saving technology.

Additive Layer Manufacturing, or ‘3D printing’ as it is commonly known, has been around for a while but as yet has not made the jump from technology demonstration to mainstream use. With significant improvements in additive layer manufacturing processes, and the material and structural properties of printed parts now being on par with casting, we see 2023 as a breakout year for 3D printing of structural components.

This year we expect to see widespread adoption of 3D printed parts designed in using traditional methods, simply switching production from forged and machined parts.  This will be particularity useful in maintenance and repair organisations, providing near instant access to spares without a deep supply chain.

The real excitement, power and wave of innovation 3D printing will slowly unlock is when companies and regulators start to understand and embrace the new process to create more efficient, previously impossible designs.

3. Robotics and Automation

Aerospace factories across the world have produce some of the most advanced machines ever designed, but historically and to this day, not always in the most advanced way.

Compared to the automotive industry, with giant automated factories full of robotic production lines, a team of aerospace fitters installing parts with hand tools can seem prehistoric.

While appearances can be misleading, aerospace manufacturing does lag behind other industries in terms of production efficiency and automation. This has historically been due to the complexity and size of the product, however sectors such as eVTOL urban air mobility and low-cost combat UAVs, will see a significantly more companies in the market and a faster pace of development.

To be competitive, significant manufacturing cost savings must be made and that means learning a few lessons from the automotive sector.  Look for manufacturers large and small to start trialling their “Factory of the Future” ideas this year.

4. Digitisation

Since the 90’s when the Boeing 777 became the first large aircraft to be designed entirely on computers, the aerospace industry has heavily embraced digital technologies to ensure efficient production and quicker design. Now almost all projects, large and small are designed across multiple offices in different cities, countries, and continents.

We do not see this process slowing.  In fact, with more data than ever before, and with smarter tools, further digitisation of design, analysis, manufacturing, and maintenance will enable companies to predict and respond to changes faster than ever before.

With more new projects underway than in decades, this year we see huge opportunities for companies who make the best use in smart structural design and analysis tools to increase the speed, and reduce cost of development.

5. Structural Health Monitoring (SHM)

One such opportunity around digitisation in service is Structural Health Monitoring of aircraft. Throughout aviation history, catastrophic fatigue failure or aircraft components have led to significant loss of life, as a result a huge amount of time and effort is put into aircraft teardown and inspection.  Structural Health Monitoring uses sensors embedded or attached to structural elements to collect material and geometric data, and to utilise the data to assess the state of the structure.

SHM is a particular opportunity when used with 3D printing and composite structures where the sensors can be embedded directly into the parts.

The growing use of composites in aerospace poses a large maintenance challenge in the future as damage is much harder to detect visually and risks increasing maintenance and inspection costs significantly without a change of approach.

Written by: Chris Summers, Principal Engineer at Morson Projects