Industry 4.0 is a catch-all term for the shift in manufacturing caused by a range of capabilities that are making their way into the sector. As one of the leading edge advanced manufacturing sectors, it is of increasing importance to Aerospace.

It’s not so much that the components of Industry 4.0 are new to Aerospace – many of them such as automation, additive manufacturing (3D printing) and simulation have been around for years. What’s driving the revolution is the pace at which these technologies are developing, and enabling new capabilities. There are short and longer term gains from going on the digitalisation journey.


Contrary to popular belief, cost is not the sole drive for automation. These machines can carry out tasks that might be harmful, strenuous or dangerous for people, or just plain monotonous due to their repetitive nature. The fourth industrial revolution is all about “cyber-physical” systems, and will have humans at its centre. The focus will be on how technology can enhance and optimise the capabilities of people, not replace them.

What is really interesting is how Industry 4.0 will change business models and even introduce completely new ones.

  • Increased digital connectivity and data sharing across value chains will drastically increase supply and demand visibility, driving unprecedented agility into the supply chain
  • Data from all parts of the value chain, including in-service-use, will be fed back into the design, manufacturing and maintenance processes in real time, autonomously, to ensure the through-life-engineering system is adaptive and optimised
  • Analytics capabilities will enable predictive maintenance schedules, with the possibility of zero unscheduled maintenance


Despite this being a seemingly technological revolution, the real thing many companies in Aerospace are lacking is a “digital mindset”. Operational technology is still fairly removed from Information Technology, with OT and IT decisions often taking place in different parts of the business. Workers in the sector, and indeed the leadership and management, are not digital natives, which make understanding the technology, how it is to be implemented and what the benefits are, quite difficult. Companies are looking to invest in their own productivity, but they are unclear as to where in this very large landscape they should be focussing. Business cases around digital can be difficult to build.

Companies should therefore be challenging their existing business models:

  • How do I recruit digital thinkers? Is the culture (risk aversion) in my business such that they would be attracted to it?
  • How is digitalisation informing my core business strategy? What is my R&D strategy and how well am I looking beyond traditional boundaries for ideas, and innovations?
  • Is my balance of investment across people, process and technology right in order to deliver future business?

The programmes and investments you’ll see coming out of the Government’s Industrial Digitalisation Review will not only see large scale R&D and skills programmes, but an investment in digital leadership to help drive through that cultural change. Digitalisation needs to be taken up across a business, from factory floor to the boardroom. IT therefore shouldn’t come as a surprise that Airbus have hired Google’s Paul Eremenko as CTO to lead its technological revolution.


In this context there are a series of questions which the industry as a whole needs to ask itself:

  • Investment in autonomy is orders of magnitude greater outside the industry than within; what do our partnership models need to look like to assimilate those kinds of technologies?
  • When Airlines are no longer buying planes but are buying outcomes (say, flying hours), how does that change the way we develop and price products and services?
  • What does our workforce, skills and job content look like now that we have completely new capabilities, such as the ability to predict performance and failure by accessing in-flight data from anywhere in the world in real time, and potentially print spares anywhere in the world?
  • How do we share investments, risk and reward with suppliers now that we have the analytics that optimise supply chains and provide concrete demand forecast?

At ADS we advise that manufacturers of all sizes embed digitalisation into their strategies, and not necessarily develop a digitalisation strategy, and get startled by the hype of Industry 4.0. The outcomes of reduced costs, added value to products, increased rate, delivery and quality, and other performance improvements that enhance productivity and competitiveness are what customers and suppliers alike are striving for – digital tools are enablers to meet those.   At the same time, continue to develop an understanding of your customers’ changing business models – particularly those caused by digitalisation – as these will impact your own business model, and give you the time and knowledge to adapt.

ADS supports its Members on this topic through the Digital Manufacturing Special Interest Group

Interested in finding out more about joining ADS? Find out about all the benefits