Disruptive Innovations in Aerospace Manufacturing

Will the current technological disruptions improve the future manufacturing model?

By Jennifer Ferrero, APR


What is a disruption? It is something that interrupts the action of what is going on. Mass production of cars, from horse-drawn carriages, was a disruptive technology that changed the world. Today’s robotics, and computerized technology in the manufacturing plant, is another form of disruptive technology – sometimes reviewed through rose-colored glasses, as “disruptive innovation.”

Another term that can be used is transformative technology. Because a disruption, once accepted, can become transformative.

That is, since the technological change can be so great that it shakes up an entire industry, it can also become a beneficial innovation that changes how everything is done.

When Apple came onto the scene, their approach was drastically different than any other company, regarding home computers, and later the iPhone. To this day, it has been one of the greatest innovations, that has changed the rest of the world and how other technologies are innovated. Wikipedia says, “Disruptive innovations tend to be produced by outsiders and entrepreneurs, rather than existing market-leading companies.” If that is the case, then Steve Jobs, and Apple fit the model. The reason why most established companies aren’t the innovators, is because they are in the business of producing what they know already works – it has demand in the market, and the product is needed.

Spending additional time on research and development is difficult for established companies for that reason. Therefore, groups like JCATI exist in Washington, because they fund research and development projects at the university level that are managed by professors and students that facilitate innovation. Without a group like JCATI, many innovations would not come to fruition in Washington.

Robots in the manufacturing facility have been a tremendous innovation. However, for many that have been in the manufacturing environment, this has been a huge disruption. As with any great change in technology, people are first afraid, and then once they learn more, can embrace the change.

The first reaction to robots by many was – “how many jobs will be lost because of it?”

In fact, we are now finding that due to other innovations, people are needed to repair and maintain the robots. This has opened a new industry called Mechatronics, and hundreds of jobs are opening up in Washington.

Additionally, aircraft manufacturing has been status quo for a century using fly-by-wire technology. Today’s navigational and technological inventions have yielded things like touch screens and wi-fi in aircraft, along with satellite-based position or GPS in the cockpit.

In this website, the COE tries to find the latest technology, and report on how our community and technical colleges in Washington as responding with training; and how industry is stepping up to hire newly skilled graduates as technology keeps marching on.

The innovations in technology and training are a true transformation.