Sustainability Gains Momentum in Aviation Industry
As airline travel returns to pre-pandemic levels, airplane makers are rethinking sustainability measures, looking deeply and broadly across the life cycle of the millions of parts that make up the planes that people fly in every day.
So far, getting to carbon neutral has translated into the pursuit of fuel efficiencies from lighter-weight machine and engine designs, and rightly so – airplanes produce the highest percentage of their CO2 footprint while in flight. Even though these efforts are still going on, manufacturers are looking ahead to the next step in sustainability, which will affect the whole aviation supply and production chain, from designing and making airplanes to running a business and more.
Torsten Welte, global vice president, head of A&D Industries at SAP, said:
"It’s not just about what sustainable airplane design and production looks like, but also how to create more sustainable operations for existing fleets. Manufacturers are exploring how they can exchange more data up and down the value chain to design and manufacture the next generation of airplanes while making improvements to what they have for a carbon-neutral business. Sustainable aviation connects data across engineering, procurement, supply chain, manufacturing, sales, and finance.”
Like most industries, airplane manufacturers factor rework into the cost of doing business. This method will not work in the next decade when stricter policies like the European Green Deal go into effect and cost pressures rise.
IDC analysts say that by 2024, 80% of global manufacturers will include environmental sustainability in their product life cycle management processes and ecosystem. It will increase sales by 3%. The challenge for airplane manufacturers is keeping track of CO2 emissions across multilayered business operations.
“Companies need to understand the entire CO2 footprint of every part that’s used in the airplane, along with every step of work associated with it, including sourcing and production, quality checks, production stoppages and rework, shipping, and recycling,” said Welte. “Industry leaders are moving towards a holistic strategy for sustainable design through the airplane’s life cycle. For example, inside cabin materials are often switched out after a few years, with most ending up in landfills. How do you create a more circular economy during the airplane’s lifespan?”
For manufacturers to be sustainable, they need a new way of thinking and a new set of tools for everyday tasks like design and buying. Welte says that some manufacturers think procurement is ready for a change, moving away from the lowest price and toward suppliers who make products that meet indirect, longer-term standards for sustainability.
“A CO2-friendlier part might have an initially higher cost, but offer recyclability options that reduce carbon emissions,” said Welte. “Additionally, as airplane manufacturers explore sustainable fuel alternatives and materials, designers will need to collaborate much more closely with suppliers, sharing data to source the highest quality products that will decrease rework and resultant CO2 emissions. For example, technology like SAP Ariba solutions and SAP Enterprise Product Development helps designers efficiently work together with suppliers to set and meet shared sustainable business benchmarks.”
The calculation of the CO2 footprint of aircraft parts is extremely difficult. Evenly distributing energy costs like electricity and heat across many different products won't be enough. Accurate reporting measures the amount of energy used by each part based on all of the machine's hours.
“Every activity, direct or indirect, has to be accounted towards CO2,” said Welte. “With greater visibility across the manufacturing value chain, companies can immediately spot problems with suppliers downstream to prevent rework by producing better products. When you can communicate faster with your business network, dynamically collecting and analysing data from a centralised control tower, you can track your organisation’s progress against company and industry benchmarks.”
Manufacturers know that every slowdown costs a lot of money and time, which means that a lot of energy is wasted. IDC analysts think that by 2023, 30% of manufacturers will share applications with partners in the industry ecosystem to improve visibility and operational efficiency, as well as to make sure safety, security, and quality.
Driven by increased demand for environmental accountability in manufacturing ecosystems, IDC researchers expected 40% of G2000 manufacturers would use traceability technologies to mitigate risk and boost transparency by 2025. In the same timeframe, Gartner researchers predicted that 40% of all manufacturing IT will own the responsibility of data modelling for sustainability and net-zero carbon targets. Already some manufacturers are using innovations like digital twins, which dynamically capture information that can speed up production, product approvals, and certifications of new engines and aircraft.
Whether it is deserved or not, flying has a bad reputation when compared to other industries that can be equally or more energy intensive. But emission-free aviation is no mirage. Manufacturers are aiming for a new horizon in sustainable business by bringing together an ecosystem to make a carbon-neutral future.