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Aerospace Focus: Industry challenges

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Innovation in aerospace: where do the sector’s priorities lie? By Peter Richards, marketing and sales EMEA at Protolabs

The aerospace industry is renowned for reinventing itself through innovation – look at the advent of the jet engine, for example, which revolutionised travel and enabled manufacturers to build bigger and faster airplanes.

Complex regulatory approvals mean that the product development lifecycle is typically longer in aerospace – but there is still a need for organisations to innovate at speed in order to build a pipeline of new products.

However, as it aims to drive innovation today, the sector is facing significant challenges. This includes the need to tackle carbon emissions, integrate new technologies and restructure supply chains in the face of ongoing geopolitical uncertainty.

As part of a wider piece of research into innovation in manufacturing, we gathered the opinions of 150 aerospace executives to find out how they are harnessing innovation, the challenges they are facing and what they feel needs to change in future.


With the aerospace sector accounting for 12% of global energy-related CO2 emissions, it has set itself the target of reaching net zero emissions by 2050. While this may seem a long way off, our study shows that there is a real desire to operate more sustainably and make changes as quickly as possible. 71% of airlines and 72% of commercial aerospace manufacturers stated that they view sustainability as a priority.

This is leading them to carefully consider the technology investments they make throughout the manufacturing development cycle – such as how aircraft will be fuelled and how they will be maintained or disposed of.

Hydrogen-powered planes, for example, are being discussed by big players such as Airbus as a way to make air travel more sustainable.

The executives that we consulted want Europe to be at the forefront of the charge for greener solutions. More than half (55%) believe the European aerospace industry can become significantly more competitive by striving to be a world leader in sustainability.


Every sector is feeling the impact of new technologies – and aerospace is no different. Most of the respondents in our study view technology as an enabler, with employees remaining key to unlocking real innovation.

Automation, for instance, whether in the form of robots, AI or human machine interfaces (HMIs) frees people up to think more creatively and critically. They no longer need to spend time completing repetitive and mundane tasks but can instead focus on value added activities which enable innovation to happen.

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