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Digital Transformation At The Farnborough Airshow 2022

Rapid changes are happening in the aerospace/defense ecosystem.

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Alternating every year with the Paris Airshow, the Farnborough Airshow was back to an in-person event this July 2022. It focused on six key themes—space, defense, sustainability, innovation, future flight, and workforce. Within these themes, digitalization and data emerged as very prominent messages. Some of the prototypes and actual devices on display at the event felt like they were taken straight from a set of HBO’s Westworld.

These airshows—we at Cadence have now attended Melbourne, Paris, Dubai, and Farnborough— quite vividly showcase the complex aerospace/defense ecosystem, addressing various audiences. Here you can find a mix of representatives, from end consumers to end equipment suppliers, like Boeing and Airbus, and their supply chain partners who are several levels deep and include everyone, from suppliers of engines, electronics, and materials to tool and service suppliers like Cadence. At these events, aerospace enthusiasts enjoy flight demonstrations, chats with sharp-looking pilots in uniform, or check out the latest plane seat and other types of aircraft configurations. The big OEMs and their immediate suppliers like BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin interact with buyers in their chalets—big custom-build halls and tents—competing in both size and air conditioning during a hot British summer. These airshows are venues for business transactions and partnership announcements. The business aspects fade down into the latter part of the week as the shows transition more to flight demonstrations and public visitors on the weekends.

Given the vast audience diversity, explaining “electronic design automation” becomes quite a challenging feat. During a press briefing with an editor of an aviation-focused publication at the Farnborough Airshow, I reverted to quite drastic measures, simply referring to Cadence and EDA as the “equivalent of Home Depot for the electronics and systems industry, where we provide the tools, services, some materials, and building blocks. In other words, you can do it, and we can help.” This analogy resonated quite well, and we had a great discussion on how the industry structure and ecosystem of aerospace/defense are rapidly undergoing a digital transformation. There are certainly parallels and lessons learned from the automotive space, with OEMs taking on more software and control and design, hyperscalers doing their custom semiconductor designs for computing, and the OpenRan disruption of the networking industry.

Not unlike the changes driven by electrification, digital cockpits, and security/safety in the automotive industry, the Farnborough Airshow chalets showcased roadmaps toward net-zero transmission, new fuels, and electrification. In the run-up to the show, I had given a webinar on Digital Engineering Best Practices in Aerospace & Defense. The term “digital twinning” echoes loudly in this industry and is widely applied across various stages of the lifecycle from development through lifecycle optimization and multiple levels of scope from pure data through components, systems, systems of systems, and the actual production.

Optimizing future air mobility was visible in many locations, but my favorite was Supernal’s view of the future. The stated vision from their website is “to redefine how people move, connect, and live,” and correspondingly the Westworld-ish vehicle at their booth “fuses autonomy, electrification, robotics, and intelligent manufacturing technologies to accelerate the development of sustainable mobility solutions.” I met some Supernal representatives at a reception later in the day. It is easy to get behind their vision – “one where technology and innovation preserve the planet and unleash human potential.”

It is easy to see how EDA-enabled electronics can potentially play a critical role in enabling fantastic user experiences in today’s aerospace industry

Speaking of sustainability, at an SAP-sponsored discussion on digital transformation with various players, Airbus talked about how digitalization contributes to more sustainable aviation. Data analytics eliminates paper from the cockpit and better predictability reduces the gap between flight plans and execution due to network disruptions. The quantifiable result is about an 8% CO2 reduction. Airbus emphasized how their system, called Skywise, combines data from many different areas, eliminating up to $10B of the $42B cost of inefficiencies per year. Of course, the geek in me wondered throughout the presentation whether the naming committee at Airbus had seen any of the Terminator movies. But oh well. This presentation showed digital transformation at its best with quantifiable impact.

Bottom line, Farnborough was a great reminder of how exciting the future in aviation can be and how our day-to-day life in EDA is a crucial enabler, being—ahem—the Home Depot of the electronics and systems industries.



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