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German aerospace companies embrace digitalisation and new technologies
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) for aerospace in Germany are known as great innovators and world-leading experts, supplying airlines as well as other aerospace companies. Hanse-Aerospace e.V. (HAE), the largest independent business association for SME in Germany, represents these industries, makes them visible at trade fairs, gives them a voice in negotiations and helps with adapting to new challenges like digitalisation.
One of the most important goals of Hanse-Aerospace e.V. is connecting the different small and medium-sized companies in Germany working in the aerospace industries. It is especially important to give smaller companies a voice and the necessary strength when dealing with large aerospace corporations. “We are the counterbalance to the large structures, ”says project manager Ingo Martens. Hanse-Aerospace, situated in Hamburg, is an independent trade association, financed by its currently around 150 members. But, of course, the association is also in touch with other associations in the aerospace sector. Hamburg is a number-one aviation location, after all.
Among the small and medium-sized companies are mainly those who deliver parts to other suppliers on the first tier – and not directly to the large corporations like Airbus. Others directly supply airlines with buyer furnished equipment (BFE), often with single-unit productions or small series. “Some of them have very innovative products: one company, for example, provides first aid kits for the cabins, ”says Martens.
Representing and presenting companies at trade fairs
Of course, visibility is also an important factor in a company’s success, especially when it is rather small and familyrun. The 100 per cent subsidiary Hanse
Aerospace Wirtschaftsdienst GMBH has taken on the responsibility of organising the trade fair presence of its members worldwide. One of the annual highlights is the Aircraft Interior Expo (AIX) in Hamburg, where Hanse-Aerospace usually has the largest stall – with 2,000 square metres and nearly 90 companies exhibiting their products. But due to the coronavirus this year, it has become far more complicated for the business association and its members to predict which trade fairs will actually open its doors to visitors – and when.
Dealing with new challenges
This year, participating at trade fairs creates completely new challenges, says Ingo Martens. The AIX, for example, has recently been rescheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic, pushing the date closer to other important trade fairs. This makes planning very difficult. “It is of course also a financial burden, when companies have to cancel hotel bookings, for instance, or tickets for flights or trains,” says Martens. So, one of the challenges is to look at the possibilities to compensate companies for these additional costs. “Together with the trade fair organisers we are currently trying to find solutions to keep the costs as low as possible.” Without a business association like Hanse-Aerospace, smaller companies would struggle to have such conversations.
Next to business representation and the organisation of trade fair participation, Hanse-Aerospace e.V. organises various networking events each year: for example, the Sailing Cup that will be held for the tenth time in 2020. This allows company representatives to meet in a more relaxed atmosphere, get to know each other and work towards a common goal.
Enabling companies to embrace digitalisation
Like many other industrial sectors, aerospace industries are changing and – if they have not already – will need to embrace digitalisation. For smaller, family-run companies this can be a challenge, especially if they also face a change in leadership due to a generational shift. “We bring digitalisation into companies and help them proactively,” says Ingo Martens. Very early on, Hanse-Aerospace e.V. started looking for the right research projects that would help with developing tools and ideas, which later could be of use for companies in the aerospace sector.
Research projects for future success
At the moment, five research projects under the participation of various members aim at developing industrial platforms that will allow small and medium-sized companies to use new technologies to efficiently design their supply chain. Among the first developments was the DIGICOR platform (www.digicor-project.eu). With the second project, eFactory (www.efactory-project.eu), the researchers created an ecosystem, which allows different apps to dock. This is important because different companies use different systems and one of the main challenges of digitalisation in the aerospace sector is the compatibility of systems. Using apps can bypass this problem. Three further research projects are currently running: FACTLOG (www.factlog.eu), DigiNet.Air
(www.diginetair.de) and DIMLA (hanse-aerospace.net/de/projekte/dimla).
Thanks to these, Hanse-Aerospace hopes to provide members with all the necessary tools to make their digitalisation a success story.