Demystifying The Latest Technological Advancement In Defense Manufacturing Space
David Norman started his career as a product engineer at Moog after receiving his BS in Mechanical Engineering. While working, he returned to school, obtained a MS degree in systems engineering, and was able to apply these new skills on development activities at Moog. David used his knowledge and experience to take on increasingly complex projects and impactful leadership roles while working in the aerospace industry. He is currently responsible for all technical aspects of the Moog Aircraft Group’s product life cycle management, including Product Development, Product Build and Delivery, and Field Support.
In your opinion, how has the defense manufacturing landscape evolved over the years? What are some of the advantages of the current technological advancement?
We have seen some very rapid integration of increased automation and the use of data through connected systems that lead us to new knowledge allowing us to reduce errors, time and cost. It also allows us to bring new knowledge to the entire product lifecycle. It’s not just about manufacturing or even the development process. It’s really about how our products are performing in the field. We were able to translate that knowledge back to lessons learned and improvements to our future product developments. At the same time, we have also introduced automation to help our skilled technicians in areas outside machining, including areas such as inspection and product tests.
We have also invested in developing standards and processes related to additive manufacturing, allowing us to extend its use into safety and mission-critical components. Additive Manufacturing has become another tool for Engineers to help us solve customer problems. it boils down to having the right tool for the right job. So we are way past just doing demonstrations. We are now using these standards and processes to develop products for use in the market.
What according to you are some of the challenges plaguing the defense manufacturing landscape and how can they be effectively mitigated?
The biggest challenge we see in front of us very soon is the shortage of skilled labor. Being a defense manufacturing company, we see many folks nearing retirement they are the backbone of our organization, the backbone of our manufacturing teams, the experienced technicians, and machinists. Many of these folks who we have homegrown into craftsman are getting ready to exit their aerospace careers. So we have had to focus a lot of our energy on developing new talent acquisition, and talent development strategies, working closely and collaborating with vocational schools and community colleges. And we are trying to do it in a way that takes advantage of the current skilled workforce, having them be the teachers and mentors. It’s provided a kind of a unique opportunity to get the energy of people who are new to the aerospace world, combined with the experiences of our senior folks who enjoy being teachers. It’s fun to watch; while it’s been a challenge, it’s also been rewarding to see the benefits.
“In the world of defense space— connectivity, intelligence, configurability, and security can be used by manufacturers to deliver Defense 4.0 strategy”
Which are a few technological trends influencing defense manufacturing today? What are some of the best practices businesses should adopt today to steer ahead of competitors?
According to an Accenture report, 97 percent of defense manufacturers are ready to transform their business digitally. The new technological advancements influence the defense industry in additive manufacturing, 3D printing, artificial intelligence, and more. We have seen a lot of closer integration of design and manufacturing through integrated engineering and business tools. It’s a concept that was pioneered and matured through the automotive industry. But we have not been able to apply it now to defense. It requires some tailoring, and we do have a different set of challenges than the automotive industry has. Nonetheless, related and close enough, it allowed us to tailor our products to particular customer needs without repeating the entire product lifecycle every time. And our customers value the opportunity to reduce schedule cost risk. Firstly when we recruit, we try to find talent. It is not about finding people who are only competent and potentially subject matter experts, but folks who are willing to put in the effort to understand what they are doing and how it fits into the systems we deliver. We don’t provide just a widget or a product; we provide systems. It is about finding people who can think systemically, act differently than maybe just subject matter experts. Secondly, we want our employees to participate in industry groups and share information with other companies about the latest technology innovations happening in the space. And I think recruiting the right talent and sharing information keeps us ahead of our rivals.
Do you have any advice for industry veterans or budding entrepreneurs from the defense manufacturing space?
Being an entrepreneur, I would say find something you are passionate about and always be humble enough to learn from your colleagues. And drive for something that’s of value to your customers, listen to the market and listen to what people ask for. Frequently, we have great ideas, but we are not able to turn them into good business. Focus on the value of your idea to somebody else. So I would encourage my colleagues to be passionate, listen humbly, and deliver value to their customers.
What do you think is the future of the defense manufacturing industry from a technology perspective?
In the world of defense space—connectivity, intelligence, configurability, and security can be used by manufacturers to deliver Defense 4.0 strategy. The markets continue to mature when it comes to more autonomous, more electric, more connected systems; our customers and the problems they are trying to solve will demand that we utilize these technological advances in these areas. At Moog, we think it’s not just about developing a model. It’s not going to be merely software. There’s a lot of hardware that comes with that and part of what we are preparing for as an aerospace manufacturing company. There’s a pretty significant investment level needed both in skills and capital to architect, develop and deliver the aerospace industry 4.0 solutions within our factories. Before now, I think many of us have underestimated what it would take to transition our manufacturing capabilities to leverage all these new technologies and put them to good use.