The future is taking off: Three exciting aerospace innovations from Singapore

16 April 2018

The future of aerospace in Singapore looks bright, bolstered by increasing passenger traffic and aircraft orders, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. At the same time, the aerospace sector is making significant developments in advanced technologies and innovation.

Airbus’ Skyways project: Launching the last mile delivery solution

The Skyways drone is currently one of a series of Urban Air Mobility projects by Airbus Helicopters.
Credit: Airbus

February 2018 marked the success of the first flight demonstration of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) delivering a parcel on the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus.

In its inaugural flight, the Skyways drone, built by Airbus Helicopters, landed on the roof of a designated station. This purpose-built facility hosts a parcel station where parcels are automatically loaded via a robotic arm. Once the parcel was loaded into a container, the drone took off along an assigned aerial corridor and eventually returned to the ground, demonstrating its automated unloading capability.

The Skyways drone is currently one of a series of Urban Air Mobility projects by Airbus Helicopters. Together with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) and Singapore Post (SingPost), Airbus aims to develop the technology for unmanned air parcel deliveries. With fully autonomous drones expected to be used for deliveries worldwide in future, the Skyways project aims to be at the forefront of this development, particularly for their use in urban environments like Singapore. The partnership looks at the whole system surrounding the use of this technology in urban areas – its safety and operational requirements, possible regulatory concerns and eventual commercial sustainability.

Airbus aims to develop the Skyways drone for unmanned air parcel deliveries.
Credit: Airbus

If initial test pilots prove successful, the team hopes to implement a fully operational trial at the university by the middle of this year, with more drones flying in pre-determined routes. The drones will deliver packages all across the campus, which is the size of 150 football fields.

Airbus has been in Singapore for the last four decades. This long partnership has witnessed Singapore’s growth into a global aviation hub and Airbus leveraging its presence here to continually experiment and test-bed new technologies. The Skyways project continues on this tradition and will be the first step towards the successful deployment of autonomous aerial systems in our city.

ST Aerospace’s SMART glasses: Seeing the future of MRO

ST Aerospace’s SMART glasses are meant to be worn by technicians to help improve the efficiency and safety of aircraft maintenance work.

ST Aerospace, the world’s largest commercial airframe maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) provider, is boldly pushing into the future by launching a digital transformation initiative known as SMART MRO. The company is developing and adopting advanced technologies such as robotics, additive manufacturing and data connectivity to offer even better products and services to its customers. Augmented reality (AR) glasses, or SMART glasses are one aspect of this initiative and are meant to be worn by technicians to help improve the efficiency and safety of aircraft maintenance work.

These SMART glasses provide technicians with visual information for each task, like virtual images of maintenance records, or assembly and repair instructions. Gone will be the days when they have to spend extra time paging through technical manuals searching for the relevant drawings or repair checklists. Such immediate connectivity enables them to make informed choices on the spot, reducing human error and improving productivity.

These SMART glasses provide technicians with visual information for each task, like virtual images of maintenance records, or assembly and repair instructions.

SMART glasses can also be used during on-the-job training with instructors showing relevant images and notes while the trainee works on actual equipment. Also, their connectivity support can be used by mechanics making challenging repairs in remote locations. They can be prompted by experts or members of their team who can see what is happening in real time.

ST Aerospace estimates it will be at least another two to three years before more companies adopt AR as part of their operational tools, proving that the company is the forerunner when it comes to employing cutting-edge technology to provide innovative solutions.

National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster’s H-WAAM technology: Pushing the limits of 3D printing

Hybrid additive manufacturing technology allows additive and subtractive processes to be integrated into a single workcell that enables intelligent and scalable manufacturing for large parts.

Did you know that Singapore is developing the ability to 3D print industrial-sized, high-quality metal parts?

In a joint partnership with 3D Metalforge, a homegrown metal 3D printing company, and Singapore University of Technology and Design’s (SUTD) Digital Manufacturing and Design Centre (DmanD), the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) aims to develop and commercialise large format 3D metal printing technologies in Singapore.

Being able to print the large metal parts required by Singapore-based companies is critical for Additive Manufacturing to fully support industry. The Hybrid Wire Arc Additive Manufacturing (H-WAAM) technology – a first in the world, will enable large cost effective metal parts to be printed in Singapore, reducing the amount of time for metal part replacements to be sourced. The ability to print on demand without a minimum order quantity also reduces the need for warehousing facilities and avoids unneeded inventory cost. Combining robotics, additive and machining technologies, H-WAAM uses feed material that is up to five times cheaper than traditional metal powders, making cost effective 3D printing a reality. Its integrated hybrid machining technology makes it possible to deliver customized high-quality parts that are up to 1.5 metres in size, with mechanical strength properties that are comparable with traditional casted parts.

This technology is targeted at the aviation, offshore and marine, and manufacturing industries. It significantly expands the envelope for commercial 3D printing solutions for large metal parts. The ability to convert a digital design to produce parts with different sizes and complexities at speeds up to 10 times faster than powder-bed fusion additive manufacturing systems will lower the barriers for this technology to be adopted in these specialised sectors.

Launched in October 2015, NAMIC aims to encourage Singapore-based companies to adopt additive manufacturing processes and solutions to come up with new products, services, and business models. One way of lowering the barriers of entry for businesses with additive manufacturing solution needs is by connecting them with the public-funded Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs)and research institutes imbued with 3D printing capabilities and technical domain expertise. Since its inception, it has reached out to more than 750 local and international companies and has established joint funding for more than 100 projects between companies, IHLs and research institutions, with several projects in the pipeline.

NAMIC’s multi-sectoral approach to industry engagement helps bridge new technology applications with companies’ needs and concerns, and positions Singapore well to capture the new growth opportunities that Industry 4.0 will bring.