Interview with Airbus: innovation and emerging technologies

Valispace’s CEO, Marco Witzmann, sat down with Bastian Schäfer (Innovation Manager) and David Kaden (Operations Manager for Airbus ProtoSpace) to talk about innovation and new technologies at Airbus. Both Bastian and David work in the “Emerging Technologies & Concepts” department of Airbus in Hamburg, Germany.

Read the interview below to learn more about how Airbus is adopting a data-driven approach to solve their engineering challenges.

What does your department do and what problems do you solve for Airbus?

Bastian: In our department, we work on future propulsion, work on concepts and service ideas. We basically exist to challenge the R&D landscape at Airbus. Our biggest focus is Urban Air Mobility and we either investigate our own ideas or work on requests that come from the company.

These are not easy things to do. Where do you make the difference? How do you handle the complexity?

David: By definition, we have to try out a lot of new technologies and evaluate on a small level whether it can improve the way Airbus works on major scales. Often we collaborate with external companies to import innovative concepts and products into Airbus.

How do you make sure that innovations reach all parts of Airbus and what is your long-term vision for this?

Bastian: Of course handing over the work we have done is a challenge; but we work closely with experts across the organization to bring innovations to their departments.

How do you collaborate within your department and with the rest of the company on a technical level?

Bastian: We belong to the CTO organization and collaborate closely with the Defence & Space as well as the Helicopters’ divisions. Our success is possible because we have built strong networks within the organization. Additionally, we use the internal digital idea-platform as a communication channel to the rest of the company.

Why did you choose to use Valispace for these activities?

Bastian: It is a low hanging fruit since Valispace had already been used in the CTO organization.

The problems we are trying to solve need to be quickly evaluated and a data-driven approach allow us to get quick answers based on physical parameters. It definitively has helped us to structure our thoughts and go from a napkin design to a real parameterized design.

David: At the beginning, I was not so sure how modeling in Valispace would be better than in Microsoft Excel. However, over time, I found a few extremely helpful properties of using Valispace, for example, the sub-components can be traded against each other and exchanged and it is possible to do more complex calculations such as using 2-dimensional data. I also found extremely helpful that formulas are reviewable. Therefore, the physical interrelations between parameters became much clearer, so I could faster iterate on my designs.

Would you recommend Valispace to other parts of the company? Why?

Bastian: In fact, we already have recommended to multiple parts of the company to make use of Valispace!

We see that there are lots of potential applications in almost all of Airbus’ divisions.

Furthermore, the benefits would not only apply in R&D teams and design offices, but we also see big potential in unexpected areas such as Marketing or Procurement. In these areas you need a clear understanding of all your products and their performances, so you can make better decisions on the company level.
Besides the technical capabilities of the software itself, we have been very impressed with how reactive and knowledgeable the Valispace team is in the engineering domain so that they were always quick to help us solve our problems.

What do you like best about using Valispace?

Bastian: One of the main benefits is that complex, n-dimensional problems can be solved collaboratively in a team. While Excel forces you to reduce your engineering problem only into rows and columns, Valispace lets you work with any needed physical interdependencies without losing the overview.

David: Besides a Single Source of Truth for our engineering data, we also see it as a powerful communications tool which clearly communicates the current state of the product to everyone involved.

Bastian: The functionality that automatically verifies your design against your requirements on a continuous basis has helped us meet better our goals. New projects should implement Valispace from their kickoff to immediately get those benefits.

How much time would you estimate you save by using a data-driven engineering approach over the typical excel engineering?

Bastian: It is hard to tell how many mistakes we have avoided by using a tool like Valispace, but my gut feeling tells me that depending on the exact use case that…

it could probably save 20-30% of time and costs of a hardware development project.

Thank you very much for your time!