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Date: April 25, 2024

Tata Elxsi is Improving Aircraft Manufacturing Performance Through its Industry 4.0 solutions

Tata Elxsi is Improving Aircraft Manufacturing Performance Through its Industry 4.0 solutions

Having delivered 13% revenue growth in FY24, Tata Elxsi is among the world’s leading design and technology service providers across industries including Automotive, Broadcast, Communications, Healthcare, and Transportation. They mark high competence in servicing through design thinking and development in digital technologies like IoT, Cloud, Mobility, Virtual Reality, and AI.

Rashi Bajpai, Sub-Editor at ELE Times spoke with Jayaraj Rajapandian, Head of Avionics, Transportation, Tata Elxsi on various aspects of aerospace/ aviation – from what’s trending to what the future holds for the industry.

This is an excerpt from the interaction.

ELE Times: What are some of the latest trends in Aerospace electrification?

Jayaraj Rajapandian: The aerospace industry is rapidly evolving, with many innovations redefining the field. One of the latest advancements is in aerospace electrification. This is a major boost to meet the UN sustainable development goals set for the Aerospace industry. It involves implementing electric propulsion technologies such as electric motors and turbo-electric propulsion by using electric energy to power the aircraft fully or in hybrid mode.

The electrification of propulsion systems made Urban Air Mobility (UAM) vehicles a reality and it is a step closer to commercial operation. Smaller aircraft and drones provide decreased emissions, quieter operation, and improved efficiency. Electrical actuators drive fuel efficiency and are replacing the hydraulic-driven actuators.

Hybrid-electric propulsion systems combine traditional fuel-powered engines with electric propulsion systems. The larger aircraft adapts them to increase fuel efficiency and reduce emissions.

Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAFs) can be used to reduce aviation’s environmental impact. However, the investment to scale the SAF production is to be monitored against aviation demands.

Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing (eVTOL) vehicles enable vertical takeoff and landing, which reduces the dependency on infrastructure like a dedicated runway. Vertiport unlocks the potential for urban air mobility. These vehicles will be incorporated more for logistics and aerial combat vehicles.

Moreover, advancements in battery technologies are seeing exponential growth in fuel cells for storage, effective power conversion, and distribution, necessitating effective battery management solutions. Lithium polymer batteries enable long-endurance owing to their lower weight and higher power storage.

ELE Times: Give us some insights into the future innovations in Unmanned Air Systems.

Jayaraj Rajapandian: Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) have been incredibly useful in improving efficiency, reducing costs, reaching remote and inaccessible areas, improving defence systems, and, most importantly, enhancing safety. The primary focus is to improve autonomous navigation and control by incorporating cutting-edge technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to operate effectively in complex environments and all-weather conditions and push the endurance for extended missions.

Currently, commercial usage of UAVs is being monitored by regulators, mainly when operating beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS). However, advanced sensor and payload technologies such as LiDAR and thermal imaging systems could help improve the availability and reliability.

Unmanned Combat Systems consist of aerial, land, and underwater drones. Unmanned aerial vehicles are used to gather intelligence, conduct surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), and carry munitions. Governments worldwide recognize Unmanned Combat Systems as an asset comparable to manned fighter jets as they consume a significant portion of defence budgets. Researchers are exploring swarm intelligence to enable several drones to work together and operate collectively, ensuring the mission is never compromised, even if many UAVs are lost.

ELE Times: Elaborate on some of the latest technologies in avionics development for advanced navigation and control.

Jayaraj Rajapandian: In the past couple of decades, satellite-based navigation and communications systems have become more widespread, electronic systems have become more scalable, and higher redundancy has become more common in recent aircrafts. Fly-by-wire flight control systems have replaced mechanical controls with electronic interfaces, allowing for precise and adaptive control of aircraft flight surfaces. Using a single pane of glass in the cockpit flight decks turned the operation to be more seamless. However, by the mid-2030s, ICAO predicts that airspace will witness double the current traffic and the industry requires more than incremental innovation, a transformation is needed.

Currently, the focus is on bringing compact form factors and platforming the systems. Aerospace OEMs and technology partners are collaborating on this next journey. RISC-V-based processing units are gaining attention for their security features and custom-built capabilities that meet OEMs’ needs. The collaboration on Avionics such as FMS, used in different aircraft supplied by various vendors, to create a unified family of products signifies a strategic move towards standardization and interoperability in the aviation industry. This reduces inventory costs for OEMs and the training costs of airlines.

Innovations to counter deceived sensors to manage spoofing, anti-jamming and to distinguish friends from foes, and security in communications are gaining attention. A growing number of regional players are developing Avionics for UAVs, breaking the technology entry barrier. To stay competitive and relevant, defense OEMs require transformational effort to reduce cycle time which typically takes 5 to 7 years. Digital Twin, Investment in Big-Data processing with High Processing Computing capability can accelerate this cycle time.

Tata Elxsi’s advanced process flow can be used in the development of a cloud-based Digital Twin of a sub-system. The features developed from the Digital Twin are scalable and can be used for multiple systems simultaneously.

ELE Times: How can AI/ML be adopted for aerospace design and maintenance?

Jayaraj Rajapandian: With AI and ML capabilities, aerospace design and maintenance can improve efficiency, reduce downtime, and improve the health of systems. AI and ML can analyze extensive datasets from simulations, past designs, and real-world operations to pinpoint the most effective configurations for aircraft components, structures, and systems.

AI and ML tools also help to build virtual prototyping and testing of aircraft systems and components. It generates precise simulations using high-processing computers, anticipating performance traits, and fine-tuning design parameters. More importantly, AI and ML algorithms also help in predictive maintenance. These algorithms can analyze sensor data from aircraft systems and components to detect anomalies, predict failures, and schedule maintenance proactively. AI and ML tools also help in care for health monitoring systems and analysis of root causes. We will soon see certifications through simulations of numerous scenarios exercised on the system models.

Our solution accelerator for TEDAX- Tata Elxsi’s big data platform is being used to build system models and visualize the data. Tata Elxsi’s AI-based Video Analytics AIVA resolves complex scenarios in real-time.

ELE Times: How is Tata Elxsi enhancing aircraft production efficiency?

Jayaraj Rajapandian: The aerospace industry is picking up the pace in demand post-slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the boost in demand, OEMs will need to enhance their production efficiency by tapping into advanced manufacturing technologies, adding cost-effective suppliers, and integrating product lifecycle management techniques. Technologies like 3D printing, robotics, digital twins, and automated assembly systems can enhance aircraft production.

Tata Elxsi designs and implements Industry 4.0 solutions, improving manufacturing performance. We are also working with OEMs in identifying suppliers to source raw materials, build-to-spec, and certify their products.