Digital twins offer aerospace and defence opportunity to innovate

31 July 2023 8 min. read

Momentum is growing for digital twin technology in the aerospace and defence industries. Capgemini leaders Lee Annecchino and Jacques Bacry explain how the concept can help the industry propel its innovation and digital agenda.

When it comes to running a business, having a bird’s-eye perspective would prove very handy – wouldn’t it? Able to have a complete view of everything, you’d be able to spot incoming challenges, clearly identify areas that need extra attention and work to fix them.

Naturally, business leaders are always looking for ways to streamline operations, improve efficiencies and ultimately deliver growth and profit. The organisations in the aerospace and defence industry are no exception.


However, leaders in the aerospace and defence sector face an uphill battle. Despite witnessing signs of economic revival due to an increase in travel demand post-pandemic – a cautious optimism prevails as the sector stands at a critical juncture.

Confronted by challenges from all sides – from inflation, persistent disruptions in the supply chain, a shortage of skilled professionals and mounting pressure from both the public and governments to decarbonise – there are a number of factors that aerospace and defence business leaders of today need to confront.

And in an industry where developing a new product takes years, testing prototypes takes longer still, and all these assets cost tens of millions of dollars – contending with the aforementioned challenges, and delivering a profit seems like a near-impossible mission.

To not only help navigate these challenges, but to drive innovation and profit, aerospace and defence organisations are increasingly turning to digital twin technologies. That is according to our latest Capgemini report.


Delivering benefits across the value chain

If we think of 3D models today as static images, a fully realised digital twin implementation acts more like a movie. Creating an exact virtual replica of a physical system, digital twins provide flexibility and fluidity. Giving companies end-to-end, real-time visibility, they provide a distinctive opportunity to help improve processes across the value chain. People often say that a picture can paint a thousand words – so imagine the number of words (or in this instance, data) digital twins could offer aerospace and defence organisations.

But the capabilities don’t stop there. Digital twin technology enables businesses to experiment with different, real-world scenarios and assess a variety of outcomes without any tangible risks or resource usage. For instance, imagine being able to digitally test the functionality of a new engine. You could virtually tweak parts here and there and even digitally evaluate the viability of new fuels.

The result is a win-win: finding the best-in-class solution quicker, while minimising the number of prototypes created.

Digital twins can be used in multiple instances across the value chain – from design, manufacturing, and through to real-world operations and applications. But organisations are clocking on to the benefits of connecting and scaling disparate digital twin systems. Meaning that instead of just creating a digital replica of an aircraft or even just an airplane wing, leaders can simulate the whole factory and beyond. By doing so, they can build-in cost reductions incrementally across the value chain.


In fact, aerospace and defence organisations’ investment in digital twins has grown by 40% from the last financial year – driven by a growing confidence in the technology’s ability to drive both top- and bottom-line benefits. Further still, our research shows that 73% now have a long-term roadmap for digital twins.

Key benefits factored into the decision to increase investment include saving costs (71%), reducing time to market (70%), increasing sales (63%), and providing an advanced training environment for employees (68%).

Building digital continuity to navigate supply chain woes

Connecting the dots in an industry that is global in nature can often prove tricky. But over the last few years, supply chain issues have been especially challenging – with issues reverberating across most industries, not just aerospace and defence.

Thankfully, connecting the dots is at the core of what a digital twin ecosystem offers. Facilitating seamless collaboration and information sharing among different stakeholders – including designers, engineers, manufacturers, suppliers, customers and so on – digital continuity is an imperative for tackling challenges across the value chain. But to achieve digital continuity, organisations will need to ensure they have an intelligent, unified data platform across all parts of supply chains from the shop floor to operations.

By providing a unified digital platform, aerospace and defence organisations can enable real-time information sharing, and efficient collaboration across geographically dispersed teams. This leads to faster decision-making, improved productivity, and reduced errors. Not only that, but by maintaining a digital record of design changes, test results, maintenance activities, and compliance documentation, organisations can easily demonstrate compliance with industry standards and regulatory bodies.


Further still, by facilitating end-to-end traceability throughout the product lifecycle, from design to decommissioning – digital continuity can advance the adoption of circular economy practices. Take for instance the Lifecycle Optimisation Platform – which we recently developed in collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS). This platform offers a holistic perspective and in-depth insights into the utilisation of aircraft parts throughout their lifespan.

The goal? Fostering global collaboration and enhancing the overall efficiency of existing products for the entire aerospace ecosystem.

Accelerating decarbonisation efforts

Sustainability is the name of the game in 2023. Industries across the globe are placing decarbonisation at the centre of boardroom objectives. But while major efforts are well underway in the aerospace and defence industry – sustainability remains a sticking point. In fact, in 2021, the aviation industry alone accounted for over 2% of global energy-related CO2 emissions.

Currently, the march towards net-zero is being led through the development of sustainable aviation fuels such as agricultural and synthetic-fuels. In fact, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) predicts SAFs to contribute around 65% of the reduction in emissions needed by aviation to reach net-zero in 2050 . Beyond this, organisations are also seeking ways to green propulsion systems – looking towards electric, hydrogen and hybrid alternatives.

While these innovations are essential and much progress has already been made – more needs to be done, and quicker, if we’re to reduce global warming and limit the effects of climate change. Able to improve engine efficiency, optimise operational efficiency and accelerate and streamline design and prototyping – digital twin technology offers huge potential in accelerating sustainability imperatives.

Aerospace and defence organisations recognise this. In fact, two in three (67%) noted improving sustainability was a key driver in their digital twin investments (up from 60% in 2022).

At the crux of the sustainability conundrum lies design. Afterall, design plays a crucial part in the process of bringing new products to market. The sooner you can design an engine that uses 50% less fuel or runs on green hydrogen sources, the quicker you can bring a more sustainable model to fruition. Getting the design of an aircraft right from the get-go can have significant knock-on effects, and nearly half (47%) of organisations surveyed agree that implementing digital twins in the design phase will help yield benefits in the short term.

Aerospace and defence leaders must embrace technology if they are to confront the multifaceted challenges of today and drive forward boardroom objectives. Marrying these goals will require implementing and scaling innovative technologies such as digital twins to build a digitally-driven and connected ecosystem – reaping significant benefits in the long and short-term. Able to drive value across the value chain – from design, to manufacturing and beyond: the business case for digital continuity is clear.

About the authors: Lee Annecchino is Global Industry Lead for Aerospace & Defense at Capgemini, where Jacques Bacry is Digital Continuity Group Offer Leader.