Jean-François Dupont

CEO, AV&R

June 09, 2017

Have there been any developments since we met in 2015, particularly as companies increase their uptake of automation technologies?

Automation is currently a buzzword in the industry. A lot of AV&R’s attraction stems from companies needing to lower costs, for which the main driver is coming from the OEMs. Because the new engines on the market have been sold at cost or even at a loss per unit, the next years will be marked by cost reduction, and there is only one way to reduce cost: automation. In the past, OEMs were moving production to lower-cost countries but the new performance requirements and tolerances make it impossible to carry out these processes manually any longer. Even low-cost environments are now required to automate processes and the amount of investment needed is roughly the same or sometimes higher due to the highly qualified workforce required to operate the system.

We are particularly focused on the aircraft engine, surface finishing and surface inspection. The future will center around Industry 4.0 and we believe our position in the market is very strong to facilitate this move: our systems are deployed on the ground, connecting all parts, we know the exact variations in process, the type of defects, part profiles, and are able to populate all the software used. We are the chain to connect all the information and centralize it in the cloud. 

There will of course be changes in the ways employees will interact with machines in the workplace. How do you foresee these dynamics developing?

Firstly, we are not cutting jobs. The key is to merge human expertise and judgement with the use of robotics to maximize the task performance; we are not yet ready to replace humans entirely. Most of the time, 80% of the human task is repeatable and does not require special skills. They are therefore easy to automate. However, about 20% of tasks require a human judgement call, which is extremely difficult to automate and would cost a lot of money.

With surface inspection, for example, the robot will be able to identify a defect and present it to the inspector. When looking at a part, 99.9% of the surface may be good and a defect can be extremely difficult for a human to catch–they may not catch it at all. The robot will present the defect and require a judgement call.

Québec is also home to a variety of SMEs which lack such high levels of investment capital. How great a barrier will cost be to these smaller companies and can they remain competitive?

Automation has long been easily deployed in plants with high throughput volumes. If a company has only small batches, it is much more difficult to automate its processes. In aerospace, the volumes are not yet high enough to demand the same levels of precision as in automotive production and a greater flexibility is demanded to accommodate a greater variation in the parts. Because of this, we have invested a lot of money to adapt the system to accept variations, which brings the possibility of implementation to smaller companies.

Nevertheless, if these companies are not seeking to export, it will be very difficult for them to automate because they will lack the volume. Other companies in Québec will take their market share and they will not be able to survive, so they have no choice. The market here in Québec is not big enough to survive or to allow companies to automate, and companies need to automate to survive.

What are some of the results companies can expect to see through the automation of surface inspection?

 We are currently developing a solution with Rolls Royce and will deploy our first inspection system at the AMRC is Sheffield. Quality is a clear benefit of this kind of solution and also helps the inspector focus their knowledge on the decision at hand. Being able to inspect and repair parts automatically also leads to huge cost savings as well saving time. This is the key goal for AV&R.

When dealing with expensive parts, it is usually possible to polish the part and recreate the surface in the instance of a small defect. However, it is very difficult for an inspector to work with such high precision and not create any further damage during repair. Using robotics to increase accuracy therefore saves a lot of cost. In addition, the inspector will generally over-polish the part, removing additional material, meaning that the parts will last less time. Through robotics, we extend the life of the material. This combination of inspection and repair is a huge market for us, particularly on critical parts that cost a lot of money.

How will AV&R utilize new technologies to maximize efficiency in testing over the life of an aircraft?

We will be able to follow the complete life of a part–we digitalize the surface of the part so we know exactly where the potential defects are. Following a cycle, we will re-inspect the parts during the maintenance overhaul and compare the surfaces with the originals. This will allow us to monitor any deterioration and predict defects over the life of a part. In our extensive database, we will then be able to find where all these parts are involved and will be able to ground only the one plane with a potential defect. Normally, an engine is verified with all tests done on a computer with parts modeled after their initial design. All simulation parts are perfect. We will be able to simulate the real engine, recreating its real performance.

What are AV&R’s main objectives going forward?

Due to agreements with some key customers, we will be opening some offices outside Canada, initially in France and the United Kingdom, and potentially in the United States depending on any changes to NAFTA. However, it is already much more difficult for us to cross the border and send engineers over. Previously, the United States was a local market for us.

Airlines order planes that will be delivered in five to 10 years. Since AV&R offers solutions to automate the production of these planes’ engines to the motorists, we are currently operating off their backlog, which will keep us busy for at least five years.

We are also looking to enter the medical device market, primarily implants, for which the fabrication process is similar to aerospace blades. More and more aerospace specialists will move into the medical device industry. However, we will maintain the core of our business in aerospace. Because we are specialized, we will be able to maintain a high level of business even if the market slows down.

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