Innovation is a team sport. At least, that’s the theory that is being tested in Washington thanks to a new program that is designed to accelerate the development of industry sectors across the state. Naturally, because of their leadership in aerospace manufacturing, the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Alliance (PNAA) is now working to supercharge its sector for innovation.
“We have a rich history of innovation in this region when it comes to aerospace manufacturing, and for over 21 years PNAA has been connecting and collaborating with the global aerospace industry through our events,” said Nikki Malcom, CEO and executive director of PNAA. “This has allowed us to build a network of members and partners that can come together to tackle the tough challenges we are facing and create new opportunities for innovation and growth for this region.”
Through the Innovation Cluster Development Program (ICAP —www.ICAPWashingtonState.com), Washington Commerce helps promising industry sectors assemble the ingredients they need to grow and “that build trust and develop a collaborative culture of ‘co-opetition,’” said Stephanie Scott, the department’s director. “We’re bringing together competitors and industry ecosystem partners to work together to solve industry-level challenges, accelerate innovation, and capture global market opportunities.”
The Governor’s Sector Lead and Director of Aerospace in the Washington State Department of Commerce, Robin Toth, said, “PNAA was one of the first industry associations to embrace the idea of positioning Washington’s century of aviation history, technological expertise and global excellence in workforce development as the world’s leading aerospace cluster.” She added, “Creating the right environment that develops complementary partnerships in alignment with current and future goals will ensure that the next generation of Washington aerospace workers will lead the world in the development of new and sustainable technologies to make flight cleaner, faster and safer.”
The Mission of Innovation
In the initial stages of bringing together the cluster program, Dale King, PNAA cluster director, reached out to interested parties from throughout the aerospace industry in order to identify top priorities. This included professionals from corporations, entrepreneurs, finance, academia, workforce organizations, government and non-profits. From these conversations five focus areas emerged, including: workforce alignment, supply chain, environmental sustainability, marketing, and Industry 4.0. The priorities were not limited to these, as there is interest in connecting rural, urban and ethnic communities throughout the entire state of Washington.
Working as a PNAA committee, the Pacific Northwest Aerospace Cluster (PNAC) is organized to address the industry chosen priorities.
Workforce Alignment. “We heard, loud and clear, the message from aerospace manufacturers: from the shop floor to engineering, there is a shortage of both new and seasoned workforce,” said Dale King. “Aerospace manufacturers are asking for solutions that will help them find, compete for, upskill, and retain workers.” Notable challenges include competing for talent with fast-growing industry sectors, an increasing need for skills that can support Industry 4.0 objectives (more on this, below) and the strain that sudden and unexpected fluctuations in staffing needs can place on companies and their employees.
Supply Chain. The aerospace industry in the Pacific Northwest is highly interdependent. When you combine the exacting standards of quality in aerospace with the diversity of the components needed, it’s clear that no single company can master it all. This is why innovation in supply chain operations, communications, and transactions can make a big difference in aerospace. “A lot of people think innovation is just about the next technology,” said Peter Schuerman, PNAA’s cluster program manager, “but while innovation can happen in the technical sphere, it can also happen in the sphere of business models, and even in the sphere of who we work with and how we communicate with each other.” PNAC will work with stakeholders to discover issues and collaboratively develop a comprehensive set of solutions across all of these spheres.
Environmental Sustainability. The environmental awareness of Pacific Northwest culture means that in this area, Pacific Northwest aerospace is poised to lead. “Sustainability and targeted carbon emission reduction will undoubtably shape the future of the aerospace industry,” said Lauren Estep, PNAA’s cluster program assistant and researcher. “Sustainable innovation within the aerospace manufacturing sector will drive industry change and support these goals.”
Marketing. The reputation of aerospace manufacturing in the Pacific Northwest is impressive, having been built over more than 100 years. However, in a world where so many things are competing for our attention, it’s not enough to be good; you have to be good at telling people about it. “Every day, millions of people travel by air. We forget how miraculous that is,” said King. “Aerospace manufacturing in the Pacific Northwest is also something of a miracle, and we don’t do enough to remind the world of that.”
Industry 4.0. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, sometimes referred to as 4IR or Industry 4.0, is about shifting how we do everything in the 21st century, where we are interconnected like never before and have access to smart automation technologies. “There are some interesting possibilities for innovation here, from fostering intrapreneurship in the tradition of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works©, to building lines of communication with entrepreneurs so their solutions will track with the realities of aerospace manufacturing,” said Schuerman, “and we might make some gains through novel strategic partnerships between companies with complementary tech.”
Innovation is Key
According to Scott, innovation clusters supporting key Washington industries are a critical pillar of their innovation policy and economic development program moving forward — which makes PNAA’s involvement that much more critical for the future of aerospace manufacturing. “PNAA’s strong culture of trust-based collaboration with its members is helping PNAC get a head start on establishing its innovation groups — a critical component of cluster development that allows clusters to leverage the collective expertise, knowledge, talent, and resources of your sector to solve challenges and drive innovation,” said Scott, adding, “PNAC is also taking a leading role in establishing relationships with its cluster peers and seeking opportunities for cross-cluster collaboration.”
Robin Toth noted, “The evolution of aerospace — from that first flight on a wooden aircraft to global travel on a wide-body jet, to commercial rocket rides traveling through our amazing solar system — has been extraordinary. And it wouldn’t have been possible without the more than 1,200 companies that participate in the aerospace supply chain in Washington State.”
An important goal for PNAC is to report the solutions we create not only within the aerospace manufacturing ecosystem, but also to other clusters and to the Department of Commerce. This enhances the possibility of solutions being deployed not only through corporate actions and through starting new companies, but also through public-private partnerships. And that’s important for people who are spending time in this process to know — that in a very real sense they will have the opportunity to change the world.
If you have questions or would like to learn more about how to be a part of collaborative innovation in aerospace manufacturing, you can connect with PNAC at email@example.com.