Emerging technology and the new normal of work are converging to define the future of work. The aerospace industry is in the middle of a digital transformation, adopting new processes and tools for every stage of engineering. From initial design to testing and production, every step of the job is now approached with a digital-first mindset. All this innovation is creating a new work environment. Northrop Grumman is developing technologies that could transform employee processes and the way businesses operate. So, what does this mean for employees and business outcomes?
A New Way of Working
“We have a whole host of new technologies continuing to burgeon between AI, big data and analytics, hypersonics and cyber technology,” says Peter Brooks, vice president of talent acquisition for Northrop Grumman. “The skills that were mainstream 20 years ago are not going to sustain into the future.”
All the exciting technological advancements that are propelling the next industrial revolution — often called Industry 4.0 or smart manufacturing — are changing the workplace. Here are some ways technology is changing the future of work in aerospace manufacturing:
- Designs were previously done with pencil and paper. Then, when computers were introduced to the industry, a digital copy of the design was created online. Now, engineers from different disciplines and in different locations work together in an interactive and comprehensive 3D computer model.
- With a DevSecOps approach, development, security and operations work on parallel paths throughout the entire product life cycle so that any potential issues are resolved early in the design process.
- Computer simulation ensures that every product is tested extensively before it even goes into production.
- Advanced tools such as virtual reality and augmented reality provide an extra layer of testing, even in places humans previously struggled to reach, such as the top of an aircraft, inside a space station or inside an avionics system where tiny screws are used.
- Now, robots can help to build products and even conduct inspections by automatically detecting anomalies in the finished goods.
- The types of products and services in the industry are rapidly expanding to include cutting-edge technology, such as upgrading existing equipment with new sensors and connectivity (the Internet of Things, IoT), incorporating artificial intelligence software into defense systems and using data analytics to gain new insights such as predictive maintenance.
For many years, manufacturing careers involved a prescribed set of skills. For example, previous generations learned COBOL, a programming language that prevailed for 40 years.
Now, technology is changing at such a rapid pace that engineers need to constantly keep up with the latest tools and programming languages. This means learning is no longer a linear path; it’s now a continuous endeavor.
“We need to make sure that our team and potential candidates out in the market are constantly honing and rediscovering the latest and greatest technology,” says Brooks.
In some instances, this means a formal education path. At the same time, many employees are learning on the job, participating in technical training programs at work and using Northrop Grumman’s employee portal to take courses and tutorials online.
“Sometimes, you need to be so prescribed in terms of transitioning your skill set that you go to a graduate program for a couple of semesters or you take a certification class,” Brooks explains. “Other times, you just need to do some quick learning in the moment, and it could be a 30-minute tutorial or a two-hour webinar. The key is to make sure that we have all of those arrows in the quiver for our employees.”
New Opportunities for Success
Northrop Grumman is a collaborative workplace with critical in-person face time with colleagues, especially in the manufacturing environment. Work for customers like the Department of Defense and NASA typically requires heightened levels of security that often require working on-site in a closed network that external people cannot access. Still, recent events have pushed leaders across the company take a hard look at every aspect of work — including virtual and remote work for certain roles.
“Our employee safety needs to be paramount, and we need to leverage technology in ways that enable us to work virtually or in hybrid ways when possible,” Brooks says.
An Office That’s Out of This World
Northrop Grumman credits this ability to adapt with helping the company push forward with ground-breaking technology even with challenges in the world. Including the challenge of what it’s like to work on other planets. The company continued to develop and test the new Habitat and Logistics Outpost, HALO, which will house astronauts during lunar missions, throughout 2020 and 2021.
“One of the reasons the HALO remains on schedule is because we use digital models and virtual reality to transport engineers to the moon and the harsh environment of space,” says Brooks. “And of course that’s predicated on the talent and the commitment of our team, but that digital transformation enables some pretty radical advancement in terms of program support.”
Check out Northrop Grumman career opportunities to see how you can participate in this fascinating time of discovery in science, technology, and engineering.