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One Powerful Cell: The Key to Sustainable Aircraft Manufacturing

One Powerful Cell: Automation For Sustainable, Smarter Aircrafts One Powerful Cell: Automation For Sustainable, Smarter Aircrafts

By Bill Bigot, Vice President of Business Development, JR Automation;
Sid Verma, General Manager of Manufacturing Practice, Hitachi Vantara;
and Randy Rounkles, Chief Engineer, JR Automation

How manufacturing cells that incorporate automation and analytics boost sustainability for the aerospace industry


Aircraft manufacturing demands the highest-quality materials, highly trained experts, rigorous quality control and precision processes that remain largely manual. These demands make it an ideal candidate for a digital reinvention.

With the expertise of a partner like Hitachi, aircraft manufacturers can combine major leaps in operating technology (OT) with integrated IT for a fully optimized environment. These companies can take advantage of recent advances in automation technology and analytics to improve manufacturing speed and accuracy and reduce waste, making cells more efficient and sustainable.

Challenges abound

A single-aisle commercial aircraft contains tens of thousands of nutplates. The manual installation of each nutplate takes three to four minutes. This process is repeated thousands of times over the life of the craft as plates are removed and reinstalled for routine maintenance. Until now, nutplate installation has been done manually, exposing manufacturers to risks including:

  • Human error: Over the course of tens of thousands of manual actions, mistakes are inevitable. The potential for error is compounded by the small size of nutplate components, which make them difficult to handle and increase the potential for mistakes.
  • Rising costs: Beyond the sheer labor cost of time on the job, the associated errors of manual installation lead to increased costs through scrapped materials, poor inventory management and time-intensive quality control.
  • Inefficiency: Manual installation often requires down time for changing tools and changing shifts. It also limits visibility across the manufacturing environment, which means that resources are sometimes unavailable or poorly optimized.

To meet today’s demands to become more sustainable and socially accountable, manufacturers must find ways to reduce the waste and inefficiencies inherent in their legacy processes — and the aerospace industry is no exception.

aerospace manufacturing and maintenance challenges

Tremendous potential to transform and automate

To address these challenges, Lumada Manufacturing Insights from Hitachi Vantara merges huge advances in automation at the operational level with superior insights at the informational level for a comprehensive shift toward smarter aerospace manufacturing.
For example, JR Automation’s SmartAttach manufacturing cell fully automates nutplate attachment, taking an error-prone process that took up to four minutes down to 30 seconds. This kind of automation leads to a host of benefits:

  • Reduced costs and overhead: Time savings per attachment alone translates to dramatic cost savings in wages and hours, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Automation reduces scrapped parts and the associated costs that result from human error, and it eliminates costs associated with hiring, training and coverage gaps for vacations and illness.
  • Standardized process: Predictable, repeatable processes dramatically increase the quality and consistency of nutplate installation. They also translate to a safer and more sustainable manufacturing environment.
  • Opportunity gains: Automation frees your most talented people for more valuable activity, which can become a revenue-driver.

The automation built into the SmartAttach cell gives these resource-intensive processes a chance to become not only more cost-efficient for the company but also more sustainable.

The analytics advantage : Gaining operational excellence with Lumada Manufacturing Insights

Automating nutplate installation has clear benefits, but the SmartAttach cell is only one part of aerospace’s reimagined digital manufacturing ecosystem. The key to modernizing the industry lies in integrating operational automation with existing IT systems through the Internet of Things (IoT) and technologies such as the Lumada Manufacturing Insights suite to generate more actionable business data.

Automating nutplate installation with SmartAttach cell

By linking automation data with organizational systems, Lumada Manufacturing Insights contributes to a smarter, more profitable and sustainable environment across production, operations and supply chains in a number of important ways:

  • Comprehensive solutions: Lumada Manufacturing Insights is built to fully integrate with existing business systems like enterprise resource planning and manufacturing execution systems, so data is delivered seamlessly across the organization. This increases the speed-to-insight for the entire business simultaneously, not piecemeal. This seamless integration is also supported by automatic regular updates and the Hitachi team.
  • Optimized environment: IoT capability across business systems generates detailed reporting around critical KPIs, provides anomaly detection to anticipate challenges and predict maintenance, and updates machine parameters for precision quality control.
  • Greater visibility: Better oversight of the environment means you can foresee end-of-life for tools, compare data across shifts or manufacturing locations, and reduce costs while increasing speed through enhanced inventory control.
  • Scalability to meet changing needs: Lumada Manufacturing Insights’ modular approach allows manufacturers to begin benefitting from smart automation right away at their current maturity level; as business grows, capability can be added without disruption.

The Hitachi difference

The aerospace industry has a tremendous impact on humanity through safe, high-speed travel; essential defenses; and the pursuit of scientific inquiry and its associated innovations. Hitachi’s commitment to powering good means that it’s our responsibility to improve aerospace and increase the positive impact it has on the world. We take that responsibility seriously, and that’s why our solutions don’t stop at automation. Reducing tedious manual process is only the first step. By automating nutplate installation and leveraging the transformative capabilities of Lumada Manufacturing Insights, Hitachi helps aircraft manufacturers dedicate valuable resources to their most important purpose — making all of our lives better.

Bill Bigot Vice President of Business Development, JR Automation

Bill Bigot
Vice President of Business Development, JR Automation

William Bigot is Vice President of Business Development for JR Automation. His responsibilities include management of the business and market development activities supporting all aerospace and defense business units.
Prior to joining JR Automation in February 2019, Mr. Bigot was Vice President of Nova-Tech Engineering and Vice President of Sales, Marketing, and Business Development for PaR Systems. Previously, he spent 24 years in technical and managerial positions with MTS Systems Corporation, where he helped the company become a worldwide leader in the integration of physical and virtual simulation product development in aerospace and automotive markets.


Sid Verma GM Manufacturing Practice, Hitachi Vantara

Sid Verma
GM Manufacturing Practice, Hitachi Vantara

Specializing in the manufacturing/industrial products, automotive/aerospace, oil/gas, metals/mining and insurance industries, Sid Verma brings more than 20 years of strategic problem-solving acumen, advising C-Suite/Boards and managing product & services business in IoT and the industrial sector. He has a proven track record managing multi-$M P&L, leading large global teams, and incubating/exponentially growing digital business organically and via M&A in large industrial and services companies.
Sid leads the IIoT and Manufacturing division P&L for Hitachi group to deliver growth strategies and Digital + Business + Operations + Technology transformations at clients using NextGen IT/OT capabilities.


Randy Rounkles Chief Engineer, JR Automation

Randy Rounkles
Chief Engineer, JR Automation

Randall E. Rounkles is the Chief Engineer for Aerospace at JR Automation. His responsibilities include defining and understanding aerospace specifications and requirements to ensure automation meets industry standards. In addition, Randy supports the company’s strategic initiatives in the aerospace sector.
Prior to joining JR Automation in July 2019, Mr. Rounkles spent 33 years in the aerospace industry working for both Boeing and Spirit Aerosystems. After starting as a sheet metal mechanic at Boeing, he moved into automated fastening, progressed into management positions, and finished his career as Senior Operations Leader for the Advanced Manufacturing division.