The main ingredients to sustain the aerospace industry will be the focus on industry-led R&T activities.

Shamsul-Amic

Interview with Shamsul Kamar Abu Samah, AMIC

How is the aerospace sector in Malaysia growing and what challenges will it face in the near future?

The development of aerospace industry in Malaysia is guided by the Malaysian Aerospace Industry Blueprint, a strategic plan that leading Malaysia to become a world class player. Recently, a new edition of the blueprint was launched covering specific focus areas with an ambition to become the number 1 aerospace nation in South East Asia by the year 2030. To date, Malaysian companies are internationally recognized and play major roles in the global supply chain as the supplier of aircraft parts and components to leading aircraft manufacturer namely Airbus and Boeing. They are also the regional MRO service providers to global fleets as well as prominent service provider for engineering services activities.

The recently launched Malaysian Aerospace Industry Blueprint 2030 is a manifestation of Malaysia in becoming a regional champion by year 2030. The blueprint developed by “Malaysian Industry-Government Group for High Technology (MIGHT)” outlined strategic approaches by all stakeholders involving Government agencies, industry players, research institutes and academia. Targeting to generate more than MYR55.5 billion (14,500 million USD) industry revenues by 2030 and provide high income skilled jobs to more than 32,000 workforces; the plans will see a robust facilitation by all stakeholders.

In fulfilling these ambitions and overcome future challenges; specific strategies were identified covering critical aspects such as industry policies, institutional framework, investments, talent development, capturing new market and Research & Technology (R&T). The strategies not only focus on capturing significant industry revenue, but also emphasis on the importance to further develop upstream activities, advancing science & technology elements, and employing highly skilled technical workforce.

What is the role of Malaysia in aerospace business worldwide? Its strengths and weaknesses?

Malaysia is one of the critical suppliers for the aerospace manufacturing industry particularly for the aero-structure parts and components as well as well avionics components. The business is supported by a strong local supply chain consist of both global and local industry players namely Spirit AeroSystems, Honeywell Aerospace Avionics, Composite Technology Research Malaysia (CTRM), SME Aerospace, Senior Aerospace Upeca and Aerospace Composites Malaysia to name few.

On engineering services, Malaysia through Strand Aerospace Malaysia (Strand) offers high quality, affordable engineering solutions. Malaysia’s track records include involvement in cutting‐edge aircraft programmes such as the A380 and A350. To date Strand has been delivering primary aero-structures analysis covering; static, fatigue and damage tolerance (F&DT), finite element, composite, design, in‐service support, and aircraft structural integrity for global clients.

We are also the regional industry leader for aerospace Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO). The Government through its Economic Transformation Program (ETP) introduced a specific Entry Point Project (EPP) to further accelerate the development of MRO business. This EPP aims to develop Malaysia into a regional aviation MRO services hub, capitalising on global and regional market growth that is projected to reach RM205 billion (65,450 million USD) by 2020. We have seen positive developments through the setting up of new investments by Airbus Customer Service Centre, RUAG Aviation, SR Technics, Airod Aerospace Technology, BHIC AeroServices and Asia Aerotechnics.

In terms of human capital, Malaysian workforce in the aerospace manufacturing as well as MRO is marketable worldwide. Many of technical personnel including pilots and aircraft engineers are currently serving global companies abroad. On a positive note, Malaysia’s aerospace education and training sector is becoming more critical as the demands for industry professional came not only from local clients but also global companies. However, this gives a challenge to Malaysia in balancing the human capital supply in fulfilling both local and global/regional demands.

Looking at the industry growth trend worldwide, Malaysia has a huge opportunity to expand its business for the next 30 years. Our challenges are to further develop technical capability and competency to capture more complex work packages. Hence, we need to explore new technologies, develop new sustainable materials, and adopt advanced processes in our manufacturing and MRO activities. The main ingredients to sustain the aerospace industry will be the focus on industry-led R&T activities.

Tell us about the most recent economic data in the aerospace sector in terms of turnover, employment, exports, established aerospace companies, etc

According to a recent study conducted by MIGHT, the Malaysian aerospace industry recorded approximately MYR11.8 billion turnover (excluding airline operations) in 2014 with 19,500 employments. These achievements have been contributed by approximately 160 companies covering various activities across the supply chain. Throughout the implementation of the 1st aerospace blueprint, Malaysia managed to capture quality investment from global players namely Airbus, Boeing & Hexcel (through a JV company – Aerospace Composites Malaysia), GE Engine Services, Spirit AeroSystems, Honeywell Aerospace Avionics, Celestica, Singapore Aerospace Manufacturing and Messier-Bugatti-Dowty. It was also reported that about MYR4.2 billion new aerospace investments were recorded from 2010 to 2014.

Malaysia export value in 2014 had increased by 15.7 per cent to MYR2.9 billion, mainly contributed by aircraft parts and components. The export value is expected to grow in accordance with new investments in the aerospace industry as well as introduction of new strategic initiatives by the Government such as ETP, Asia Aerospace City (AAC) and the launching of Malaysian Aerospace Blueprint 2030.

What is the role of Aerospace Malaysia Innovation Centre within the aerospace industry?

Aerospace Malaysia Innovation Centre (AMIC) core business is to embark on collaborative industry-led R&T projects, in collaboration with industries and research institutes in the aerospace sector. Research projects are spearheaded by founding lead members, namely, Airbus Group, Rolls Royce and CTRM. All research activities are steered, evaluated and managed by prominent industrial experts within AMIC’s technical network. The link between the industry lead members with the Government and research institutes is being strengthened through the engagement of MIGHT as lead member and Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) as lead university.

The establishment of AMIC as an industry-led research centre serves one of the key recommendations laid out in the National Aerospace Blueprint 1997. Operating in collaboration with academic partners, AMICʼs main role is to provide universities and research institutes strategic directions and focus areas for research in aerospace-related domains. AMIC will play a key role in securing Malaysiaʼs contribution to the development of global aerospace industries.

The Government of Malaysia is very strongly in favour of the aerospace sector. Is this one of the keys to improve competitiveness?

AMIC was initiated by MIGHT to foster a collaborative environment unifying both industry players and research institutes particularly in area of R&T. The establishment of AMIC in 2011 as an industry-led innovation centre to enhance the competitiveness of Malaysian aerospace industry at the global arena was endorsed by the Government of Malaysia through the Malaysian Aerospace Council.

AMIC R&T activities reflect the current challenges faced by aerospace industry in Malaysia as well as their future opportunities. Two research themes namely “Sustainable Aviation” and “Factory of The Future” were selected to shape a path towards the sustainability of Malaysian aerospace industry. AMIC is committed in identifying and prioritizing key R&T projects within these themes in order to provide the aerospace industry players and research partners with the cutting-edge R&T portfolio, and to develop technological skills and resources in key strategic areas.

Which projects is AMIC currently involved in and what are the challenges for the near future?

Sustainable Aviation

Within the scope of sustainable aviation, AMIC spearheaded its role in the aviation world through the fostering and incorporating of Green Aerospace initiatives and developments in Malaysia. AMIC’s commitment to its global partners and the aviation industry can be seen through the launching of the Center of Excellence (COE) for Sustainable Aviation. The COE has its central focus on sustainability, a long term “greening” factor, and has two main aspects of innovative initiatives which focus on:

  • Bio-aviation Fuel Developments; and
  • Bio-sourcing of Materials for Composites

Factory of the Future

Advanced new material and digital technologies are slowly making their way into the factory floor. Ultimately, these new technologies and processes will transform the factories into centers of innovations where highly qualified operators create new ways of adding value to their companies. Although the technologies of the factory of the future are widely available, their implementation in today’s factories are still pending, that is why AMIC has embarked in derisking their use for aerospace companies in Malaysia and within the region. In particular, AMIC is focusing on the following areas:

  • Virtual Reality
  • Advanced digital technologies on the shop floor
  • Advanced material; 3D printing to prototypes and series of components
  • Automation in manufacturing process; production lines where computer-suited personnel and robots work side by side

In strengthening Malaysian aerospace composite manufacturing ecosystem, AMIC concentrated on nurturing further and developing it into a world-wide reference innovation ecosystem particularly in manufacturing engineering and advanced production technologies for composites. This will be done through smart partnership between industry players and local research institutes as well as leveraging on AMIC international research network. Work on this topic has started by studies focused on process modelling and process influence on the assembly of composite parts. It will be followed by technology demonstrator projects where use of advanced materials and manufacturing processes will be validated.

What advantages does Malaysia offer to investors?

Malaysia always has the willingness to further grow the aerospace industry together with global leaders since the launching of its 1st Aerospace Blueprint in 1997. Moving forward, quality investments into the country are essential to accelerate the development of the industry ecosystem. With a definitive future strategic roadmap in place, the industry will see continuous support from various Government agencies involving consultation on setting up of new businesses, enhancement of local supply chain through specific initiative for Small & Medium Enterprises, development of world class aerospace parks, continuous talent development program, and facilitation on collaborative industry-led R&T activities.

Malaysia offers a clear competitive advantage in doing business such as attractive tax incentives, liberal equity policy, a vibrant business environment, developed infrastructure & industrial parks, competent skilled & professional workforce, competitive labor cost, employment of professional expatriates, availability of local engineering services providers, and support on R&T activities. These are the major contributing factors for an aerospace company to choose Malaysia as a regional hub in accessing the larger aerospace market within the Asia Pacific region.

Asia Aerospace City is a strategic initiative that aims to connect aerospace players worldwide with growth opportunities in Asia. AMIC is one of the partners that participates in this initiative. Does this project aim to create the next aerospace hub in Asia?

AMIC envisioned of becoming a leading aerospace industry-led innovation centre that will provide a strong support to the industry needs. In achieving this vision, AMIC established partnership with M-Aerotech (a wholly owned subsidiary of a Government agency – MARA) to develop aerospace R&T capability within AAC as well as to further strengthen the nation’s human capital capacity in aerospace manufacturing industry.

The establishment of AAC is expected to be accessible and beneficial to the local and global aerospace communities. Leveraging on AMIC technical network, we plan to bring local and international experts such as Airbus Group, Rolls-Royce, CTRM, Strand Aerospace, University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) and University of Malaya (UM) to AAC. M-Aerotech will be responsible to oversee the revenue generation of AAC through its six strategic business units – the business consulting centre, engineering services, professional development centre, R&T, investment and infrastructure.

AAC, once completed will feature a complete business ecosystem with a World Class Tailor Made Infrastructure providing areas for engineering services, design, stress analysis; and Professional Development to cater for the continuous development of human capital, as well as Industrial R&T to be led by AMIC. These components will become the main attractions to make Malaysia as a hub for aerospace OEMs in South East Asia particularly to set up Offshore Design Centre (ODC) and eventually their regional centers for high end aerospace works.