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Interview with Miguel Amaral, PI of the E4 Value Project

The E4 Value Project is one of the CMU Portugal Program Entrepreneurial Research Initiatives launched in 2013. In the end of 2018, Miguel Amaral and the team of researchers involved in the project were part of the event AED Days 2018  where they presented the Project Closing Session. Briefly, the project assesses technological advances, business configurations and value chains in modern aeronautics with a particular focus  on the Portuguese case, with the ultimate goal of understanding (and contributing to) the creation and evolution of an aeronautics cluster in the country.

Miguel Amaral is the project’s Principal Investigator and is an Assistant Professor at the Engineering and Management Department from IST and Research Associate at the Center for Innovation, Technology and Policy Research, IN+ (IST).

Following the Closing session, he summed up the main results of the E4 Value project in a brief interview.

  1. The E4 Value project ended up with a closing session. This project develops research activities within three main areas: technology, supply chain, and competences in the Aeronautics sector. Can you sum up the main research results of this ERI?

For example, through an extensive process of secondary and primary data collection we built an unique database for Portugal can be considered one important initial output of the project and it has provided us with a better understanding of the sector. We found a flourishing ecosystem in terms of competencies and knowledge production visible in the growth of R&D collaborations connected with aeronautics over the 2007-2015 period revealing combinations of different but complementary backgrounds and certifications among the most influential potential suppliers – automotive, aeronautics, space, tooling, etc.  The Embraer-Évora strategy to establish a network of suppliers and subcontractors in Portugal is associated with this overall positive dynamics; however, we found no direct causality on its contribution to the emergency of a strong national aeronautics cluster.

We found competing technologies and materials such as composites vs machined aluminum. Our Process Based Cost Models found that presently a significant part of the cost differential between aluminum and composites is due to materials.   Our in-depth study of emerging technologies/processes like Metallic Additive Manufacturing (MAM) shows an increased interest in MAM in the Norte region over the course of last years. In total, there are less than 10 MAM machines across the country. Quality control requirements in aviation may also require the use of post-processing equipment, which is also scarce in the country, such as hot isostatic pressing, to reduce part porosity and computer tomography, to analyze potential defects.  In a policy perspective, the Portuguese Government can support the deployment of emerging technologies for aeronautics, particularly MAM by promoting the creation of multisector public-private consortia to share equipment costs and accelerate the awareness of MAM’s potential nationwide. Additionally, it can renegotiate the conditions of the Structural or create a Portuguese national pool of funds for the promotion of strategic technologies. We also assessed an eventual expansion of the Portuguese presence in the aircraft cabin interiors industry (ACII) and found considerable technological capabilities in tooling, materials, assembly and design in the country, whereas the managerial skills and capital resources necessary for commercial success are relatively scarce. The ACII has extraordinarily high entry barriers and is not particularly lucrative, which suggest that Portugal would be well advised to focus on supplying high value machinery, materials, services, and components required in the ACI industry rather than developing the entire product lines through increasing managerial talents.

Finally, we delved into adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies in supply chains and knowledge management in aerospace industrial associations and provided a set of recommendations on the development of a knowledge management strategy to empower stakeholders of the Portuguese aeronautics cluster, sharing skills to foster partnerships, diffuse project results, and disseminate research, employment and business opportunities.

  1. According to the information on the E4 Value website “The key results and analyses are expected to unveil technological advances, opportunities for new employment and skills development, especially in the Portuguese aeronautics cluster as well as its impact on regional development; bringing, therefore, a contribution to academics, entrepreneurs and policy-makers.” Did the results meet these initial expectations? 

We believe the results met the initial expectations. Overall, the project contributed to improve our understanding about the aeronautics industry in the country, unveiling the role played by its key actors, their capabilities, existent barriers and opportunities for building a solid and resilient cluster.  Throughout the project we were also able to: (i) train several MSc and PhD national and international students; (ii) to publish many research papers in renowned journals; (iii) to participate in many scientific meetings and international conferences; (iv) to involve multinational research teams and specialists across the globe; (v) to organize multiple practical workshops and initiatives with companies and (vi) to strengthen the network on Industrial Dynamics and Systems of Engineering research between Portugal and USA (CMU) as well as with other international partners.

  1. In terms of practical uses, what are the outcomes of this project?

Practitioners such as companies, research institutions and decision-makers benefited from the networking environment promoted by the project (through workshops, events and other interactions) and have the possibility to use all the research outputs mentioned above in a practical way when defining their operations, policies and strategies. After the end of the project some ideas are still being discussed/developed with our industrial partners and with AED, which has also benefitted from E4Value results and insights at a strategic level.

  1. Regarding the industry involvement throughout these 5 years, how did it go? What was the role of EMBRAER in the project achievements?

Since its inception the project’s team focused on capturing Embraer’s availability and openness to assess key research and operational problems and propose/align a research agenda and solutions to those problems. This was a trust building and time-consuming process, which led to very positive outcomes and fruitful interactions

Embraer have provided the team with challenges and data, allowing us to progress on all the key dimensions under analysis: Supply Chain, Technology and Competences (as it happened also with other Project’s official partners – Quasar and PEMAS/AED).

  1. What are the next steps, plans for the future?

This project has approached the aeronautics industry from many different angles, levels and dimensions of analysis, which allowed the team to gain expertise on a broad set of technologies, products, firm dynamics, knowledge generation, market opportunities, technological innovation, human capital and competencies development, strategy and policymaking. Apart from research activities with Embraer, Quasar and PEMAS/AED, dozens of other (non-partner) companies – particularly on aeronautics, additive manufacturing, aircraft interiors, molds and tooling – were visited/interviewed/studied within the Project which originated multiple valuable contacts, research inputs and ideas that we aim to explore further. We believe E4Value has built important opportunities for new spillover (academic/operational) projects particularly on the topics of Industry 4.0 and competence building in manufacturing sectors.