The Uniqueness of Aviation and Limited Implementation of 14.0
A total of 26 in-depth and semi-structured interviews, conducted in HAv in 2019, were anonymised and classified as interviews with CRs, CEs, CCs, COs or CSs, respectively. Actually, all interviewed HAv representatives, unanimously, and on many occasions, stressed the uniqueness of the aviation industry. It is understood in terms of high-entry barriers, a closed market of oligopolistic nature, political dimension reflected in Airbus being a European political integration project, and concerning 14.0, with less than might be expected, digital technologies’ penetration. This relatively lower 14.0 susceptibility, as compared for instance, with the automotive sector, implies continuous importance of the job delivered by humans and limited possibilities to completely replace employees with robots. A particularly sober approach among CRs might reflect the fact that 14.0 is a fashionable trend, a policy and a discourse, advocating the digital transformation, but not yet, much adopted by all local firms.
The peculiarity of the aviation sector and the importance of a few large players globally are also reflected in the composition of HAv. In particular, it implies that Airbus strongly dominates the Hamburg cluster, hi some experts’ opinion, there is a discrepancy between how HAv (as a PPP) presents itself in public, and how successfully it performs. (CS2) ‘Airbus is the largest player, creates jobs, has shares in ZAL, but is surrounded by suspicion. Industry 4.0 and related digital transformations are a trend promoted by the German government. However, most of the suppliers on the local scale, lack such knowledge and skills'.
The uniqueness of HAv rests hr the fact that it is the third largest civil aviation place, after Toulouse and Seattle (altogether, they make up 80% of the global aeronautical industry). Hosting Airbus means a unique cluster setting, however, with dominance and asymmetry. Nevertheless, this results from the quasi-oligopolistic nature of the aviation market. Despite causing much power imbalances. Airbus, thanks to its geographically dispersed production chain, links various places with then local networks. Airbus is indeed the centre of gravity in the region, and the aviation industry is seen by some as a dominant player, abusing its privileged position, by others as a critical orchestrator and conductor of relations. (CE2) ‘Whereas politicians involved with their agenda (representing different federal German states engaged in HAv) might cause tensions and work at the crossroads; it is Airbus, which binds that altogether'.
The focus in HAv is on later value chain stages, on manufacturing, production, assembly of cabin, wings, tails; i.e. not the most knowledge-intensive research, and development stages earned out in labs. Hence, in the opinion of some experts, HAv seems to be missing the truly knowledge-intensive stages, in terms of 1.40.
HAv and related institutions like ZAL see their role in raising awareness among SMEs of the digital transformation and providing the extra push to move towards 14.0. Thanks to a neutral networking platform, ZAL seeks to provide exchange in all various directions and to link partners, assuring a level playing field (eye-to-eye). So, small firms should not fear losing their independence, vis-a-vis the large player. How it plays out, hi reality, brings a mixed assessment.
In the eyes of HAv representatives, 14.0 seems to be a common thread of various initiatives undertaken. It is in the back of minds and activities of cluster members seen as an inevitable challenge and a chance at the same time. As such, only some of the 14.0 technologies are applied, like artificial intelligence (AI). However, against the digital revolution background, it should be stressed that aviation is a specific industry, and unlike the automotive one, much less digitised or autonomously integrated. Cobots, digital twins or exoskeletons are more common as automatisation and digitisation can only support or complement humans.
HAv regards the 14.0 as one of the strategic topics. However, the implementation track record among firms is mixed. (CC1) ‘We are using some technologies of 14.0, but not all of them, so we adopt 14.0 to some extent only'. It is perceived that this implementation should come naturally, from the need of firms themselves. (CC1) ‘You look for the technologies and chose what suits you’. (CC12) ‘We are a small and rather young firm, we do not have many activities in terms of 14.0, but we are looking into it, to have more digital production'. (CC6) ‘Industry 4.0 could be understood as morphing into a paperless company, having automated processes, but if you see it as frilly digitalised product chains, then we are not a 14.0 company, but we are heading that way, implementing some solutions. We are on the road but have not yet arrived’. The other firms are more upbeat and can claim—(CC2) ‘Yes, 100%, we are an 14.0 digital company in two ways. Internally, we work and use digital tools; we are all digital natives. Front the external perspective, products that we provide, rely very much on artificial intelligence, and when it comes to creating the scenarios, it is also based on big data’. (CC10) ‘Thanks to digital technologies, we can streamline everything, to collect, analyse, monitor, to control quality, operations, financial issues, sale . . . However, we cannot transform the way of working in some short period, it is very difficult; all the documentation is created, based on years, we try to improve digital solutions, but it will take time’. As put by one company (CC7), ‘there is much hype about 14.0 and SME’s want to make its USP (unique selling points), seize the opportunity, but they might be dangerous endeavours’.
Companies benefit from cluster membership, as it brings the possibility to exchange both the views and experience of other firms. It also helps to make progress, in terms of adopting 14.0. (CC11) ‘Networking with other industry participants is crucial. It offers the possibility to exchange ideas, and the implementation of ideas with other industries’. (CC12) ‘Cluster can help us implementing new technologies, if there are some case studies, so that we can leant front others, exchange information, know about available options'.
Some companies praise, not only the right connections, in terms of hearing from other suppliers, but closer relations via association to Airbus (the primary customer for most of them), but also good relationships with politicians, as well as the access to specialised knowledge, as the profile and curricula of local universities in Hamburg or Bremen are better aligned with these films’ ‘aviation’ portfolio. (CE4) ‘Policy support makes a difference; this involvement helps, moderate these new mega-trends’.
In fact, in the opinion of many local actors, it is difficult to determine if HAv is a truly 14.0 cluster. (COl) ‘I would not call HAv—a 14.0 cluster, although it is affected by digital business transformation’. They admit that HAv office is trying a lot to accommodate these new possibilities of digitalisation and adapt them to the members’ needs, for instance, by setting up the HAV connect platform (www.hav-connect.aero/). Likewise, regular ‘old school’ events, like HAv Forum, which offers the possibility of extensive networking, have facilitated some digital transformation, along with new formats like Bar Camps, devoted to innovations. Not only is HAv office engaged in the promotion of 14.0. Hansa Aerospace sees its task explicitly, as accompanying firms in then digital transformation (Hanse-Aerospace: Ihr Wegbereiter fur Industrie 4.0). In some opinions, this distant digital communication (part of digital transformation) is a threat to clusters; a threat, which is unavoidable. That being said, clusters might try to harness it for then benefits—do something to make the communication within clusters easier, to smooth it, and be a digital interface between cluster members. (CE3) ‘If it is going to be easier to work with any company on this planet, then the cluster needs to make the co-operation between cluster members within-the-cluster, even easier’.