The self-healing technology life-cycle is a long one and its predicted success can be attributed to the great anticipation among aerospace professionals who are eager for the next new technology that will save on costs and increase the efficiency of aircraft maintenance. During the life cycle, self-healing technology will go through four basic phases: (1) research and development, (2) growth, (3) maturity and (4) decline. The research and development and maturity phases are likely to be the longest periods throughout the entire life cycle. Ultimately, research and development could take an additional five to ten years while the maturity phase can last much longer as airlines and civil entities replacing and grow their current fleet size. The growth phase is predicted to grow rather quickly because of the anticipation and expressed need for such technology and corresponding software. Self-healing technology is expected to see a decline because of its intended purpose. Because self-healing technology applied to aircraft maintenance is intended to reduce costs and extend the life of aircrafts and its parts, sales will hit a plateau or steady decline.
Feasibility, costs and FAA regulations are the main factors to be considered when deciding to introduce self-healing technology into the aerospace industry, especially for aircraft maintenance. Between 2017 and 2025, the annual growth rate for self-healing technology is expected to be 29.5% with an estimated value $4.1 billion (Research & Markets, 2017). Research and development of self-healing technology and materials in the aerospace industry is mainly focused on the use of polymer composites, which made up a large portion (36%) of self-healing materials consumed in 2016 (LeCompte, 2009; Research & Markets, 2017). According to N-tech Research, commercial use of self-healing technologies will be an integral part of development and application of the technology because industry experts already see a need for the advancement of self-healing technology with a focus on reducing maintenance costs, labor costs and downtime due to repair (2015). This paper will explore both the technology life cycle model to better understand the feasibility and costs associated with market introduction.
The development and application of self-healing technology and materials to aircraft maintenance has great potential to disrupt the entire MRO market. Interest in the application of self-healing technology in the aerospace industry is still in the research and development phase of the technology life cycle, thus growth and profit estimations are highly dependent upon forecasts regarding market acceptance. To fully understand the growth potential of the application in relation to aircraft maintenance, the research and development phase, growth phase, maturity phase and decline phase of the technology life cycle will be explored.
In the research and development phase, the most feasible way to reduce upfront costs and expenditures is to consider entering partnerships (Hampson, 2011). By seeking a partnership, costs are become shared which will lead to a quicker return on investment. Based on 2015 estimation, the research and development phase is predicted to last for another five to ten years (N-Tech Research, 2015). The most beneficial type of partnership is likely to be one that of a public-private nature (Hersam & Weiss, 2011). Application of self-healing technology is of interest to aerospace professionals in both civil and commercial sectors, therefore research projects conducted through a partnership with a government agency is likely to receive higher funding (Hersam & Weiss, 2011). In 2016 alone, the government funded over $1 billion for nanotechnology research with slightly over $1.4 billion proposed for funding in 2017 (Sargent, 2016).
In the growth phase, profit is expected to be very little to non-existent as with most technology but is not expected to last long. The reason for the predicted rapid growth during this phase is due to the anticipation of new technologies in the aerospace industry. Aerospace executives are looking for innovative technologies that can start saving costs on labor, material and processes, including maintenance (Hampson, 2011). The maturity phase is when return on investment is going to be the greatest. However, when including both the research and development phase and the FAA approval process, the return on investment can take a minimum of ten to fifteen years, During the maturity phase, companies can expect an ROI of anywhere between 10% and 20% based on reported gains from previous launches of new technology (Hampson, 2011).
The decline phase of the self-healing technology is inevitable because of the very purpose of its application to the aerospace industry. Self-healing technology is expected to help save aircraft owners on part replacements, aircraft replacement, maintenance and labor. Because self-healing composites have a long lifespan, the demand for the technology will gradually slow down as the market becomes saturated with aircrafts manufactured with self-healing materials. In the commercial sector, some of the largest airlines maintain the same aircrafts for an average of ten to twenty years (Plane Spotters, 2017). If the implication that self-healing technology is to indeed increase the longevity of part and aircraft replacement, then this average can be expected to be extended, thus the sales of self-healing technology will reach a natural plateau or decline.
Acceptance of self-healing materials and technology is solely based on the acceptance of it’s application to the aerospace industry and is based on two main factors: (1) FAA approval and acceptance of use of self-healing technology involving aircraft maintenance and (2) proving market feasibility. No matter which of the five consumers outlined by Everett Rogers, FAA approval is a must to gain consumer acceptance on both civil and commercial levels. Once FAA approval is obtained, Innovators, Early Adopters and Early Majority consumers are likely to be the first to accept the product. This is because Innovators, Early Adopters and Early Majority are likely to overlook certain flaws with the technology such as bugs with corresponding software or platforms (Norman, 1998). Late Majority and Laggards are going to be the slowest to accept the technology, mainly because apprehension on costs associated with aircraft replacement and to observe the market as the technology continues to grow (Norman, 1998). The best way to grow acceptance of the Late Majority and Laggards is to emphasis costs savings, which is extremely important for the aerospace sector (Hampson, 2011).
The outlined technology life cycle model shows that self-healing technology will have a long-life span but as with most technology is bound to hit a plateau or decline due to the increased efficiency of the technology application and increased longevity of aircrafts and its parts. However, during the maturity phase, the ROI can be expected to be between 10% and 20% after a ten-year research period and four year waiting period for FAA approval. To obtain max return on investments, companies should consider partnerships during the research phase to offset expenditures and increase funding. An ideal partnership would be a public-private partnership, which has the potential to help speed up the FAA approval process as well.