Among the changes that are having an impact on the aerospace industry like industry 4.0, digitalization, or additive manufacturing, another one is on the way. And it is coming fast: artificial intelligence. AI will have a huge impact on how aircraft are designed and manufactured, but also on how decision-making processes can be accelerated. One of the players in this field is the French company Dessia Technologies. It might be small but has connections to some big names. Dessia has some AI solutions to offer to Boeing.
Away from the fancy chalets, Dessia had a humble presence in a crowded Hall 2B at last week’s Paris Airshow. Based not far from Paris Orly Airport, the company was founded in 2017 by Pierre-Emmanuel Dumouchel and Steven Masfaraud. It first looked at AI applications for the automotive industry and worked with Renault, but since then, Dessia has expanded its activities to the aerospace industry.
A key milestone came in January this year when Dessia was included with ten other companies in the Aerospace Xelerated start-up incubator. Which is an initiative of Boeing, GKN Aerospace, Tawazun Council, the UK Defence and Security Accelerator as well as Etihad Airways. But what does Dessia do?
“We develop a platform to help engineers to accelerate the digitalization in engineering. We use artificial intelligence to capture engineering knowledge and activate this in what we call engineering bots. With this, we help a manufacturer in the automotive industry to design some cooling architecture,” explains Dumouchel, who is Dessia’s CEO (left in the picture).
“The first thing we do is capture the knowledge of the engineers on how to architecture the cooling system. Then we propose in an automatic way thousands of different architectures from which the engineers have to make a choice and focus on the best one for their company.”
“AI helps to speed up the decision-making and the second point is to analyze thousands of different hypotheses. Usually, engineers are focused on one solution and one assumption, but it is better to analyze thousands of solutions and evolve to the best one.” In the case of Renault, AI helped to speed up the decision-making process by one-third.
“This is a new revolution. Everyone now knows ChatGPT, but our scope is engineering. But in engineering, you can’t follow a statistical approach because that data doesn’t exist. So the first thing to do is to generate all the data. That’s what we do at Dessia with our platforms,” says Dumouchel.
Dessia caught the attention of Aerospace Xelerated and was selected out of 150 start-ups, all software companies in the deep tech sector. “Our relationship is with the Xelerated program, but we also start now to collaborate directly with Boeing. The objective of the program is to help each of the eleven start-ups to launch a pilot project with Boeing,” explains Ossian Heulin, head of business development at Dessia (on the right of the picture).
“We are in the middle of that process. Our relationship started only early this year, so we still have a long way to go to launch the project. Usually, it takes a year to launch a project. We have identified the use case, which I can’t tell you more about, and we are passing the barriers of IT to start the project.”
What Heulin can say is that Boeing is trying to get out of the project with Dessia is how AI can speed up decision-making, for example when it comes to the design of a new airplane. “The industry faces a shortage of talents versus the need for the implementation of new technologies. This is really a driver for change. In addition to that, and this is one of the key pillars for the transformation of Boeing, it is also related to design and manufacturing and to make sure that what we design can be manufactured on time,” Heulin says.
Artificial Intelligence will have a significant impact on the way aircraft are designed and various processes are done. This is the ‘old school’ 777 assembly line in Everett. (Boeing)
“We intervene in that scope, because our tool, our AI, is able to provide this decision support to engineers in the initial design phases, where 80 percent of the decisions are taken that will constrain the rest of the development phase. With constraints, think of costs, and weight, but it goes way beyond that. We also need to take into consideration carbon cost constraints, and supply chain constraints. It goes beyond what the human mind can manage in a design process.”
“That’s why we need this generative AI to run in the background, take into account a thousand different constraints, put them together, analyze how they impact the design, and then suggest to the engineer the right way forward for that design. The human engineer is still in control and manages the process, but is supported by AI.”
AI will consolidate
But with AI developing so quickly, isn’t there a risk that systems will be outdated in just a few months, let alone a few years when a company like Boeing is designing a new airplane? Pierre-Emmanuel Dumouchel doesn’t think so: “We don’t think that the algorithms will be totally different in ten years’ time. Today, AI is a new revolution, but it will consolidate in the next ten years and this approach will be structured and standardized.”
“In the end, it is a question of commitment. The industry isn’t moving as fast as the general, consumer market. It is not tomorrow that you will see a plane flying that has been designed with AI, it is a long-term commitment,” Heulin adds.
In the case of the project with Boeing, Dessia is going for a step-by-step approach to making sure the technologies are safe and reliable. The French company not only is doing business with Boeing through the Aerospace Xelerated program but there is also an interest from Boeing’s venture capital program HorizonX, which was spun off in 2021.
Also working with Airbus
Dessia is also working with French aerospace companies, which include Airbus and Dassault Systèmes. “With Airbus, it is a small project, but not like the Xelerated program. We can’t say, but we have other big names in France that we are working with, but we start looking at having our first international references,“ Ossian Heulin says. Dumouchel adds that Dessia is developing a prototype model for Airbus for design and manufacturing, but it is still in the design phase and needs to be evaluated by the OEM.
Where does Dessia expect to stand five years from now? “We have three different investors. We want to raise more funding this year through venture capital, in order to be able to scale up on the European market,” says Dumouchel.
Heulin adds: “In five years, we see ourselves as the leader in Europe for our technologies. At the same time, we know that the biggest market for us is the US. In terms of the aerospace industry, there is no comparison. So for us, working with the Xelerated program is a breakthrough, because we have Boeing as our first reference on the US market. There is no better reference for us. We can’t say yet that we are working with Boeing, but I have high hopes that we get there.”
Active as a journalist since 1987, with a background in newspapers, magazines, and a regional news station, Richard has been covering commercial aviation on a freelance basis since late 2016.
In 2022, he has gone full-time freelance. Richard has been contributing to AirInsight since December 2018. He is also writing for Airliner World and Aviation News and until July 1 2023 in a part-time role with Dutch website and magazine Luchtvaartnieuws. Twitter: @rschuur_aero.