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Interview of Rui Marcelino, chairman of the Portuguese Aeronautic Industry Association (PEMAS)

Rui Marcelino introduces the PEMAS network and talks about "Driving Change Through Design".

Q1: Among other roles, you are a founding member of the Portuguese Association for Aviation Industry (PEMAS) and EAD Portugal. Can you please set the scene of the Aeronautics and Space Sector in Portugal?

In the last decade, there were significant changes in the Portuguese aerospace sector, generating an important impact on the national economy as well as a paradigm shift in the industry: from a scenario where business was based on the Maintenance, Repair and Operation, Portugal progressed to a Global player status in the areas of development, engineering and manufacturing, offering complete solutions, complex assemblies and critical parts of aircraft in the chain of global end-product manufacturer's providers (the "OEM").

This development came often through collaborative projects as a way of adding value to the national supply, allowing the Portuguese companies to present themselves as an integrated and competitive group of solution suppliers. Besides, the creation of Training Courses, Centers of Excellence and Engineering has been part of a medium / long-term plan that has become vital to the sector and the country's economy.

The recent major investment of companies in the country, as was the case of Thales, Mecachrome, Lauak and, of course, Embraer, has contributed greatly to the evolution of the national scene, with integrated projects that promoted research, engineering, internationalization and the development of the national industry supply chain. Good examples of projects which were boosted by the "Embraer effect" are the design of a semi-wing, developed in partnership with the ISQ institute, the participation in the KC-390 project or the LIFE project (Crystal Cabin Award 2012) that brought together national companies from north to south.

Today, from electric switchboards to helicopter tails, including structural components for airliners, as well for fighters, a wide range of aircraft components are manufactured and integrated in Portugal. Portuguese expertise in the aeronautical industry also includes high tech management systems to collect information on aircraft components status, allowing for better fleet planning and the receiving of parts "just in time". Furthermore, Portugal is internationally recognised in the aircraft maintenance field by having top-level standards and full-service expertise.

Finally, in the latest years, we have gone through an increasing involvement in European R&D projects and have succeeded in providing highly skilled engineering and design services for some of the top OEMs in the world, including different sectors such as ITs, moulds, composites, aero-structures MRO and cabin interiors among others.

Q2: PEMAS is a multidisciplinary network of Portuguese companies and R&D centres, focusing on the aerospace industry and aiming at integrating challenging cutting edge technological projects. Can you please tell us a few words about this initiative, including its main goals and objectives?

For more than 10 years, PEMAS - the Portuguese Association for Industry Promotion Aeronautics - played a key role in fostering cooperation projects and international promotion of the sector. More than an Association, PEMAS is an open network that represents and integrates most of the national aircraft industry, which has joined the scientific and technological system, the education system and the end users into a common vision of strategic collaboration for the development of the sector and the country through several lines of actions such as:


  • Supporting the integration of companies in national and international aeronautical supply chains;
  • Promoting and generating innovative aeronautical programs and added value;
  • Contributing to the definition of public policies for the aviation industry and surrounding markets.

long these years, the collaboration between PEMAS and national counterparts Space and Defense Associations (Proespaco andDANOTEC), gave rise to AED (Federation of Associations of Aeronautics and Space Defense) that has extended this scenario to 68 companies and institutes. Today, these entities represent a universe of more than 18,500 highly skilled jobs, a turnover of 1.7B EUROS andexports of about 87%.

The PEMAS / AED members work in areas such as Structures and Materials and Production Technologies, Tools and Support Systems, Systems and Embedded Electronic, Commercial Aviation and Cabin Interiors but also in cross-cutting areas such as Training, Certification and Testing, for virtually all major players. The dynamic created between members of associations allowed the promotion of continuous or ad hoc working groups where themes of common interest are usually discussed and developed.

In this context, more than 18 collaborative projects have been developed between members as well as collective and internationalization efficiency projects. Among others, there are successful actions such as PAIC - a military counterparts project successfully concluded - or the boosting of the Portuguese participation in Clean Sky II through the AeroCluster Portugal, resulting in unprecedented participation of 14 Portuguese companies in this type of program.

The role of PEMAS in the creation of AED Portugal was, therefore, a natural step to strengthen the contribution of collective efficiency initiatives. The increased critical mass and opened scope meant more representation and more cooperation projects. At the technological level, the number of cross-cutting areas of the three sectors is sustaining the proliferation of double and triple use of technologies, fostering innovation. The creation of a wider network of collaboration, involving companies, interface entities and public decision makers, is not only creating value for the direct stakeholders, but has also created an undeniable multiplier effect for the local economy.

At international level, one could also highlight the active participation of AED in fostering cooperation networks, such as the participation of PEMAS as co-founder of EACP (European Aerospace Cluster Partnership - 41 clusters of 14 countries) and collaborative partnerships with counterparts in Spain, Germany, France or Brazil. The presence and regular contact with ASD Europe, ESA, EASA and European programs such as CARE, ACARE or REIA has been connecting the AED partners and Portugal to the international community.

Finally, the AED's work program is well established, including the joint participation in different missions and international trade fairs, as it was the participation in the Farnborough Airshow 2016, last July. This is the seventh consecutive year that PEMAS / AED ensures the presence of Portuguese companies in major world events, and is part of a long-term strategy to promote the national sector in numerous events since 2004. In addition to networking and promoting products and services, the aggregate national presence contributes unequivocally to an increased international awareness of the value of the Portuguese Aeronautic Cluster.

Just a week after the EASN conference in Porto, on the 27th and 28th of October, PEMAS and AED will be organising the "AED Days" in Lisbon. A conference involving the Institutional, R&D and Business side of the Aeronautics, Space and Defense sectors in Portugal.

Q3: As you have a very strong background in industrial and transportation design, you are very often invited to talk about "Driving Change Through Design".  So, can design be the driving force in the development of new aircrafts?

Design acts as a "conceptual integrator" articulating different actors' needs and expectations. The collaboration with multidisciplinary partners throughout the whole product development process offers a unique holistic approach for creating new products through "cross pollination"strategies. From identifying and structuring requirements to conceptualizing and developing solutions for production, designers are able to bring together knowledge from different areas and, through collaborative brainstorming, visualization and model making processes - the so called Design thinking methodology - designers are able to create a tangible vision that helps to steer projects to completion.

A good example of a design driven project is the NEWFACE project, where a group of Portuguese companies and institutions (Almadesign, INEGI, IST and SET), worked together with Embraer, to research new configurations for aircrafts in 2030.

Q4: Over the recent years we see that aircraft manufactures have shifted their focus to more human-centred passenger cabins. As, with Almadesign, you have won numerous awards on cabin design, can you talk to us about the latest trends?

Future trends might differ a lot whether you are considering commercial or private jets, economy or first class and the different traveling "personas". But some key aspects will surely spread through the several segments: for the service, one can expect higher levels of customization - from the seat configuration and arrangement to specific meal orders - Increase of airlines brand value, flight time reduction and the provision of seats where you can choose to work, relax or be fully connected (IFE is becoming a commodity). Alternative and hybrid propulsion systems will account for greater comfort and noise reduction. For product and engineering, one might expect the increase of composite structures, use of natural, lighter and eco-friendly materials, 3D printed components, autonomous or optional piloted aircrafts, supersonic commercial aircrafts, larger Hub to Hub aircrafts and more flexible regional aircrafts with a special growth in the Asian market.

Q5: During the 6th EASN International Conference, you will be speaking about "driving innovation through collaboration networks". How would you evaluate the current level of international co-operation in our industry? What do you think needs to be improved?

I believe cooperation projects are already well accepted and embraced by many R&D institutions, suppliers (including SMEs) and OEMs. They understand the need for cooperation networks not only as a competitive advantage but also as the only way to get into supply chains, innovate and even survive.

Unfortunately, in some cases, bigger players and OEMs have become too big to look at the value of their surrounding networks. They are blocked by their internal "establishment", their own normative procedures, processes and constrains which keep them apart from innovation breakthroughs.

Furthermore, the aeronautic sector is very much "closed" to the entrance of new players from other sectors, which could play a significant role in the innovation process: sometimes, innovation comes exactly by bringing unexpected things together.

Q6: Concluding, is there any adjunct message you would like to get across to the readers of this interview?

I will be very happy to continue this conversation at the EASN Conference with the readers. And I strongly advise you to do so. But summing up:

  1. I would challenge OEMs and big suppliers about the importance of building cooperation networks instead of their traditional purchase processes.
  2. All specialists should understand that the final target of our business is frequently the passenger. Most of the times, "they" are paying our salaries. Furthermore, by putting the passengers in the centre of the development processes, you can improve the convergence between multidisciplinary teams and get the most out your efforts.
  3. II suggest everyone attending the EASN conference to take some extra time to visit Porto and Portugal. You will regret if you don't!


Date posted: September 12, 2016, 9:35 am

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